Category Archives: Case Study

Rare Ethics Feud

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Seldom do Chicago journalists quarrel in public over ethics, especially when all of them are retired broadcasters from the same Chicago TV station.

But that happened when Charles Thomas, former ABC7 political reporter, appeared in a series of TV ads lauding GOP Illinois gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey, an Illinois state senator, on the eve of the November 8 election.

Every ad starts with: “For 25 years, ABC7 political reporter Charles Thomas gave you the straight news. Now, he’s giving you real talk on the governor’s race.” They emphasize his former career as a journalist giving “straight news,” which seems to allude to his credibility. This is what Thomas says about the Republican candidate:

“Darren Bailey, I met the man. He’s a family farmer. Somebody who understands what it’s like to go to work every day. Somebody who, who is fair-minded. I can trust this guy. I trust this guy. Yeah. A farmer from Southern Illinois. Yeah. Yeah. A farmer from Southern Illinois.”

Farmer and billionaire

A resident of Xenia, Illinois, Bailey was a member of the Illinois House of Representatives for two years before becoming an Illinois state senator on Jan. 13, 2021. His incumbent opponent is Jay Robert “J.B.” Pritzker, a billionaire businessman and a member of the wealthy Pritzker family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain. Pritzker has been the Illinois governor since 2019.

Thomas retired from WLS-TV, known as ABC7, owned by the ABC Owned Television Station subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, on March 3, 2017. He left, saying: “Right now, we do a lot of stories about shootings and murders and such. We talk about the South and West sides of Chicago, which is a euphemism for the black community. I’m going to begin working to change that narrative to show some of the great things that are happening for African Americans in this region, in this state. That’s a mission for me moving forward. I have some fuel left in the tank, and I’m going to use it for that.”

In 2022, he was appearing in political attack ads aimed at Pritzker. “J.B. Pritzker? What’s he ever done, outside of being born on third base and telling the world he hit a triple?” It’s a tired political joke, used before against George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump, both born to wealthy families. People do not choose their parents, so it seems unfair to criticize people for the circumstances of their birth. But Charles goes on in another ad:

“J.B Pritzker promised what he called equity with the new recreational cannabis industry opened in Illinois. Blacks got nothing. Zero. Nothing. He needs to be punished for that. Black people should not vote for J.B. Pritzker, because he didn’t live up to that promise.”

A media feud

This led to a social media feud on Twitter between Charles and former Channel Seven colleagues.

Mark Giangreco, former WLS-TV sports director and lead sports anchor, called “sellout shill Charles Thomas’ campaign ads for Darren Bailey” ridiculous. Replying to Giangreco, Thomas shot back: “FREE Black man runs off the Democrat plantation and the White liberal Twitter dogs are barking! Run, Charles, Run.”

During a talk-radio WVON interview, Charles admitted being paid $50,000 to do the ad campaign, after being contacted by Dan Proft, a conservative strategist who runs the People Who Play By the Rules PAC that is backing Bailey.

“The reason I’m doing what I’m doing right now is not because they’re paying me $50,000,” Charles said during the interview. “Keep in mind, I got expenses, too. I got to pay people that work with me. But why I’m doing this is because of this ‘if you ain’t a Democrat, you ain’t Black.’ This (President) Joe Biden BS. I’m tired of that.” Thomas said he was shocked to see that Giangreco called him a sellout and asked, “Who am I selling out?”

Misleading promotion

Giangreco answered that by saying: “Obviously, you’re more than entitled to your political views. The issue is the misleading & unethical way you & Proft are promoting your guy .. using your former station’s call letters & images of its anchors to try to enhance your credibility.”

The opening image of Thomas at the ABC7 news desk in the ads includes Ron Magers, former ABC7 Chicago news anchor, who retired in 2016. Magers Tweeted: “Oh my, what appeared to be a judgment about reputation and ethics gets a race card response? Says a lot about you, Charles.” The ABC7 logo appears clearly in the ad with Thomas.

In the Twitter exchange with Giangreco, Thomas points out that Giangreco’s brother, Peter, is a political consultant, some of whom “get paid a LOT more (than Thomas). You could probably use a few extra bucks. How long has it been?”

Colleague surprised

Former ABC7 political reporter Andy Shaw, who worked with Thomas, said in an emailed statement: “I was surprised to see Charles, my longtime ABC7 colleague and successor as political reporter, starring in a political ad and on a candidate’s payroll because former newsies rarely engage in high-visibility partisan politics, and that’s one reason several of our former colleagues were so critical.”

Shaw said he was shocked by the general assumption that Thomas was a liberal Democrat. “Our bad for stereotyping, and beyond that, Charles doesn’t represent ABC7 any longer, so he’s free to support any candidate in any way he chooses, as are the rest of us.”

