Category Archives: Compassion

Covering Sexual Abuse

Poynter Institute gives guidelines for covering sexual abuse: “Journalists have a great obligation to investigate stories that potentially involve many victims.”


Rolling Stone In the Penalty Phase of a Faulty Rape Story

Rolling Stone article
Rolling Stone retracted the article in its December 2014 issue months later.

By Casey Bukro

Rolling Stone retracted its 2014 story about an alleged gang rape in a University of Virginia fraternity house after admitting post-publication doubts about the story’s accuracy. You might wonder what a blunder like that might cost a publication, and now we know.

The magazine was hammered by lawsuits. In November 2016, a federal court jury in Charlottesville, Va., awarded $3 million in damages to a former U.Va. associate dean, Nicole Eramo. The jury found that the Rolling Stone article damaged her reputation by reporting she was indifferent to allegations of a gang rape on campus. Eramo oversaw sexual violence cases at U.Va. at the time the article was published.

The jury concluded that the Rolling Stone reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, was responsible for defamation with “actual malice,” which usually means a reckless disregard for the truth.

Continue reading Rolling Stone In the Penalty Phase of a Faulty Rape Story

Bankruptcy Ends Gawker’s Stare
Gawker’s slogan: “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news.” image.

By Casey Bukro

On the Chicago police beat, which I covered at the City News Bureau of Chicago, legend was that police sometimes arrested suspicious characters for mopery with intentions to gawk.

By definition, a gawker is a person who stares openly at someone or something. To gawk is to gape, stare or rubberneck without trying to hide that you’re doing it. A gawker also can be an awkward or clumsy person.

So when Financial Times reporter Nick Denton launched in 2003, I figured I knew what to expect. The website described itself as a media news and gossip blog, one of its goals being to “afflict the comfortable.” Gawker Media became a network of blogs, including Gizmodo, Deadpan, Jezebel and Lifehacker.

Farhad Manjoo, in the New York Times, called Gawker Media “the first publisher that understood the pace, culture and possibilities of online news. And it used that understanding to unleash a set of technical, business and journalistic innovations on the news industry that have altered how we produce, consume and react to media today.”
Continue reading Bankruptcy Ends Gawker’s Stare

Killing the Messenger, Live: Journalists Killed on Video

By Casey Bukro

Killing the messenger takes new meaning when you see it live, in living color, as happened in the deaths of a Virginia television news reporter and her cameraman.

WDBJ correspondent Alison Parker was conducting an on-air interview in a Moneta, Va., shopping center when she and the photographer, Adam Ward, were shot and killed by a disgruntled former colleague who also videotaped the attack and put it on social media.

The New York Daily News gave the murders front-page display, in very graphic detail than some TV outlets shunned.

Embedded image permalink

Killings on video are increasingly common these days. Journalists are among those targeted now, becoming victims and not just reporters of  events. Parker and Ward’s names are now added to a list that included James Foley and Daniel Pearl.

Tech-savvy killers use social media and the internet these days to show their crimes.

The Islamic State group released a video in 2014 showing Foley, clad in an orange gown, kneeling on the ground next to a man dressed in black holding a knife. Foley makes a short statement and then is decapitated.

In 2002, Pearl, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, disappeared while on assignment in Karachi, Pakistan. Video shown around the world via the Internet showed Arab extremists cutting his throat, then decapitating the reporter.

In this world of social media, terrorists don’t need reporters to tell their message. Terrorists can do that themselves now, and one way of doing that is killing reporters.

Continue reading Killing the Messenger, Live: Journalists Killed on Video

Charlie Hebdo’s Dead Boy Cartoon Triggers Global Ire

Photo published for Charlie Hebdo Mocks The Death of Syrian Child Aylan Kurdi

Nilufer Demir/Reuters photo

By Casey Bukro

Charlie Hebdo, the French satire newspaper, published a cartoon of a drowned 3-year-old boy and showed why codes of ethics should warn against satirical cruelty.

Satire can be cruel, inspiring or infuriating. Maybe all at once. But are there limits to this form of freedom of expression?

Charlie Hebdo clearly touched a nerve by joking about the boy lying facedown in the surf of a Turkish beach, after drowning with his mother and a brother while attempting to flee war-torn Syria, becoming a stark symbol of Europe’s growing migrant crisis.

