Category Archives: Weighing Benefits and Harm

A Lifetime of Journalism Ethics

 

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Back in 1972, a Harris poll found that only 18 percent of the public had confidence in the print media; television ranked lower.

Garbage collectors scored higher in public confidence.

As a reporter for the Chicago Tribune at the time, I thought that was shameful, and not only for journalism and journalists.

That got me started on a lifelong mission to make the news media more trustworthy, and to earn public confidence in the belief that factual information is the lifeblood of a self-governing democracy.

You’d think you were on the side of the angels if you spent much of your life campaigning for journalism ethics. But you need more than angels to make much headway in getting the public’s respect and the cooperation of journalists, some of whom consider journalism ethics an oxymoron. A contradiction in terms.

I thought it was something worth fighting for, and for sure, much of it was a struggle with occasional and surprising twists and turns. And I encountered some inspiring people along the way, and a few who put their foot in my face.

                               Media under ferocious attack

For me, it began in the 1970s, a time of civil rights marches, Watergate, Vietnam, and a rising environmental crusade. Today’s journalists think President Donald Trump is tough on reporters, but so was Ronald Reagan. His vice president, Spiro Agnew, was calling reporters “nattering nabobs of negativism.” The media were under ferocious attack, much like they are today.

I was chairman of the Sigma Delta Chi Professional Journalistic Society’s Professional Development Committee at that fateful time. The society changed its name in 1973 to the Society of Professional Journalists.

At its 1972 national convention in Dallas, the society adopted a resolution asking journalists and the public to be aware “of the importance of objectivity and credibility in the news media by calling attention to abuses of these tenets when they occur.” That resolution came to the Professional Development Committee “for study and program proposals.”

Committee members considered a list of things to do in response to the convention mandate, with a new code of ethics that the society could call its own topping the list. The society had borrowed an American Society of Newspaper Editors code of ethics dating to 1926, a worthy but outdated code that pre-dated television and the many contributions of women in journalism.

While I researched modern ideas in journalism ethics, committee members offered their thoughts. Some of the most active were Haig Keropian of the Van Nuys News, Clifford Rowe of the Seattle Times, David Offer of the Milwaukee Journal, Wendell Phillippi of the Indianapolis News, Dorman Cordell of the Associated Press, Sherman London of the Waterbury Republic and American, Noel Avon Wilson of Lincoln University, Robert Liming of The State newspaper, Sidney Elsner of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Searle (Ed) Hawley of the Chicago Tribune.

After gathering ideas and inspiration, I was the one who sat at my Underwood typewriter (yes, this was before computers) and wrote a code of ethics, which earned me the title of its author, since I was the one who organized the thing and pressed the keys to create the words. I wanted it to reflect the ideals of SPJ and of journalism in a soaring way, reflecting not only what journalism is but what it wants to be. It was aspirational in nature.

People might ask who would have the gall, the temerity, the chutzpah, to write a code of ethics. But that’s how it happened.

That was just the beginning. Strong leadership in journalism ethics was a niche waiting to be filled.

                            A new code of ethics

The next year, in 1973, I presented the new code of ethics to the convention. What happened next was bizarre, surprising and probably unprecedented in the history of the world. Only once in SPJ’s 100-year history has a resolution been adopted twice, unanimously, by the convention delegates. Usually once is enough. But not this time. It was Nov. 16, 1973.

I walked up to the dais and introduced the proposed code, calling it “strong stuff”
that outlawed accepting gifts, free travel or secondary employment that could damage a journalist’s credibility. “Freebies” were a particular sore point. The public was suspicious of politicians on the take, and would be equally suspicious of reporters on the take.

William Payette, the society’s president, called for its adoption, expecting a fierce fight. All the delegates had copies of the proposed code in their notebooks for prior inspection. There were several hundred journalists in that conference room. Typically, journalists will challenge the use of words, sentences, phrases, even the punctuation, in written material. It’s what they do.

Instead of resistance, without objection or one word of debate, the new code was loudly adopted with a chorus of “ayes.”

I was walking from the dais when Russ Hurst, the society’s executive officer at the time, grabbed my arm with a worried look and asked me if the delegates understood what they had just done. He also had expected a battle over a code that urged journalists to “actively censure and try to prevent violations” of the code.

So once again, I returned to the microphone, to Payette’s surprise after I tapped him on the shoulder, and explained I was told to do it again. In a louder voice and giving more details, I declared that this was a code of ethics “with teeth” that reflected the society’s own “ideals in the practice of journalism.”

And a second chorus of “ayes” rang out, without objections or debate.

It was an idea whose time had come, and possibly the last time ethics was mentioned at an SPJ convention without triggering a fierce debate.

A good code of ethics should remind you it’s there, like a pebble in your shoe. It should not be easily ignored. It should require you to pay attention. Ethics requires thought and action.

A controversial pledge

The “pebble” in this code was the pledge, at the end. It said: “Journalists should actively censure and try to prevent violations of these standards, and they should encourage their observance by all news people.” This became known as “the enforcement clause.”

SPJ leaders responded cautiously with a go-slow campaign of hanging copies of the ethics code on newsroom and journalism school walls.

For the next decade, the code nagged at members, as a good code should. It should not be words on paper, but a call to action.

On Nov. 19, 1977, an SPJ convention in Detroit adopted a resolution mandating that “chapters be encouraged to develop procedures for dealing with questions of ethics.” That never was done.

Then an oversight was noticed in the code. It did not mention plagiarism.

The 1984 convention in Indianapolis took care of that. A resolution mandated that the code include: “Plagiarism is dishonest and is unacceptable.” The resolution argued that “plagiarism by journalists violates the public trust and discredits all other journalists.”

It was the first amendment to the 1973 code and a small one. The next would be major.

The censure clause scared SPJ leaders. But many members wanted action on ethics abuses, and a willingness to face up to the censure clause.

SPJ was torn between a desire to lead journalism to a greater sensitivity toward ethical conduct, and a fear that such efforts might lead to “witch hunts” against journalists, and litigation.

My greatest fear was that 326 SPJ professional and student chapters had no idea how to handle ethics complaints, might act haphazardly and were getting no help from the national organization. But I was confident of the common sense of our membership, and there were no witch hunts.

In 1984, at the request of SPJ President Phil Record, I drafted procedures for addressing ethics complaints. At the time I was the national Ethics Committee chair. On May 17, 1985, the SPJ board of directors unanimously rejected the procedures proposal at a meeting in Salt Lake City.

I should add that the ethics compliance procedures I proposed contained no draconian measures. Censure could mean anything we wanted, including a mild rebuke. My stance was that the code of ethics, like the society’s bylaws, was a condition of membership. If you want to join, abide by the society’s code of ethics. And I insisted that the code adopted by SPJ applied to its members. Since it was considered a model code, other journalists in other organizations adopted it.

                         An ethics prayer

Allow me to pause for a moment to comment on Record, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram executive, who was an inspirational and very likeable leader. He cared deeply about journalism and ethics. “Is it any wonder,” he would say, “that at least once a week I say this prayer: ‘Lord, lead us to the truth. Let us always be fair in our quest for it. Give us the wisdom to recognize it. And the courage to proclaim it as we find it to be, not as we wish it to be’” That’s a code of ethics in itself.

But let’s go back to the SPJ code. The censure clause issue came to a head at the 1986 convention in Atlanta, 13 years after the code’s adoption.

Edd Jussely, a delegate from the Mississippi Professional chapter, told the convention his chapter started an investigation into an alleged ethics code violation but dropped it when national SPJ officials said they would not back a censure action.

Shortly afterward, Meredith Oakley of the Arkansas Professional chapter proposed a resolution asking the SPJ board of directors to recommend, in consultation with the national Ethics Committee and local chapters, procedures for chapters to use to handle ethics complaints, subject to approval by the national convention the following year in Chicago. The resolution was adopted by convention delegates.