Responding to Shaw’s comment, Thomas said that general assumption was interesting. “Maybe they thought that because I was in journalism…somehow I had to be a liberal Democrat too. Well, I’m a moderate independent. That’s what I think of myself as, but maybe that’s who they think I was selling out: The fraternity of liberal journalists.”

Illinois corruption

This is not a column about ethics in government. That would be too much to expect in Illinois, given its corruption history and the number of former governors who went to prison. It is about a subject not covered in the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics, which advises active journalists how to conduct themselves. The code does not address how former journalists should conduct themselves.

This is a column about how a respected former Chicago journalist seems to be lending his credibility to a political cause that does not appear to help his mission, to change the narrative about African Americans living on Chicago’s South and West sides. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t see how adding to political polarization helps. It’s a good mission, though.

The liberal use of the ABC7 logo during those attack ads also is disturbing. It gives the impression that the television station supports what Thomas is saying. Journalists are forbidden to use company stationery for their volunteer work. It, or anything else with the company’s identification, should be used for company business.

In these times when media credibility is under attack, there should be no confusion about media ethics standards or false representations of support for causes.

Thomas reacts hotly to his critics, which tends to be typical of thin-skinned journalists who enjoy watching a good fight, and reporting about it, as long as it does not involve them. Since Thomas covered Illinois politics for a long time, he should know it’s hazardous to a person’s reputation.


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

Fake or Fact image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

The Crain’s Chicago Business editorial headline said it all: “When is a newspaper not a newspaper?”

Publications with the look and feel of newspapers containing politically charged articles were cropping up in mailboxes all across Illinois before the Nov. 8 gubernatorial election, appearing to favor state senator Darren Bailey, a downstate farmer and Republican rival to the incumbent governor, Democrat and billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker. Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot and other democrats appeared to be targets for criticism too.

The eight-page ersatz newspapers focus on Illinois property taxes, calling them higher than in other states, Chicago crime and violent offenders getting “out of jail free” cards to prowl city neighborhoods and illegal immigrants arriving to stay indefinitely in Elk Grove Village.

The would-be newspapers tout themselves as “real data, real news,” but contain no contact information. A note “from the publisher” says, “the data presented in this issue was generated from public records and has been reviewed for accuracy. If we inadvertently presented any data in error, please alert us via email or phone.” But no email address or phone number is given. The publisher is not identified.

Shaw Local News Network was the first to shed light on that mystery, identifying the publisher as Local Government Information Services. Its website contends the organization “covers nearly every corner of Illinois” with 20 digital newspapers and 11 print editions offering “candid and concise local government news” and “a real media watchdog.” The print version is mailed unsolicited to large numbers of registered voters.

Further investigation revealed a force behind LGIS is far-right activist Dan Proft, co-host of a morning radio show, though his exact affiliation is not clear. Crain’s says LGIS is owned by Proft. The Proft newspapers printed unflattering and false stories about Governor Pritzker and his high school-aged daughter.

Publishing political content in the guise of traditional newspapers was the first red flag in the ensuing controversy. Crain’s Chicago Business called the LGIS publications propaganda “mimicking the look and feel of actual newspapers.”

“We live in a time when independent, nonpartisan journalism is increasingly rare — and more necessary than at any other moment in living history,” said Crain’s.

Then the situation got messier, from a journalism ethics viewpoint.

“It eventually came to light that these imitation newspapers were being printed by Paddock Publications’ commercial printing arm and distributed with a postage permit registered to Paddock,” reported Crain’s.

Based in Schaumburg, Paddock Publications is the parent company of the Daily Herald, third-largest newspaper in Illinois with a circulation of around 150,000 and dating to 1872.

Producing and apparently providing postage for LGIS publications, contends Crain’s, “is pretty much the definition of promoting this message.”

Upon learning of Paddock’s connection with Proft and LGIS, Governor Pritzker backed out of a Zoom gubernatorial forum with Daily Herald editors.

In a letter to Paddock Publisher Douglas K. Ray, Pritzker’s campaign manager, Mike Ollen, expressed “our extreme disappointment and utter shock regarding Paddock Publications Inc., the employee-owned parent company of the Daily Herald, allegedly lending its bulk mail permit to Local Government Information Services.” Allen describes LGIS as “the right-wing organization headed by Republican political strategist Dan Proft that is responsible for the onslaught of fake and misleading newspaper-style mailers that have been arriving in mailboxes across Illinois.

“These mailers are specifically designed to mislead readers into thinking they are legitimate journalism when in reality they are unlabeled ads attacking political candidates.”

The fake newspapers, said Ollen, “represent an existential threat to quality, independent journalism — making it all the more unfathomable Paddock would cast its journalistic responsibility aside in the name of profit” and is “actively undermining the good work that the legitimate reporters at the Daily Herald do every day to combat the rising wave of misinformation and fake news.”