The cartoon was based on photos of the boy, first described as Aylan Kurdi and corrected later as Alan Kurdi.

“The haunting photograph of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach last week, has been inescapable; even if you’ve just seen it once, it’s an image you can’t forget,” wrote Carolyn O’Hara, managing editor of The Week magazine.

O’Hara compared it with other grim photos of the past that forced the world to confront some tragic realities, such as the the 1972 photo of a naked Vietnamese girl screaming in agony from napalm burns, the 1993 image of a vulture stalking a starving Sudanese toddler and the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner with outstretched arms.

It could be argued that these images served a greater purpose. Can the same be said about Charlie Hebdo?

Continue reading Charlie Hebdo’s Dead Boy Cartoon Triggers Global Ire

GamerGate Ethics: It’s Not About Scoring Points

Grand Theft Auto 5
Off-the-rails video mayhem in Grand Theft Auto 5 (Rockstar Games)

What’s the point of video game debate? Consumer reviews pose valid ethical issues, but not this one.

By Stephen Rynkiewicz

Critics are prepared to justify their opinions, but shouldn’t be forced to defend their livelihoods, much less their lives. Yet that’s the challenge now facing video game reviewers, and it’s a struggle that tests the maturity of their industry.

Threats against cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian brought the issue mainstream attention. An anonymous email warned Utah State University administrators of a shooting massacre at her speech on women in video games. She canceled the appearance.

It’s hard not to identify with that dilemma. But when I circulated the New York Times report on Sarkeesian’s cancelation, the Twitter response was harsh. “Oh boo hoo,” one wrote, “those terrible, count them, ZERO, attacks on hated busybody con artists.” That suggests the level of the “GamerGate” debate.

No regrets from this editor if the mayhem stays at zero. I’m trained to keep writers safe. Mostly reporters want an editor to check their facts and their logic; reviewers need a sounding board. We may even disapprove of what our critics say. Yet editors defend their right to say it. Must we defend to the death?

Continue reading GamerGate Ethics: It’s Not About Scoring Points

Olympic Tears

By Casey Bukro

Olympic skier Bode Miller cried as NBC’s Christin Cooper interviewed him, asking him a string of questions about the influence Miller’s dead brother might have had on the skier’s bronze metal performance in the race he had just finished.

Midway through the interview, tears streaming down his face, stammering at times, Miller bowed his helmeted head and fell silent. Cooper placed a hand on Miller’s arm and said: “Sorry.”

The media and the world in general have come down hard on Cooper,  a former Olympic skier herself in the 1984 games, for “pushing too hard” in the Miller interview.

In the aftermath of this furor, Miller proved to be a class act. He tweeted, “please be gentle w christen cooper, it was crazy emotional and not at all her fault.” In another tweet, he said “she asked questions that every interviewer would have, pushing is part of it, she wasn’t trying to cause pain.”

Miller has a point. It is the nature of television to go for the visual and the emotional. Cooper noted that Miller looked to the sky moments before starting his medal-winning Alpine Super-G run, implying he might be thinking about his brother Chelone, who died at the age of 29 last year after suffering a seizure. Miller said later there was some truth to that.

Cooper is one of those attractive sport figures turned broadcasters. Without a background in professional journalism, there is reason to believe Cooper simply does not understand or did not have the depth of experience to learn how far to go. She is co-founder of a restaurant in Bozeman, Montana.

There are boundaries in good taste and ethics that professional journalists learn to recognize, or should learn to recognize.

At least credit Cooper for saying “sorry,” perhaps moved by seeing how emotionally distraught Miller became by her questions about Chelone.

Television puts attractive but nonprofessional commentators in sensitive situations at its own peril. That might be one of the lessons of the Sochi Olympics in Russia.

Although much of the criticism rained down on Cooper, nothing was said about the excessive time NBC’s camera followed Miller after he walked away from Cooper, then slumped down weeping against a low wall until his wife came to comfort him. It was too much.

The Cooper interview has been timed by the New York Times at 75 seconds. But the camera lingered on Miller far longer after he ended the interview by walking away.  At that point, the interview was over. Miller should have been left alone in his private grief, instead of being hounded by the camera.