This, Oakley said, would “implement some of the language within the code.” She wanted “clarification and guidance” on the ethics code, for what is “proper and just.”

On April 30, 1987, the SPJ board at its meeting in St. Paul voted to “recommend no procedure for chapters to handle ethics complaints and that the board recommend the deletion of the censure phrase,” according to the meeting minutes.

Journalism ethics wimps

It is noteworthy that the board repeatedly ignored mandates from conventions of delegates. Under Article Nine of SPJ’s bylaws, “the convention shall be the supreme legislative body of the organization.” Usually this means an organization’s staff carries out whatever its supreme legislative body mandates. But SPJ’s staff and officers refused, basically overruling the supreme governing body. About this time, I occasionally referred to SPJ and its leaders as “ethics wimps.

Allow me to pause again in this history of the SPJ code of ethics. My campaign for enforcement action on ethics attracted the attention of the nation’s journalism executives, and they were not pleased. I was warned by one of those executives that word was circulating that “someone should do something about Casey Bukro,” preferably someone at the Chicago Tribune. Words like that, in Al Capone’s Chicago, can have sinister overtones. But I was sure they were not meant that way.

James D. Squires, the Tribune’s editor and executive vice president, was my boss at the time. We both happened to be attending an SPJ convention, and Squires invited me to have a cup of coffee with him. When we were settled in at the coffee shop, I brought up the word that was circulating about me.

Squires knew what I was talking about, shook his head, and said: “I can’t do anything about Casey Bukro.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “You could squash me like a bug.”

“I can’t do anything about Casey Bukro,” he repeated. “He has a right to freedom of speech like everyone else.”

And that settled it. Squires is a man of character, like Phil Record, and no doubt had more important things to do than squash Casey Bukro. Leaving the Chicago Tribune after 8½ years as editor, Squires wrote a memo to the staff and quoted a famous editor, William Allen White, saying: “There are three things that no one can do to the entire satisfaction of anyone else: Poke the fire, make love and edit a newspaper.” Said Squires, “He was certainly correct about editing the newspaper.” He left with a flourish.

The specter of lawsuits

Complete satisfaction also does not apply to a code of ethics.  Lawyers have long argued that journalists should not admit to ethical standards because they might be held against them in court, a stance that could gain no public trust or credibility for journalists. Bruce Sanford, SPJ’s attorney, was among them and often raised the specter of lawsuits if the society acted against journalists who discredited journalism.

But on page 25 of the April 30 board minutes, Sanford is quoted as saying: “If you believe in ethics, you have to take some risks.” On the other hand, Sanford offered a memorandum to the board that day saying that enforcing ethics was an “oxymoron.” He preferred “using hypothetical situations to provoke discussion.” Otherwise, said the memo, enforcing the code “would likely engender a rash of lawsuits.”

The SPJ national board went to the Chicago convention in November 1987, refusing to follow the 1986 convention’s directive. During the floor fight that followed, the president of the Washington, D.C., chapter proposed deleting the censure clause from the ethics code, and replacing it with a “Mutual Trust” passage calling for ethics education programs and the adoption of more codes of ethics.

The motion was adopted by a 162-136 vote, after expressions of dissatisfaction with the board’s handling of the 1986 convention’s mandate.

By my reckoning, SPJ leadership by this point had shrugged off four convention resolutions mandating action on ethics abuses and procedures for addressing ethics complaints.

This history reveals an organization leading the way on ethics, then losing its way as its leadership turned timid, out of touch with the wishes of its membership. It ended a stormy period that provoked hard feelings and some broken friendships. Though everyone is for ethics, not everyone agrees on how to walk the talk. And while journalists thrive on controversy, it’s usually not welcome close to home.

Subsequent years seemed dull by comparison. The toothless 1973 code of ethics, while still considered a model for journalists after 23 years, was ready for retirement.