Within hours of getting Ollen’s message, Paddock Publications announced it dropped its printing and mailing contract with LGIS.

“The perception for some has become that the Daily Herald favors one party over another and by printing for LGIS, it’s somehow promoting its message. That is not true,” said a message to Daily Herald readers by Senior Management of Paddock Publications. “Still, we understand that perception matters. And we want to move forward and extract ourselves from this politically charged environment.

“As a result, Paddock Publications has made the decision to cancel commercial printing jobs with LGIS. As an independent newspaper publisher, we want no part of the flame-throwing accusations taking place between Gov. J.B. Pritzker and LGIS. Many critics cannot or refuse to differentiate between a commercial printing operation, for which the parent company Paddock Publications has many customers, and the Daily Herald’s editorial mission to be unbiased and fair.”

The scolding tone of management’s statement seemed to blame others for failing to recognize “it was a business decision to take on the job,” although management’s statement opened by saying: “Perception is everything. Especially in politics.” It appears a public outcry was needed to recognize that, belatedly.

After the contract cancellation, Pritzker agreed to appear in the governor forum.

North Cook News, one of the LGIS publications, reported Paddock’s move “will not disrupt the distribution of LGIS newspapers.” The publication reported that LGIS was founded in 2014 with the DuPage Policy Journal, and lashed back at Paddock.

“Paddock Publications, the employee-owned company which owns the Daily Herald, took million (sic) of dollars in payments from LGIS over a seven year period to publish and distribute the chain’s newspapers from its 24-acre complex in Schaumburg. That ended abruptly after the Pritzker complaint.”

Chicago, Cook County and Illinois have histories of political hanky-panky, and political operatives often are proud of it. Especially if the shenanigans go undetected for a long time. In the Paddock case, LGIS reveals that its printing partnership with Paddock lasted seven years. None of the media reports explained how the LGIS operation is funded.

An LGIS directory listed 33,500 entries, including business groups, law firms, American Legion Posts, government groups and committees, restaurants, high school football teams, election officials, churches, synagogues, judicial districts, school districts and many others. Their role in supporting LGIS is not clear, but there are a lot of them.


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

digging further..

Naming A Boy in Sex Case image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

A church youth leader is accused of having a sexual relationship with a boy, a minor at the time of the alleged crime.

The youth is 18 years old by the time the case reaches trial. His mother is the first witness in the case, using her full name. In court, the boy is identified as John Doe.

The reporter covering the case calls the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, asking if his California newspaper should print the mother’s name, which would identify the boy. They live in a small town.

The reporter is concerned about potential harm to the boy from being identified.

“I asked if the news organization has any policies or precedents that are relevant” to the case, the AdviceLine advisor said in his report on this case. The advisor also mentioned the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics, which urges journalists to minimize harm while seeking truth.

The reporter responded that his newspaper had no policies or precedents that could help answer the question.

Looking for a second opinion, the AdviceLine ethicist contacted a member of the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists staff who is a professional journalist. Most of the questions AdviceLine gets are answered by a staff of ethicists who teach or taught ethics at universities. But the ethicists sometimes reach out to professional journalists to ask how the news media typically handle some ethics issues.

“I wanted to get a second opinion on this since the boy is now at the legal age of an adult, and his mother is allowing herself to be named,” said the ethicist. The journalist “agreed with my initial inclination to err on the side of caution without a compelling reason to identify him.”

The journalist pointed out that even though the complainant is 18 years old, he is still young and warrants some additional protection.

“That’s in keeping with what the SPJ code and ethics scholars would say about being sensitive to vulnerable parties, including young people,” said the ethicist in his report. When the ethicist called back, he learned that the reporter had discussed the case again with his editor and they had come to the same conclusion.

Here’s what the SPJ code of ethics says: “Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.”


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

Lawyer Seeks Advice image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Journalists typically call the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists seeking advice about knotty ethics issues.

But not all callers are professional journalists. A lawyer called AdviceLine with a question that sometimes puzzles reporters, too: Does a journalist have a duty to inform an interviewee that his answers to questions will appear in an article, along with his name and title?

The lawyer said he was writing an article for a law review and gathering interviews as background. Part way through his research, it occurred to the lawyer that he had not told his sources that he intended to quote them in the article.

Would it be ethical, asked the lawyer, to quote his sources without their permission?

The AdviceLine ethicist saw this case as a potential dilemma in both journalism ethics and in academic ethics.

On the academic side, the advisor explained the definition of academic plagiarism, using the ideas or phrases of others without attribution. In that case, the lawyer “was certainly doing the right thing by citing his sources by name,” said the AdviceLine advisor. In academic practice, the advisor added, permission is not always required but “it would be professionally courteous to do so.”