Maybe it was NBC’s idea of good TV, but it was  a bad way to treat a human being.

Ombudsmen a Global Growth Industry

By Casey Bukro

The Washington Post’s decision early this year to dump its ombudsman got a lot of attention, but a global growth in the ranks of ombudsmen as a step toward development has gone largely unnoticed.

“This growth reflects a belief in young or fragile democracies that strong media play a critical role in development,” reports “themediaonline,” most notably in Latin America.

“Themediaonline” report was based on “Giving the Public a Say: How News Ombudsmen Ensure Accountability, Build Trust and Add Value to Media Organizations” It was published by fesmedia Africa, a media project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Namibia, Africa. FES is a nongovernment, nonprofit foundation that promotes democratization and good governance.

An Argentine academic said the work of ombudsmen “demands our attention.”

In Africa, according to the report, ombudsmen organizations play an important role in fending off government interference. Instead of working for news media, ombudsmen in other parts of the world might operate as voluntary associations.

Africa has become a hotbed of ombudsman activity.

Complaints to a press ombudsman in the Johannesburg area jumped 224 percent since 2009, according to a report at the South Africa Editors’ Forum at Umhlanga, Africa.

Johan Retief, deputy press ombudsman of Print Media South Africa, said his organization received 151 complaints from aggrieved newspaper readers and newsmakers in 2009, and the tally is expected to reach 490 in 2013. PMSA is described as a nonprofit voluntary association with a membership of 700 newspapers and magazines in four languages.

Greater numbers of complaints to the ombudsman organization have been laid to growing public awareness of the organization’s public advocate role and its effectiveness in dealing with complaints about inaccurate or unfair newspaper reporting, according to IOLnews.

The newspaper industry’s previous system of self-regulation came under attack as “toothless,” and the governing African National Congress threatened to create a statutory tribunal to hear complaints. That was avoided by a stronger stance by the ombudsmen.

For example, Press Ombudsman Retief ordered the Daily Sun newspaper to publish a front page apology for front page color photos of the bodies of people killed in mob attacks.

Complainants said the pictures were insensitive, dehumanizing, inconsiderate, caused discomfort to society and lacked compassion, according to a report in the Mail & Guardian.

The photos published in October and November also raised concerns that they exposed society, including children, to extreme violence and desensitized people to violent crimes.

An Unattended Death Puts Newsroom to Test

By Lee Anne Peck

Should a news organization publish a dead man’s earlier prison sentence? A 36-year-old man, Kevin Benham, was discovered drowned by hikers in a wilderness area. The hikers tried to revive him but were unsuccessful. Benham’s death was ruled “unattended, ” and the coroner reported the death was not a suicide.

Benham had Huntington’s Disease, which is a hereditary, degenerative brain disorder; this disease has no cure. Take note: The disease also slowly diminishes a person’s ability to reason, walk and talk.  Benham’s biological mother and two brothers died from Huntington’s. The coroner noted that Benham most likely died from the disease.

As a reporter from the Adriondack Daily Enterprise began researching background information for a story and obituary on Benham, he came across information that Benham had served eight years in an Arizona prison for kidnapping a woman. He was also listed as a sexual predator. Benham’s lawyer had told the court about his client’s disease and tried to explain this is why Benham had kidnapped the girl.

After Benham served his sentence, he had returned home a year ago from Arizona.

Managing Editor Peter Crowley and his staff struggled with whether to print that information in the Sept. 26, 2013, afternoon edition  of the newspaper.  The story had already been published online without the prison sentence.

When I talked with Crowley, we discussed what his staff’s professional values were.  What good would printing the information do if Benham was already gone? What harm would happen to those who were left (his adopted family)?

The rival paper, The (Plattsburgh) Press Republican, did print the prison sentence and also reported that Benham had been registered locally as a sex offender.

In the end, the Daily Enterprise never did print the prison sentence information. I told Crowley I agreed with him:  The reporting of the prison sentence would serve no purpose at this point.

See how two competing newspapers covered this same story:

Link to Adirondack Daily Enterprise:
The Press Republican of Plattsburgh link: