Category Archives: Case Study

Ethics Quiz

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Let’s start the year off right with a journalism ethics quiz, and a reminder that journalists contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists because they want to get it right.

Maybe 2021 will be the year when American journalists are appreciated, rather than demonized.

Since 2001, professional journalists have called the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Here’s one of those cases:

A freelance fashion writer was assigned to research skin care products and make recommendations. She asked a journalism intern from a local university to work with her to research products on the internet.

The intern found web sites with advertising and cut and pasted information into a word text file.

The fashion writer said she mistakenly submitted the intern’s work as her own. Her editor accused the fashion writer of plagiarism, saying he found copy identical to hers on web sites listed in her file.

The fashion writer said she promptly emailed the version she had written and intended to file. She asked AdviceLine if she acted unethically.

Was it just a mistake, or plagiarism?

What do you think?

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional Journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Pandemic Top Word of 2020

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

In just 34 days, “COVID-19” went from being newly minted to a term listed online by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

That was record time, Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, told the Associated Press.

“That’s the shortest period of time we’ve ever seen a word go from coinage to entry,” said Sokolowski. “The word had this urgency,” along with a few dozen that were revised to reflect the health emergency. Although “coronavirus” was in the dictionary for decades, ‘COVID-19” was coined in February.

But “pandemic” took the prize as the 2020 word of the year, based on lookup spikes.

“Often the big news story has a technical word that’s associated with it and in this case, the word pandemic is not just technical but has become general,” said Sokolowski. “It’s probably the word by which we’ll refer to this period in the future.”

It also was a word that triggered staggering ethical choices over who got treatment, and eventually who got the first vaccines. On an individual level, it involved those who wore masks and those who refused. Such choices potentially could benefit or harm an entire community.

In such a wild year, the Oxford English Dictionary could not come up with one word of the year. Pandemics strike about once in a lifetime.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic and online lookups for the term jumped 115,806% higher compared with the same date last year. The word searches began in January and February when the first U.S. deaths and outbreaks on cruise ships became known.

Lookup traffic for pandemic, explained Sokolowski, does not entirely mean searchers did not know the meaning of the word but could be looking for more detail.

Coronavirus was among runners up for word of the year as it jumped into the mainstream. Here are others:

Defund – The term was looked up 6,059% more often than the year before as protesting Americans called for defunding police departments in the wake of police violence against Black Americans.

Quarantine – A period of time spent in isolation or restricted movement to prevent a contagious disease from spreading. In the time of the Black Death plague of the 1300s, ships coming into port would wait outside a city for 40 days to prevent disease. The “quar” in quarantine derives from 40 in Italian.

Asymptomatic – Showing no symptoms of illness. The term became popular in 2020 as the medical community discovered a viral quirk; a person could be infected with the coronavirus, not be ill, but could spread the infection to others.

Mamba – Searches for the word spiked after the January death in a helicopter crash of Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kobe Bryant, whose nickname was the Black Mamba.

Kraken – Lookups flooded in for kraken in July after Seattle’s new National Hockey League franchise chose the mythical sea monster for its name. The hockey expansion team ended 19 months of speculation over whether it would favor a name that was traditional or eccentric. The team’s colors are light and dark shades of blue. Fans favored kraken.

Antebellum – Country music group Lady Antebellum changed its name to Lady A, driving searchers to the online dictionary in June to check out the name.

Irregardless — Wordsmiths found another reason to haggle when Merriam-Webster decided to accept irregardless as a synonym for regardless, breaking with a long-standing rule that others might decide to keep observing. The Associated Press Style Book has long insisted that irregardless is a useless double negative and regardless is correct.

Icon – A person who is revered or idolized, a symbol. The word was used heavily in headlines after the deaths of U.S. Rep. John Lewis and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Schadenfreude – Enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others. Lookups about the word spiked when it was used in the news about celebrities caught in the college admissions scandal in March, and when President Trump contracted the coronavirus in October and lost reelection in November.

Malarkey – Exaggerated or foolish talk. President-elect Joe Biden used the word during the presidential debates with opponents. Slang. Origin unknown.

The Merriam-Webster site has about 40 million monthly users and about 100 million monthly page views.

Top word searches often signal a world’s worries. In 2019, the year’s top word was “existential,” as in existential threat, dealing with existence. It was applied to climate change, gun violence and democratic institutions. The 2020 pandemic made such threats more up-close and personal. Not only was it the world’s top news story, word searches reflected some interest in pandemic ethical choices that went with it.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional Journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

2021 Predictions and Day Dreams

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

This is the time of year for predictions, wishful thinking and delusional forecasts for the coming year, 2021.

The 2020 covid-19 pandemic took the globe largely by surprise, showing how puny human prognostication abilities really are and should be humbling, although some scientists were saying for years that the world is ripe for a pandemic. But who was listening? It is the fate of Cassandras to be ignored.

Despite that track record, people keep trying. So here’s a look at some of those predictions for next year, and beyond. Some of them propose action that carries major ethical implications.

Nieman Journalism Lab asked some of the smartest people it knows to predict what 2021 will bring for the future of journalism. It lists 10 entries. I’ll pick one.

Masuma Ahuja, is author of “Girlhood,” a book about the lives of young girls around the world.

The pandemic, writes Ahuja, “taught us how interconnected our world is, as we watched a virus slowly and then very quickly sweep across the planet. It also showed us how universal a lot of our core human experiences are: fear and sickness, loss and grief, isolation and longing.”

Conversations began, she says, about systemic racism, injustice and oppression.

“I hope 2021 brings with it a shift in power structures in journalism,” she writes, toward “a meaningful investment in building institutions that invest in Black and brown and Indigenous and immigrant and non-Western voices, in creating pipelines and opportunities for those who have been systemically disempowered.”

Poynter Institute’s predictions for 2021 included thoughts by Samantha Ragland, a faculty member and director of the Leadership Academy for Women in Media at Poynter.

“I believe 2021 will be the year of the journalist,” writes Ragland, which would be a surprising and welcome change for a profession that has been under attack by President Trump as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.”

“2021 is the year for journalists from all sides of the newsroom to step into the cultural challenge that is a white-washed, male-dominated media industry and walk into a cultural change,” writes Ragland.

Ragland echoes some of Ahuja’s sentiments for diversity and inclusion in media, a worthy goal that might clash with the powerful white, male media power structure seen as an obstacle to reaching that goal. It might be tough convincing well-paid executives to step aside as part of a cultural shift and vacate their corporate suites.

Think back to the time when the environmental protection became a global issue. Media executives often saw that development as anti-business, a threat to the economy and to advertising. It becomes an issue of self-interest. Something noble-sounding becomes something to fight over.

Covid, vaccines and self-protection against the pandemic are likely to be issues of public concern well into 2021 and beyond.

“Seeing people wearing masks in everyday life is now the norm throughout much of the country,” writes Jillian Wilson in HuffPost, underscoring the importance of wearing a mask in public or close settings. Mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing remain key to curbing the viral spread.

But now with vaccines to combat the virus, how long will mask-wearing be needed?

Wilson quotes Marybeth Sexton, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Atlanta’s Emory University School of Medicine:  “I think we should be prepared to wear masks for the foreseeable future, probably for the next year, certainly into that third quarter of 2021 when they expect to really be able to vaccinate large numbers of the general public.”

But the pandemic will end, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “It’s going to depend on our success in vaccinating what I would say is an overwhelming majority of the population, between 70 to 85 percent,” he said. “If we can do that, by mid to end of the summer, I think as we get into fall, October, November, times like that, I think we will be very close to a degree of normality.”

Another way of looking at the health of the nation is global approval ratings.

The Gallup poll reports that approval ratings of the United States from countries around the world dipped to an historic low in 2020, under the Trump presidency. Data collected in 29 countries showed median U.S. approval dropped to 18% from 22% in 2017. Such scores are watched by the American business community to gauge the nation’s global reputation, which is expected to take years to recover.

Then there is the workplace, on the human level. A Pew Research Center survey shows that the abrupt closure of many offices and workplaces this past spring ushered in a new era of remote work for millions of employed Americans.

This “may portend a significant shift in the way a large segment of the workforce operates in the future,” says Pew.

Before the pandemic, most workers said they rarely or never teleworked. “Now, 71% of those workers are doing their job from home all or most of the time,” said Pew. And more than half say, given a choice, they would want to keep working from home even after the pandemic.

The research also revealed a clear class divide between workers who can and cannot telework. Sixty-two percent of workers with a bachelor’s degree or more education say their work can be done from home, compared with 23% of those without a four-year college degree.

“While a majority of upper-income workers can do their work from home, most lower- and middle-income workers cannot,” said the report.

Finally, there are predictions for 2021 outdoor living trends.

Being stuck at home for 10 months forced Americans to find new ways to enjoy their dwellings, said a report in veranda.com. Many Americans fled to their back yards.

“Our backyards, patios and gardens have dutifully served greater purposes than ever before” as office spaces, happy hour haunts, gyms and other refuges became off-limits because of the pandemic safety precautions, said Veranda. Fugitives from the pandemic are turning to the beauty of nature for enjoyment and inspiration.

“We’re expecting the popularity of outdoor living spaces to continue to grow in  2021, not only in light of covid-19, but also as many of us pursue more sustainable lifestyles and seek to achieve greater health, both mentally and physically, from home. Plus, our outdoor spaces are sure to remain hot spots for our social gatherings for quite some time – even during the winter.”

The report predicts the use of outdoor living spaces for year-round use, residential gardens for city-dwellers and an interest in earthworms and compost.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional Journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Trust In Journalism

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By Casey Bukro and Hugh Miller

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

When speaking to an audience about ethics in journalism, it usually does not take long before somebody suggests to the speaker that ethics in journalism is an oxymoron —  incongruous or contradictory terms.

There it is laid out boldly. Naked doubts about journalism and journalists. Skepticism. A snickering challenge to what many regard as a pillar of American democracy. A shrug. A joke.

But it’s no joke to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, which recently released a report on trust in news as seen in four countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, India and Brazil.

These questions are at the heart of the study: “Why is trust in news eroding? How does this decline play out across different media environments and among different segments of the public? What might be done about it and at what cost — particularly when audiences may hold divergent views about what trustworthy journalism looks like?”

The report is the first installment of many that will be published over the next three years. This first installment focuses on those who study journalism and those who practice it.

Skip down toward the end of this installment, and the authors admit: “We recognize that as researchers we are traveling along not only a well-worn path but one that cuts through ever-changing terrain. The questions we outline above about (a) the role of the platforms, (b) audience engagement strategies, (c) transparency initiatives, and (d) preconceptions about news will serve broadly as a roadmap, and we will put news users – the people whose trust journalists seek to earn – at the centre (cq) of our work. This roadmap will guide our way forward while allowing us to be steered by the discoveries that hopefully lie ahead.”

This report would have benefited from less use of academia speak. And yes, we’ve seen some of this before. It says reporters and presenters should be presented as real, relatable people, not distant, faceless media figures. A similar concern once resulted in a journalism organization suggesting that people “take a reporter out to lunch” to get to know them. Television is adept at showing its reporters and sometimes describing their interests. Print journalism, especially newspapers, has a history of keeping their reporters out of the spotlight so that the emphasis is on the news, rather than the reporter. But that is changing here and there. Celebrated columnists always got plenty of exposure.

“Trust is not an abstract concern but part of the social foundations of journalism as a profession, news as an institution and the media as a business,” states the report. It is both important and dangerous, it says.

Here is what the authors say they know:

  1. There is no single “trust in news” problem. But rather multiple challenges involving the supply of news and the public’s demand for information.
  2. Public understanding of how journalism works is low. Social media isn’t helping.
  3. Some distrust may be rooted in coverage that has chronically stigmatized or ignored segments of the public.
  4. Assessments of trust and distrust are deeply intertwined with politics. Ultimately, many attitudes about news may have little to do with newsrooms.

The authors say they want to know how platforms are damaging news organizations’ brand identities, audience engagement strategies, transparency, where preconceptions about news come from and how they can be changed.

“Distrust in the news for many audiences may be rooted in deeply held preconceptions people hold about bias, motives and how journalism works. Sometimes called ‘folk theories,’ such ideas may be more or less true (and, of course, sometimes demonstrably false). Whether hostile or not, these preconceptions are likely to be based on a combination of factors ranging from personal experiences and partisan or other identities to popular cultural representations of news, whether salutary or less so.”

Such statements should not be accepted at face value, without some evaluation and examination.

That is why the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists exists, to take a closer look at the ethical dimensions of events in journalism. AdviceLine’s mission is to help individual journalists to reach informed ethical decisions, and to contribute to the greater discussion, understanding and body of knowledge regarding ethics and journalism.

AdviceLine asked Hugh Miller, professor of philosophy emeritus, Loyola University Chicago, to assess the Reuters Institute study.  Miller is one of the AdviceLine advisors who takes calls from journalists seeking guidance on ethics. Here are his remarks:

The problem of trust is one of the central issues of journalistic ethics. In a sense, “trust” means the relationship that should exist between a news reader, listener, or viewer, and the news organization reporting, when that relationship is responsibly carried out. One could even go so far as to say that news outlets, if they are acting responsibly, have a “fiduciary duty” to their audience, to carry out reporting that embodies the values of ethical codes like that of the Society of Professional Journalists. The word “fiduciary” comes from the Latin “fides,” which means “faith.” A fiduciary is one in whom one reposes faith, and a dutiful fiduciary is one who lives up to that faith by behaving in a trustworthy way. If that fiduciary duty is violated, the lost trust will be hard to regan, and may never be.

Journalism today is being practiced in a sphere in which such trust is hard to find, to place, and then retain. The rise of the internet has led to an explosion of news and “news-like” information sources, including many that, however much they may want their audience to believe in them, trust them, have faith in them, have little inclination to behave dutifully or responsibly. How does a news outlet that does want to behave responsibly act in such an environment?

The Reuters study, as reported by Poynter, seems to be seeking answers to this and related questions. But it seems to raise a number of questions itself, in turn.

  1. The piece shows little awareness of, or interest in, the history of journalism, in the countries mentioned. But journalism is not only the “first draft of history,” it has a history of its own. Some attention to the kinds and levels of trust placed in news organizations’ products, and how they arise, increase, fall or otherwise change over time would seem indispensable to coming to grips with the problem of trust today.
  2. I find the use of the “brand identity” language problematic, from a journalistic ethics point for view. Certainly, news organizations are competitive and it matters a great deal to them who scoops whom, who gets which exclusive, etc. But perhaps emphasizing “brand” too much gets in the way of producing a trustworthy product. If having “CBS” or “MSNBC” on the screen or getting billable clicks matters as much or more than the quality of the “content” (another fraught term), maybe that’s part of the problem. This is especially true in the internet world, where attention spans are measured in fractions of a second, and where substantive, rigorously fact-checked pieces are often relegated to “long read” sections, and tagged with “tl;dr” (“too long; didn’t read”) one-line summaries. Readers should come away with the story first and foremost in their minds, not the name of the organization that reported it. Let them put that in their browser bookmarks.

      3.  By “platforms” I take the Reuters folks to mean Facebook, Parler, Twitter, etc. I think the rise of these platforms and the way that people get information increasingly via them is a great part of the trust problem. But they write that platforms degrade trust in news by “obscuring differences between information sources.” Indeed, they do; but this seems not to be their main ethical difficulty. Instead, in my view, the problem of the platforms is that their algorithms deliberately and calculatedly work to achieve attachment by users by giving them what the users show they want to hear, driving the “echo chamber” effect. Facebook or Twitter users, shepherded by the “you might be interested” functions of such platforms, might quickly find themselves in a “news” and opinion bubble containing few or no dissenting views to disturb their preconceptions (and drive them, annoyed, to another competing platform).

    4. Finally, there is little here about the rise, and wealth, and backing, of pseudo-news organizations like FoxNews, OANN, Newsmax, breitbart.com, The Drudge Report, Western Journalism Review, et al, which produce “content” which is a blend of infotainment, legitimate stories (often sourced from other services), and vast quantities of political mis- or disinformation, sometimes produced in close consultation with political parties (e.g. Roger Ailes at Fox). Such organizations are allowed to pass themselves off as “news” or “journalism” enterprises, when actually they serve the function, as media theorist Steve Bannon once memorably put it, of “flooding the zone with shit” for the express purpose of degrading trust in mainstream news sources and public discourse generally. Why do we, as a nation, allow this? Why did the Federal Communications Commission abolish the Fairness Doctrine in 1987? Shouldn’t responsible news organizations fight to hold themselves and each other to high professional standards of responsible, truthful reporting and reasoned debate over opinions and values? What can be done about organizations that flout such standards? This is a very serious issue, and it will not be resolved by taking a laissez-faire, hands-off approach to the news reporting environment.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional Journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.trust in

Honesty In Journalism

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Is honesty still important in journalism?

Judging from calls to the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, some journalists are not certain about that.

One journalist asked if it’s okay to lie to get a story. Another journalist asked if it’s okay to question people without telling them that you’re a reporter and their remarks will be reported or in print.

A Los Angeles online reporter said he promised a police officer that the reporter would not tell his editor about information the officer gave. Then the reporter wanted to know how to explain that to his editor. Is that a promise he should keep, and was it a promise the reporter was entitled to make?

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional Journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

News For Advertising

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

These are tough times for much of journalism, and newspaper and broadcasting executives are reacting by resorting to controversial ways to raise revenue.

Journalists called The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for answers to these examples: A North Caroline publisher said he has a conflict with his editor over an advertiser suggesting stories. A Michigan newspaper offered free news stories about any company that bought an advertising package. A New York broadcasting station’s management told its news staff to give favorable news coverage to local advertisers.

These are a few of many cases like it. Has the traditional firewall between the news and business departments broken down, and is that good or bad?

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional Journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Pedophile Priest Threatens Publisher

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Ethics case study: A pedophile pastor and a publisher.

In his first interview with the owner of a small Midwestern newspaper, a local church pastor threatened to vilify the newspaper owner from the pulpit if she printed anything derogatory about him.

The publisher thought that strange until she learned the priest had been accused of raping a 14-year-old boy in New York. She wrote about that, and lost readers and advertisers who complained the publisher was trying to destroy the popular priest.

Then the publisher learned that the priest had been involved in another incident of sexual misconduct in Florida and was reassigned twice before landing in the publisher’s parish.

The publisher called the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, asking if she should reveal the priest’s history of continuing sexual misconduct. But doing so could cause another community backlash, with further loss in circulation and advertising which could force the publisher out of business.

Put yourself in AdviceLine’s place. What advise would you give to the worried publisher? Report the facts, or withhold them in an attempt to protect her newspaper and staff?

This is an actual case handled by AdviceLine.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Presidential Debates Mirror Civil Discord

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

As presidential debate moderators go, they didn’t stack up to the likes of revered Walter Cronkite.

Moderators of the 2020 Donald Trump and Joe Biden debates were critiqued, criticized, chastised and lampooned.

Gone are the days when such moderators were unquestionably beyond reproach and in charge of the debates. Those who served as moderators were lofty media figures of their time.

The first televised presidential debate (of four) in 1960 between Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon was moderated by Howard K. Smith of CBS. Twenty-nine media figures have filled that role, including esteemed broadcasters Edwin Newman, Pauline Frederick, Barbara Walters, Bill Moyers, Jim Lehrer, Bernard Shaw and Tom Brokaw, to name a few. Cronkite served on a panel during one of the debates, but not as moderator.

Played by the rules

Those debates largely were cordial and played by the rules, respecting time limits. Not until 2020 would one of those debates be described as an undisciplined brawl.

Three presidential debates were scheduled for 2020. But one was canceled, leading the candidates, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, to schedule competing town hall meetings on the date of the canceled presidential debate that had viewers switching from one channel to the other. Trump was on NBC and Biden on ABC.

The first 2020 presidential debate on Sept. 29 in Cleveland was moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News. It went so badly, the headline on an article by conservativedailynews.com read: “Chris Wallace Lost the First Presidential Debate.”

Even Wallace admitted it was a disaster, largely because President Trump refused to stop talking when his time was up and because he repeatedly interrupted when Wallace tried to ask questions.

A train wreck

Media reports described the debate as “off the rails,” “chaos,” “unwatchable,” “a train wreck,” a “hot mess” and a “shoutfest” overwhelmed by interruptions and disregard for the moderator, largely by the president.

Wallace is the anchor of “Fox News Sunday” and the son of legendary “60 Minutes” reporter Mike Wallace. He also moderated a 2016 presidential debate between Trump and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

After the debate, Wallace appeared on “Bill Hemmer Reports” to reflect on that debate.  His first reaction, said Wallace, was “this is great” because the explosive interaction between Trump and Biden suggested “we were gonna have a real debate here.”

 Bitter frustration quickly set in, with Wallace holding up a copy of the debate rule book that both sides had accepted but were ignoring. 

Interrupted 145 times

“It became clear, and clearer over time that this was something different and that the president was determined to try to butt in or throw Joe Biden off…. I saw another Fox analysis that indicates the president interrupted either Biden’s answers or my questions a total of 145 times, which is way more than one a minute. And he bears the primary responsibility for what happened on Tuesday night.”

Wallace said he had prepared for a serious debate. “I had baked this beautiful, delicious cake and frankly, the president put his foot in it,” so that the American people “didn’t get the debate they wanted and that they deserved. And that’s a loss for the country.”

The second presidential debate on Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee, was different, in part because new rules imposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates included a mute button on each candidate’s microphone to prevent interruptions and enforce time limits.

Moderator declared winner

“Moderator Kristen Welker Won the Presidential Debate,” declared the headline on a huffpost.com story about the second presidential debate. An NBC News correspondent, Welker “did an exceptional job that received wide praise,” wrote Alanna Vagianos. “She asked tough, substantive questions while ensuring that the debate moved at a productive pace. Many colleagues applauded her for being respectful, but not backing down from fact-checking both candidates on big issues.”

Wallace admitted on Fox News, “I’m jealous,” according to a report on The Daily Beast. NPR said it was “a real debate.”

“Kristen Welker is putting on a master class in how to moderate a presidential debate,” tweeted Philip Rucker, the Washington Post’s White House bureau chief. She is the second Black woman to moderate a presidential debate solo.

Complaints

But that does not mean Welker went unscathed. Before the debate, Trump described Welker as “extraordinarily unfair,” “a radical left Democrat” and “a very biased person.” He was genial toward her during the debate.

Though the Oct. 15 dueling town hall meetings don’t qualify as presidential debates, they drew their share of heat and controversy.

“Savannah Guthrie, George Stephanopoulos Draw Praise, Hate After Trump-Biden Town Halls,” read the headline on a story by Cydney Henderson in USA Today.

NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie hosted Trump’s town hall meeting in Miami, Florida, “which proved to be contentious from the start as moderator and candidate sparred over questions on COVID-19 and white supremacy,” wrote Henderson.

Moderator debates candidate

Trump “pretty much debated Savannah Guthrie,” Fox News host Sean Hannity said. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani called Guthrie “hostile, argumentative and contradictory.”

The Guardian praised Guthrie for “keeping Trump in check” and a tight rein on the meeting, but she was criticized for monopolizing time intended for questions from the audience.

“While many of the voters asked carefully crafted questions that were focused on Trump’s policy stances concerning hot topics….., Guthrie took it upon herself to interrupt and even steer the question in a different direction,” wrote Jordon Davidson of thefederalist.com.

Conspiracy theory

Guthrie and Trump clashed when she asked the president about his retweet of a conspiracy theory that Biden orchestrated to have Seal Team Six killed to cover up the fake death of Osama Bin Laden. It was described by Kathryn Watson of CBS News.

“Why would you send a lie like that to your followers?” asked Guthrie. “I know nothing about it,” Trump said. “You retweeted it,” Guthrie pointed out. “That was a retweet, that was an opinion of somebody, and that was a retweet. I’ll put it out there, people can decide for themselves, I don’t take a position,” the president responded.

“I don’t get that,” Guthrie countered. “You’re the president — you’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever.” Guthrie was accused of “grilling” the president.

“Totally crazy”

Later, Trump retaliated, saying that Guthrie had gone “totally crazy” during the interview. “Everyone thought it was so inappropriate. Savannah – it was like her face, the anger, the craziness.” He called Guthrie “unfair.”

Simultaneously, in contrast to the Guthrie “grilling” in Miami, the Biden town hall meeting moderated by ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in Philadelphia was called a “smoochfest.” It featured no ill-tempered outbursts or answers running long beyond the time allowed.

USA Today reported the Biden-Stephanopoulos back-and-forth was calm in comparison with their counterparts. Stephanopoulos took some flack, though, for allegedly taking it easy on Biden. Giulianii said: “Stephanopoulos let Biden speak endlessly and never interrupted him.”

Pressing questions

Stephanopoulos turned questions almost immediately over to the audience, but periodically interjected questions, such as pointing out that Biden did not call for social distancing and mandatory face masks early in the pandemic. Several times, Stephanopoulos asked to “press you” on topics, including the economy, the supreme court, fracking and the Green New Deal. Overall, the tone was professional and cordial, as in the Walter Cronkite days.

Those addicted to political debates no doubt tuned into the vice presidential debate Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah, moderated by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. The debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris proved to be as difficult to control as it was for Wallace to control the Trump/Biden debate.

Page had trouble keeping Pence and Harris within their allotted speaking times and often resorted to saying “thank you” as a prod to stop them, without success as they continued to talk over her.

Scolding

Practically scolding the candidates, Page said at one point: “Your campaigns agreed to the rules for tonight’s debate…. I’m here to enforce them, which involves moving from one topic to another, giving roughly equal time to both of you, which I’m trying very hard to do right here.”

Civil discord, it is said, is a result of the contentious polarization that divides Americans. The presidential and vice presidential debates mirrored that breakdown.

There was a time when being asked to moderate a presidential debate was considered a high honor, a sign of respect for those who achieved eminence in journalism. Today, it’s a job that should come with hazard pay.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional Journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Minute Ethics Quiz

montereycoe.org image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

A reporter for a military publication contacted the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists and asked this question in 2008:

“May I reprint information in our newspaper that is from websites if I provide proper attribution, but without permission? There is no guidance about this in the AP style book; but we have tried before to get permission and it takes too long for people to respond and we have to go to press.”

You be the ethicst. What would you say to that reporter?

AdviceLine is a free service, staffed by four university professors who are experts in ethics. AdviceLine advisors do not tell professional journalists what to do, but engage them in a discussion of benefits and harms involved in the case, leading journalists to reach decisions based on best journalism ethics practices.

AdviceLine is partnered with the Chicago Headline Club, a professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Our goal is to assist each caller make ethical decisions that:

*Are well informed by available standards of professional journalistic practice, especially the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics.

*Take account of the perspectives of all the parties involved in the situation.

*Employ clear and careful ethical thinking in reaching a decision.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional Journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Civic Groups Beckon Journalists

chscourier.com image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Journalists face many responsibilities toward their communities. Sometimes they conflict.

Foremost is the responsibility to report news and information.  This makes journalists highly informed about the politics and needs of their cities and towns, making them desirable candidates to serve on civic organizations. Sometimes an unspoken goal of these civic groups is the hope of getting some favorable publicity.

Editors and publishers especially are targeted for such invitations, which is why an editor of a Minnesota newspaper in 2004 called the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for advice.

Pressures to join

Editors, especially in smaller cities, regularly are pressured by management to become involved in community service, like the United Way board, she said. A benefit for the editor is learning more about the community. It also supports the newspaper’s message to the community that the paper cares about the community. Those are good things. But, said the editor, it sends a mixed message to your reporters because, at a minimum, it looks like you are breaking the barrier between editorial and business, that you are schmoozing with the community’s power brokers like a publisher does, rather than staying on the news side of the organization. So what, asked the editor, should she do about this?

Clearly, much has changed since 2004. The Covid-19 epidemic for one, restricts the kind of public gatherings that were common almost 20 years ago. And volunteering time toward civic organizations today is less common at a time of staff cuts and vanishing news organizations.

An historical footnote

But the answer that David Ozar, an Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists staff advisor, gave to the Minnesota editor could be helpful to journalists or media executives who continue to be asked to serve on civic groups. Or even as an historical footnote to an earlier time in the history of journalism, when requests of that kind were more common.

“The first thing to say is that an editor who has to do such things needs to make sure she does not influence reporting about these organizations at all, because that would clearly break the barrier between reporting and business influence,” wrote Ozar in his report on this case. The editors comment “was that she is scrupulous about not being involved in reporting about them, by leaving that entirely to the reporters assigned to those beats. Her concern is not that this activity is actually compromising anything in that way, but that her staff see her going out to these things and wonder if there is compromise involved.

Sit down and talk

“I suggested that she sit down with them and talk it out, how she is being pressured by the owners for this and its benefits to the newspaper, but her concerns about the ethical barrier, etc. She could ask them for advice about it and elicit their help in making sure that the barrier is properly protected. She thought this was a good way to proceed.”

Ozar taught ethics at the time at Loyola University Chicago. He was professor of social and professional ethics in the Department of Philosophy.

Usually, AdviceLine does not know what journalists do after getting guidance from AdviceLine. In this case, AdviceLine’s manager called the Minnesota newspaper six months later and spoke to the managing editor.

What happened

AdviceLine’s manager wanted to know if the newspaper adopted any policies on staff members or executives joining civic groups. The managing editor said he discussed the issue with the editor who called AdviceLine, but “I can’t remember if we put anything in writing.”

But that changed in 2005, when a privately owned publishing company with a handbook on ethics and standards bought the Minnesota newspaper.

“In general, it says it encourages journalists to be involved in the community,” said the managing editor. “It says any involvement that is a conflict of interest or appears to be a conflict of interest should be avoided. We have a photographer who teaches a photo class at the university in town. He gets a paycheck. Is that a conflict? We leave it up to the editor and publisher. If it appears to be a conflict of interest, we say we can’t do it. For that one, (involving the photographer) we’re letting it go.”

Pressures, great and small, besiege newspapers. Some are old and some are new.  Journalists probably always will be targets of invitations to join one group or another because they know a lot about their cities, towns and villages.

AdviceLine is a free service, staffed by four university professors who are experts in ethics. AdviceLine advisors do not tell professional journalists what to do, but engage them in a discussion of benefits and harms involved in the case, leading journalists to reach decisions based on best journalism ethics practices.

AdviceLine is partnered with the Chicago Headline Club, a professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Our aim is to assist each caller make ethical decisions that:

*Are well informed by available standards of professional journalistic practice, especially the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics.

*Take account of the perspectives of all the parties involved in the situation.

*Employ clear and careful ethical thinking in reaching a decision.

Put yourself in our shoes. What advice would you have given to the Minnesota editor? Was there a better way to answer her dilemma? You be the ethicist. What ethics resources would you cite to answer her query?

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

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