The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists team consists of two groups of advisors, including university professors who teach ethics and professional journalists. University professors answer the bulk of questions posed to AdviceLine. In some cases, like this one involving the lawyer, the ethics journalism ethicsprofessor asked a professional journalist on the team to join in answering the question.

Occasionally, journalists who call AdviceLine simply want to know how other journalists would typically handle a particular situation. In that case, it’s more a matter of established journalism practice rather than ethics.

Interviewing sources is a key skill in journalism. In part, the lawyer who called AdviceLine seemed to be asking how a professional journalist would handle the question of identifying sources.

Professional journalists generally learn to develop a clear set of ground rules for interviewing sources. One of those rules is to say immediately that everything is on the record. That should be clear at the start. If there is any hesitation about that, it should be discussed before the interview begins.

“If somebody gets a call from a reporter asking questions, it should be assumed the reason for the call is that the information is likely to be published,” said the journalist involved in this discussion. “I know it sounds like a given, but I’ve had a few cases, after an article was published, that somebody interviewed called back and complained that they did not expect to be identified or quoted. Ideally, the reason for the interview should be made clear at the outset, and maybe again at the end of the interview. The reporter could say something like, ‘I intend to identify you and intend to use your comments in a story,’ just to be perfectly clear, especially when dealing with people who are not accustomed to talking to reporters.”

A mayor or other public officials would understand why a reporter is interviewing them. So this also is a matter of sophistication. A wise, ethical reporter should be more careful when interviewing members of the public and identifying them.


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

Racism Riles Newsroom image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

A reporter/columnist for a North Carolina newspaper gave a speech to members of the League of the South, telling them how to get their white supremacy message out through media.

This touched off some friction in the newsroom, causing a staff writer for the newspaper to call the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, asking if what her colleague did was ethical?

The League of the South is an American white nationalist, neo-Confederate, white supremacist organization headquartered in Killen, Alabama. Its ultimate goal is a ” free and independent Southern republic.” The group defines the Southern United States as the 11 states that made up the former Confederacy. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the league a hate group.

The newspaper’s management did not know about the reporter/columnist’s speech, which was given several years earlier, until recently, but was considering publishing a story that mentioned the league, along with a disclaimer mentioning the speech.

“My editor spoke with her and she claimed she didn’t know at the time what the group was about — an explanation that defies credulity given that she is a reasonably intelligent woman who writes about politics, lives in the south and has Internet access,” the staff writer told an AdviceLine advisor. “But the editor took this at face value,” she added, saying the disclaimer might be shelved, partly because the reporter/columnist “was outraged that the editor wanted her to account in print for why she’d been there.

“While we’re given considerable latitude to speak before groups, I am outraged that someone I work with would speak before what is essentially a white supremacist group. When I voiced my concerns to my editor, he became angry at me for bringing him problems without offering solutions.

“He does not seem to want to deal with this. This whole incident is affecting my perceptions of my paper and my role here. Alternative weeklies are typically ‘progressive’ publications, and I most certainly don’t want to work for a publication that harbors people who appeal to racist neo-Confedrate groups. How might I deal with this?”

The AdviceLine advisor asked a few questions about what she knew about the content of her colleague’s speech, and if she is accusing the reporter/columnist of being sympathetic to the league’s views and doubts she was not aware of the league’s goals. The writer said she does not believe her colleague is “an outright racist, but she appeals to a certain segment.”

The AdviceLine advisor responded: “I said I see nothing unethical in what her colleague did, but there is great danger in any ‘implied association’ news reporters may establish. There is less concern if the person is an opinion commentator.” It seemed clear the writer was upset about her colleague’s actions, and that the editor might not publish a proposed story on hate groups, including mentioning the league.

“An ethical perspective gives even ‘crazy ideas’ a right to be heard,” said the advisor. “Access to the media is for all ideas… I said the whole idea is to get the ‘crazy’ ideas out as well as those ideas that oppose the ‘crazy’ ones so the public can decide which ideas are craziest.” The writer responded that she doesn’t object to the league being covered and to allow their voice to get out there.

“My opinion,” wrote the advisor in his report on this call: The writer who called “is upset about her colleague’s views and is looking for an ethical reason and our support to use with her editor. She is basing her objections on her personal suspicions about her colleague. I refused to fall into this trap. I found nothing in what she said to support her opinion that her editor is ‘harboring racist, neo-Confedrate groups.”

The writer sent an email thanking the advisor for his advice, although he suspects she was not pleased with his opinion.


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

American Indian Ethics image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Showing respect is a basic law of life, says a Native American traditional code of ethics.

This might sound soothing to Americans watching the hyper-polarization and mean-spirited castigations rampaging across the nation these days over politics, abortion, war and inflation.

American Indians, also known as the First Americans, are among those who can lay claim to a history of terrible suffering and carnage. If suffering brings wisdom, American Indians can lay claim to that, too.

It shows in the Native American Indian Traditional Code of Ethics. The original version was printed in 1982 in the book, “The Sacred Tree,” by the Four Worlds Development Project, dedicated to eliminating alcohol and drug abuse by Canadian natives. It can be found at The “Inter-Tribal Times” adapted and reprinted the original version in 1994.

I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this code as being traditional, since native Americans in the United States alone consist of 574 federally recognized tribes, about half of which are associated with 326 Indian reservations. They have inhabited the United States at least 15,000 years. Their tribal customs and beliefs differ.

But the code’s sentiments seem worthy of consideration, offering a peaceful perspective. This is a shortened version of that code, presented as it appears on the website where it is found:

Each morning upon rising, and each evening before sleeping, give thanks for the life within you and for all life, for the good things the Creator has given you and for the opportunity to grow a little more each day…Seek for the things that will benefit others (everyone).

Respect means “to feel or show honor or esteem for someone or something; to consider the well being of, or to treat someone or something with deference or courtesy.” Showing respect is a basic law of life.

  1. Treat every person from the tiniest child to the oldest elder with respect at all times.
  2. Special respect should be given to elders, parents, teachers and community leaders.
  3. No person should be made to feel “put down” by you; avoid hurting other hearts as you would avoid a deadly poison.
  4. Touch nothing that belongs to someone else (especially sacred objects) without permission, or an understanding between you.
  5. Respect the privacy of every person, never intrude on a person’s quiet moment or personal space.
  6. Never walk between people that are conversing.
  7. Never interrupt people who are conversing.
  8. Speak in a soft voice, especially when you are in the presence of elders, strangers or others to whom special respect is due.
  9. Do not speak unless invited to do so at gatherings where elders are present (except to ask what is expected of you, should you be in doubt.)
  10. Never speak about others in a negative way, whether they are present or not.
  11. Treat the earth and all of her aspects as your mother. Show deep respect for the mineral world, the plant world and the animal world. Do nothing to pollute our mother. Rise up with wisdom to defend her.
  12. Show deep respect for the beliefs and religion of others.
  13. Listen with courtesy to what others say, even if you feel that what they are saying is worthless. Listen with your heart.
  14. Respect the wisdom of the people in council. Once you give an idea to a council meeting it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to the people. Respect demands that you listen intently to the ideas of others in council and that you do not insist that your idea prevails. Indeed you should freely support the ideas of others if they are true and good, even if those ideas are quite different from the ones you have contributed. The clash of ideas brings forth the spark of truth.

Once a council has decided something in unity, respect demands that no one speak secretly against what has been decided. If the council has made an error, that error will become apparent to everyone in its own time.

Be truthful at all times, and under all conditions.

Always treat your guests with honor and consideration. Give of your best food, your best blankets, the best part of your house and your best service to your guests.

The hurt of one is the hurt of all, the honor of one is the honor of all.

Receive strangers and outsiders with a loving heart and as members of the human family.

All the races and tribes in the world are like the different colored flowers of one meadow. All are beautiful. As children of the Creator they must all be respected.

To serve others, to be of some use to family, community, nation and the world is one of the main purposes for which human beings have been created… True happiness comes only to those who dedicate their lives to the service of others.

Observe moderation and balance in all things.

Know those things that lead to your well-being, and those things that lead to your destruction.

Listen to and follow the guidance given to your heart. Expect guidance to come in many forms, in prayer, in dreams, in times of quiet solitude and in the words and deeds of wise elders and friends.


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

Politicians Driving Drunk image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

A team of reporters with a Minnesota newspaper wonder if it would be unfair to report that three candidates for public office were convicted for driving while under the influence and driving while intoxicated.

Two candidates are running for county attorney and one for the county board. Two of the convictions date to the 1990s and one from three years ago. The newspaper covered the convictions when they happened.

The newspaper’s editor called the Ethics AdviceLine, saying his reporters cannot agree on whether the convictions, some of them dated, should be mentioned in news reports about the candidates. The editor asked an AdviceLine adviser for an opinion.

“Yes,” answered the adviser. “DWI and DUI are serious convictions enough to influence their votes and the voting public has a right to know about them. The paper’s job is to seek and print the truth.”

The editor pressed further. “Should we investigate, then, all candidates running for office and possible past convictions?”

The adviser responded: “If not you, who?” An informed public makes the best voters.

“That’s a good way to put it,” answered the editor.

Although the editor was asking about political candidates running for office, ethicists might take it a step further and consider the consequences of electing officials with drunken driving records.

The Alcohol Problems and Solutions website reports that many politicians are arrested for drunken driving, although dozens of members of Congress each year escape arrests by invoking their congressional privilege of immunity.

“The privilege was originally provided over 200 years ago to protect members of Congress from politically-motivated arrests,” said the organization, adding that the privilege of immunity “serves no useful purpose today and is an affront to law-abiding citizens.”

The organization lists politicians arrested for drunk driving, beginning with former president George W. Bush when he was 30 years old and Dick Cheney, the former vice president, when he was 22 years old. The website names other politicians arrested for drunk driving state-by-state.

Charges usually involve alcohol, but abuse of legal and illegal drugs might be an even bigger problem, according to the website, but estimates of the extent of the problem “are virtually non-existent.”

Drunk driving kills and injures thousands of people each year, said the organization. “Therefore, it’s especially important for elected officials to be good role models. However, politicians arrested for drunk driving set a poor example. Yet is appears that voters tend not to vote their disapproval of this crime. Perhaps that’s because so many voters drive intoxicated themselves.”

Police arrest over 1.5 million people annually for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

What do you think? Should reporters publish details about candidates and elected officials arrested and convicted for drunken driving?


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

Leaked Abortion Decision image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

The Supreme court verdict to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion, came almost two months after a leaked draft of the decision was first reported by Politico.

The leak seemed as historic as the ruling itself. It was called “unprecedented,” mainly because all 98-pages of a first draft of an opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was leaked May 2, 2022, and published by Politico in full. It signaled that the court would overturn the 1973 landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, which it did.

According to the draft, Alito came to the “inescapable conclusion” that “a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions.” Given the leak, the court’s final ruling appeared to be a foregone conclusion. In a 5-4 decision, the high court finally decided that individual states should establish their own abortion laws, which would make some states havens for abortions while others banned or penalized them.

Court observers said parts of previous Supreme Court decisions had been leaked or speculated upon before a final decision was rendered, but never the full text of a proposed decision as in the abortion case. It was described as a first in the court’s modern history.

In a statement, Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed that the leaked document was “authentic,” but went on to say it “does not represent a decision by the court of the final position of any member on issues in the case.” The court launched an investigation into the source of the leak. By the time of the final decision, no culprit was discovered. Some speculated it was a democrat or a republican with political motives who wanted the supreme court to protect abortion rights or abandon them. Either way, it appeared the leaker intended to influence the justices either to change their opinions or to stand fast on the Alito interpretation.

Court officials must honor their own rules and regulations governing conduct and confidentiality. Whether such rules were violated cannot be determined until the leaker is identified.

For journalists, leaks are a time-honored way to get information on stories of interest to the public. But is it ethical for journalists to use information obtained through leaks?

A reporter for an Illinois newspaper contacted AdviceLine, asking about the ethics behind publishing information gained from a person who attended an executive session by a local government body. The leaked information involved contract talks with school officials.

The newspaper already published the story, but the reporter wanted to know if it was ethical to use the information. Here is how the AdviceLine adviser answered the question:

“I asked how the information was obtained. Convinced it was obtained without deception and the source gave it up willingly to known reporters, I said there is nothing ethically wrong with publishing the documents. In fact, it seems to me to be good journalism to report on public officials about public matters when the information is obtained properly. The use of information from ‘leaks’ when there is no personal harm involved is proper.”


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

Photos of Dead Children image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

One of the leading journalism ethics issues to emerge from the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting is whether to show photos of the bullet-torn bodies of children.

It’s an old question, but gaining in fervor as mass shootings with assault rifles and ammunition designed to blow human bodies apart became the preferred instrument for mass murder.

“Should journalists publish pictures of the grisly aftermath of gun violence, so that Americans can’t duck the consequences of our permissive gun laws?” asks Joel Mathis in The Week magazine. “Or do such images invade the privacy of grieving families and harm them even further?”

Temple University journalism dean David Boardman tweeted: “It’s time – with the permission of a surviving parent — to show what a slaughtered 7-year-old looks like.

A parent approves of photos

Some parents of slaughtered school children might agree. Lenny Pozner’s 6-year-old son was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Images of the horrific damage an assault rifle did to his child might change minds about gun laws. “It would move some people,” he told The Week magazine.

The death toll at Uvalde was 19 children and two teachers. The 18-year-old shooter was killed by a Border Patrol tactical unit.

Taboos governing what is socially acceptable change over time, especially in a world coarsened by exposure to a constant stream of erotica and death of all sorts, including mangled casualties of war. But how far can, or should, journalists go to show the gore and mutilation of murdered children? That is a taboo that still causes some restraint or hesitation.

In an effort to explore this territory, AdviceLine in 2013 posted “The Limits of Gruesome,” a report about a video aired by British media of an attack on an off-duty British soldier who was hacked and stabbed to death in London. An amateur photographer with a mobile phone showed one of the assailants, his bloody hands holding a knife and a clever, explaining why he killed the soldier. The video prompted more than 700 complaints to the United Kingdom’s media regulator.

Heart-breaking drownings

Another AdviceLine post, “Photos of Dead Bodies,” in June, 2019, mentioned the heart-breaking images of a man and his daughter drowned in the Rio Grande River. An ethicist said it was an example of journalists showing a truth about immigration the public would prefer not to see. “Don’t hide them,” she said.

An AdviceLine post on “Justifying Photos of Death” in January, 2019, reported on New York Times photos of a terror attack on a Nairobi hotel, leaving 21 dead. The photos were criticized as distasteful. The Times responded: “It is important to give our readers a clear picture of the horror of an attack like this,” to give a real sense of the situation.

No doubt, the right images at the right time can launch public outcries and changes, including jailing police officers.

Emmett Till murder photos

It would be difficult to top the Emmett Till case for gruesomeness, and could serve as an example of the public’s tolerance for seeing the horrifying details of murder.

Born and raised in Chicago, Till in 1955 was a 14-year-old African American boy visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was kidnapped, tortured and shot in the head after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. His mother, Mamie Till Bradley, insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket, showing the boy’s mutilated and bloated body, which had been dumped in the Tallahatchie River.

Tens of thousands attended the funeral or viewed his open casket. Images of his disfigured body were published in magazines and newspapers. Till posthumously became an icon of the civil rights movement. Two white men were charged with his murder, but an all-white jury found them not guilty. Protected from double jeopardy, the two men admitted in a 1956 interview with Look magazine that they tortured and murdered Till. The Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, signed into law on March 29, 2022, made lynching a federal hate crime.

Rodney King beating

Crowd sourcing made a huge impact on recorded modern life and death. An early example is the Rodney King case. In 1991, he was beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers during an arrest for driving while intoxicated. A bystander filmed the beating from his nearby balcony and sent the footage to a local news station, causing a public furor around the world over police brutality.

Four of the officers were tried on charges of using excessive force. Three were acquitted; the jury failed to reach a verdict on one charge for the fourth police officer. Within hours of the acquittals, the 1992 Los Angeles riots broke out, sparked by outrage among racial minorities. Rioting lasted six days, killing 63 people and injuring 2,383 others. The federal government charged the four police officers with violating King’s civil rights. Two of the officers were found guilty in 1993 and sentenced to prison. Two were acquitted. In a separate civil lawsuit in 1994, a jury found the City of Los Angeles liable and awarded King $3.8 million in damages.

George Floyd death

George Floyd was a similar, but more deadly, case. On May 25, 2020, Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, was arrested by four Minneapolis police officers on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. During the arrest, Floyd was forced face-down in a street while officer Derek Chauvin knelt with his left knee on Floyd’s neck. Floyd pleaded he could not breathe, then died.

The next day, videos by witnesses and security cameras became public, causing worldwide consternation over police brutality. All four officers were fired and Chauvin, charged with various counts of murder and manslaughter, was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison. The three other officers also were charged. Two autopsies ruled Floyd died by homicide. On March 12, 2021, Minneapolis agreed to pay $27 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Floyd’s family.

Each of those cases demonstrate the mounting influence of photographic or video evidence in crimes. Anyone with a cell phone can record the truth of a situation. But how much truth can the public tolerate?

Children a sticking point

The United States appears to have arrived at a sticking point where children are involved, and an intersection with the development of weapons that demolish their victims. Such devastation was described in reports saying that bodies of murdered Uvalde children could only be identified by DNA or clothing they were wearing.

Journalists who produce photos of mangled children likely will be accused of sensationalism by an American public whose trust in media is near record lows, according to the Gallup Poll. Or a media challenge to Constitutional rights to own firearms. American polarization has made the search for a middle ground almost impossible, and demonization of American media is part of that mind-set. Society must decide how much it is willing to see. As with pornography, community standards might be needed to decide what is obscene.

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics is marginally helpful. It warns journalists to “use special sensitivity when dealing with children” and “show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.” But the code is silent on the delicate issue of photos of bullet-riddled children.


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

Mass Shootings image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

It’s called “the Texas massacre,” the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead. The 18-year old gunman was killed by police.

That came 10 days after another 18-year-old shot 10 African Americans at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and injured three others, livestreaming his attack on Twitch.

The Uvalde shooting came just three years after the 2019 “Texas Walmart shooting” in El Paso, where 20 people were killed and 26 injured. Gov. Greg Abbott called it “one of the most deadly days in the history of Texas.” It was believed to be the eighth deadliest in modern U.S. history at the time.

The Texas Walmart shooting came less than 24 hours before another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, where a 24-year old man shot and killed nine people, including his sister, and wounded 17 others near the entrance of a bar in Dayton. The shooter was killed by police.

Deadliest high school shooting

In 2018, an expelled student entered the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and opened fire, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others. It was described at the time as the deadliest high school shooting in United States history.

In 2017, a gunman opened fire inside the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people and wounding 20 others.

Texas stands out at the scene of several mass shootings.

Typically, in the wake of such slaughter, come pleas for action, including gun control. You might think, given recent history, even citizens of the Lone Star State might lean in that direction.

But a 2013 study found “Texans’ dueling attitudes on guns.”

Guns and culture

“Guns are a major piece of both the present and historical state culture,” said The Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “And they are believed to be enshrined in the Constitution as a right — people tend to hold some of their strongest attitudes about topics related to their identities and/or rights.”

A poll on Texans’ attitudes toward gun control found “the same ambivalence about gun regulation that was made apparent in the recent failure of the U.S. Senate to pass background check legislation ostensibly supported by 90 percent of Americans in national polls,” according to the report.

It would be wrong to call all Texans gun-lovers, since 78 percent said they supported background checks, although only 54 percent said they would like to see stricter gun control laws. Ten percent said they would like to see gun control laws relaxed.

“Taken together, about half of the background check supporters registered something akin to a general opposition to more gun control laws, or at least seriously questioned their effectiveness,” said the Texas Politics Project.

Gun violence hot spot

Given recent history, Texas might be seen as a hot spot for gun violence. It seemed reasonable to consider what Texans think about guns, and the toll in life they take. The poll indicates that Texans treasure their gun-toting culture and are not likely to change their minds about that.

The Washington Post found that the Uvalde shooting caused some Texans to question their long-time romance with guns, while others did not.

But let’s not single out Texas.

Nevada set a record for the number of mass shooting casualties on Oct. 1, 2017, when a 64-year-old gunman opened fire on a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip from his 32d-floor suite in the Mandalay Bay Hotel, killing 60 people and wounding 411 others. Panic brought the number of injured to 867. The gunman killed himself in the hotel room. His motive for the shooting is unknown.

Defenseless children

Gun violence in schools has been going on for a long time in the United States.  What seems so tragic about them is that the victims often are innocent, defenseless children. Maybe that’s one of the reasons shooters target them. Killing children causes unimaginable grief and loss. Another potential reason is that schools might be the setting where the shooters seek revenge for bullying, slights or their own grievances.

One of the first highly publicized mass school shootings happened at Pearl High School, in Pearl, Mississippi, on Oct. 1, 1997. There probably were others before, but Pearl was a sign of things to come. The 16-year-old killer began by fatally stabbing and bludgeoning his mother, then went to the local high school and opened fire on his classmates, killing three and wounding seven.

Not insane, angry

The teenaged shooter allegedly gave this message to a friend: “I am not insane, I am angry. I killed because people like me are mistreated every day. I did this to show society, push us and we will push back. All throughout my life, I was ridiculed, always beaten, always hated. Can you, society, truly blame me for what I do?”

Motives seldom are as clear as that appears to be. Shooters often die soon after their attacks, leaving the world to wonder what drove them to commit such heinous acts.

School shootings continued. A 23-year-old senior and English major at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University shot and killed 27 students and five faculty members on April 16, 2007, then later died by suicide. Shooting scenes often are chaotic. Unaware of the gunman’s identity, police pursued the boyfriend of one of the female victims, believing the shooting was an isolated domestic violence crime.

On Dec. 14, 2012, a 20-year-old man killed 20 first graders and six school employees at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, then turned the gun on himself. Earlier that day, he killed his mother in their home.

At the time, Sandy Hook was the second-deadliest mass shooting in the United States, after the 2007 Virginia Tech assault in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Confronting shootings

Such outbursts of gun violence often are followed by suggestions to confront the growing wave of school shootings.

Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Emily Richmond suggested “It’s time to rethink coverage of school shootings,” on Feb. 14, 2019.

“Schoolhouses are becoming fortresses equipped with surveillance cameras and bulletproof desks, with teachers serving double duty as armed guards,” she wrote. “Children are being pushed into terrifying drills to prepare for the possibility of a mass shooting that is statistically unlikely.”

The 2022 Uvalde shooting showed soon enough that such attacks are more than theoretical.

Sensational coverage

“Some of those trends may be fueled in part by sensational coverage of such violence,” Richmond wrote. “And a growing chorus of voices – including those of survivors, victims’ families and researchers – is urging the news media to rethink the way they approach mass shootings, including those that occur at K-12 campuses and colleges.”

Richmond points to a 2018 article appearing in a special issue of the American Behavioral Scientist journal examining implications of media coverage of mass killers.

Major media organizations in recent years have wondered if their coverage of mass shooters actually increases the risk of future attacks, and asked how their reporting can be improved, said the article’s authors,  Adam Lankford and Eric Madfis.

They found that 149 experts urged media to stop publishing the names and photos of mass killers, except during searches for suspects, but continue reporting the other details of these crimes as needed. They found that a high percentage of mass killers are suicidal and also urged media to avoid covering the shootings in a way that might invite potential imitators, or “copycat” killers.


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