                           A “green light” code

The national Ethics Committee met in Philadelphia in June 1996, with the intention of drafting a new “green light” code of ethics, which it did in two days. The backbone of the new code hinged on four principles: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable. I was told the Poynter Institute suggested this framework. The new format was a list of ethics dos and don’ts.

Participants gathered into four groups to suggest standards for each of the four principles. I chaired the “be accountable” section and took part in the birth of a new code of ethics, more modern in its outlook for a journalism industry that is always changing.

The code was adopted by a national convention in Arlington, Va., the following September, including passages urging journalists to be accountable by exposing “unethical practices of journalists and the news media” and to “encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.”

Yet another code of ethics was adopted 18 years later, on Sept. 6, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn., tweaking what had gone before. The framework was the same. “Be accountable” was changed to “be accountable and transparent.” It is in the nature of journalists to rewrite, to edit.

All versions of the code appear in SPJ’s website. Still handling ethics like a hot potato, the site includes this disclaimer: “The SPJ Code of Ethics is a statement of abiding principles supported by explanations and position papers that address changing journalistic practices. It is not a set of rules, rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of medium. The code should be read as a whole; individual principles should not be taken out of context. It is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable.”

First Amendment protection

Yes, journalists are protected by the First Amendment. But that does not mean they should hide behind it. They should be bold because of it, not cower. That’s especially true at a time when journalists are described by President Trump as “enemies of the people” and “fake news.” This is no time for ethics wimps.

I served as SPJ’s national ethics chair from 1983 to 1986, when the incoming president replaced me. I continued to serve as a member of the national ethics committee until the incoming president asked me to leave the committee in 2010.

In January, 2001, I co-founded and manage the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, a free service for professional journalists looking for guidance on ethics. But that’s another story.

It’s almost 50 years since that Harris Poll showing the public’s low trust in journalists. What about now? A 2017 Harvard-Harris poll, by the same pollster, found that only 32% of the public trusted the press.

That’s 14 percentage points up from 1972, not much gain for a lifetime of effort in journalism ethics. Based on that metric, I have not made much of an impact, about a quarter of a point per year. Movement on journalism ethics can be glacial, while the media landscape changed devastatingly swiftly. But it’s been a heck of a journey, and never a dull moment.

Now that many of us are under coronavirus pandemic lockdown, we are wondering what happens next. Reporters will tell us. That’s the glorious part of journalism. There are always important stories to write, and doing them right takes journalism ethics.

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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.

 

 

Bartman, the Ball and Ethics

 

Bartman and the ball  —- NBCsports.com photo

 

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

The coronavirus batted the 2020 major league baseball season into limbo, but stories about baseball never get old.

Here’s one about the Chicago Cubs, a seriously maligned baseball fan and journalism ethics. Like many classic tales, it’s told, retold and people argue about the details in their favorite watering holes. Sometimes the story gets better each time it’s told.

It boils down to this: Was it ethical to name a baseball fan who deflected a foul ball, possibly costing the Chicago Cubs a trip to the World Series? This question has become a staple in some journalism ethics classes. I was reminded of that when a student named Maddie contacted the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, asking if news organizations violated the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics by naming that hapless fan.

That fan, as the world knows by now, is Steve Bartman. He was sitting in the front row along the left field corner wall behind the on-field bullpen on Oct. 14, 2003, during a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins in Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

A pop foul off the bat of Luis Castillo drifted toward Bartman’s seat. Cubs left fielder Moisés Alou raced to the wall, jumped up, and reached for the ball. At the same instant, Bartman, looking up at the ball hurling from the sky toward him, reacted by reaching up, fumbled it, and deflected the ball away from Alou’s glove as Alou cursed. The umpire ruled no interference.

Bartman stayed seated as television cameras broadcast live shots of him between multiple replays of the foul ball incident. His image became part of baseball legend: A diminutive fan wearing a Cubs baseball cap, glasses, headset and a green turtleneck shirt.

Angry Cubs fans cursed him and chanted an A-word I will not repeat. A phalanx of security guards surrounded Bartman and led him out of Wrigley field for his own safety. On his way out, fans shouted at him and pelted him with trash, beer and other drinks.

This happened during the eighth inning of game six of the National League Championship Series, with Chicago leading 3-0 and holding a three-game to two lead in the best-of-seven series. If Alou had caught the ball, it would have been the second out in the inning. The Cubs would have been four outs away from winning their first National League pennant since 1945. Instead, the Marlins sent 12 batters to the plate and scored eight runs. Florida won the game 8-3 and eventually won the 2003 World Series.

That’s how baseball was played. Now let’s see how the game of journalism was played.

                                 Ethical decision-making

The story was an example of an ethical dilemma because Bartman might have been in danger from irate fans. For that reason, I have argued that Bartman’s identity should not have been disclosed by Chicago and other media to protect him.

As I recall, it took about a day before an enterprising Chicago Sun-Times reporter, Frank Main, revealed that Steve Bartman was the fan who fumbled the ball. For a short time, the Chicago Tribune did not reveal Bartman’s identity. But after the Sun-Times went with the story, revealing Bartman’s identity, so did the Chicago Tribune and other media.

They flashed every detail they could about him, not only his identity, but where he lived and where he worked. As many as six police cars lined up outside Bartman’s home to protect him and his family. The Illinois governor suggested he join a witness protection program and Florida’s governor offered Bartman asylum.

Here’s where the ethics dilemma gets tricky. As I see it, if the Chicago Tribune or any other media withheld Bartman’s identity in the interest of protecting him, why identify him just because somebody else did? That’s copycat journalism, as I see it, and not standing your ground on ethics. If it was wrong before, then it was still wrong to identify him even if somebody else did.

Ethics means doing the right thing and sticking with your decision. I did not agree with the Sun-Times decision to name Bartman. I participated in a few public meetings on this issue and other journalists scoff at my view on this. News is news, they say, and that’s what journalists are supposed to report. The guy who fumbled the foul ball was all over national news, so journalists had to identify him, they said.

But have a heart. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics encourages journalists to “minimize harm” and show compassion for people affected by news coverage. The Bartman case shows how news judgment is influenced by what other journalists do. Ethical decision-making involves coming to your own conclusions, not simply doing what other journalists do. Think for yourself. Don’t follow the herd. That’s herd mentality.

                             Concern for Bartman’s safety

I was working for the Chicago Tribune as a reporter when all this happened. If I had been editor of the Tribune at the time, I would have stuck with the decision the newspaper made initially, which was to withhold Bartman’s identity for the sake of his safety. It probably would have been an unpopular decision, possibly even ridiculed by other journalists. So what? My conscience would have been clear if Bartman had been hurt. It was wrong to put him in that position.

There was concern that some fans might track him down and take revenge.

Besides, the guy never asked for that notoriety and wanted to protect his privacy. He was not a public figure. Bartman apologized and said he wanted to move past it and return to a quiet life.

He released a statement saying he was “truly sorry.” He added, “I had my eye glued on the approaching ball the entire time and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even see Moisés Alou, much less that he may have had a play.”

Bartman declined interviews, endorsement deals and requests for public appearances. His family changed its phone number to avoid harassing phone calls. He has declined a $25,000 offer for an autographed picture of himself and declined a six-figure offer to appear in a Super Bowl commercial.

Cubs players came to his defense, saying they lost the game, not Bartman. At first, Alou was angry, but was quoted later saying that he would not have caught the ball anyway, and then he said he was joking, and that it was time “to forgive the guy and move on.” His final comment in a 2011 documentary was: “I’m convinced 100% that I had that ball in my glove.”

                                  The saga comes to a close

Bartman’s father came to his defense. He told the Chicago Sun-Times: “He’s a huge Cubs fan. I’m sure I taught him well. I taught him to catch foul balls when they come near him.”

Chicago being Chicago, some blamed the foul-ball affair on the Curse of the Billy Goat, named for a well-known story about a Greek restaurant-owner who cursed the Cubs when he was ejected from Wrigley Field for trying to bring his goat into the ball park. Others said the Neanderthal behavior of Cubs fans reflected poorly on Chicago’s sports culture. Bartman’s seat in Wrigley Field became a tourist attraction, but he never returned to the ball park.

Chicago had not won a World Series since 1908. The championship drought ended in 2016, when the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians for the World Series championship. It offered a chance to make amends with Bartman. On July 31, 2017, the Cubs owner Tom Ricketts presented Bartman with a championship ring.

Expressing his gratitude, Bartman said the ring signified “that I am welcomed back into the Cubs family and have their support going forward. I am relieved and hopeful that the saga of the 2003 foul ball incident surrounding my family and me is finally over.”

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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.

 

President Excoriates Media

 

Breitbart.com photo

“Every American has a role to play” in combatting the coronavirus menace, says the president.

That includes journalists, although President Trump does not seem to recognize that. He excoriates them every chance he gets.

NBC’s Peter Alexander asked him at a news conference: “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”  The president answered: “I say that you are a terrible reporter, that’s what I say. It’s a very nasty question. It’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.”

Actually, it was a soft-ball question that offered the president a chance to appear presidential and to comfort a nation under attack by a viral pestilence. The president’s drumbeat of negativism is not helpful.

On Sunday, President lashed out against media again, tweeting: “I watch and listen to the Fake News, CNN, MSDNC, ABC, NBC, CBS, some of FOX (desperately & foolishly pleading to be politically correct), the @nytimes, & the @washingtonpost, and all I see is hatred of me at any cost. Don’t they understand that they are destroying themselves?”

Actually, this attack dog mentality against the media appears to be destroying his credibility at a time of extreme urgency, when public trust in credible sources of information is vital to public safety.

“Americans have little trust in the information they are hearing from President Trump about the novel coronavirus, and their confidence in the federal government’s response to it is declining sharply,” according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Just 46 percent of Americans now say the federal government is doing enough to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, down from 61 percent in February, writes Domenico Montanaro. According to the poll, he writes, just 37 percent of Americans now say they had a good amount or a great deal of trust in what they’re hearing from the president, while 60 percent say they had not very much or no trust at all in what he’s saying.

The president rates worst of all groups tested, according to the poll, and that includes public health officials, state and local leaders or the news media. When it comes to the news media, two-thirds of Democrats trust news media information, independents were split and Republicans overwhelmingly said they do not trust media information. Republicans think the coronavirus is blown out of proportion.

Public health officials got the highest level of trust at 84 percent, followed by state and local leaders at 72 percent. Americans were split 50 percent to 47 percent on whether they trust news media information or not.

“Having significant chunks of the country either not believing their president (who controls the fedral government’s response), the press (which is a gate-keeper for information), or both, could be dangerous in a pandemic,” writes Montanaro.

Divisions rooted in political squabble do nobody any good, and it’s a good time for President Trump to stop demonizing the media because it does not help his reputation as a credible source of information, and tarnishes the nation’s only real reliable network of information. They should work together against the coronavirus scourge.

The president should quit using  coronavirus briefings as a platform for attacks on the media, as he did recently, when he said: “It amazes me when I read the things that I read. It amazes me when I read the Wall Street Journal which is always so negative, it amazes me when I read the New York Times, it’s not even – I barely read it. You know, we don’t distribute it in the White House anymore, and the same thing with the Washington Post. Because, you see, I know the truth. And people out there in the world, they really don’t know the truth, really don’t know what it is.”

How do remarks like that fit into a briefing on the coronavirus, an existential threat to people across the world? It’s pandering to his political base, who can’t seem to let go of their political haggling as though that is more important than life itself.

Erik Wemple, the Washington Post media critic, writes: “Nearly five years into Trump’s nonstop attacks on the media, it’s bewildering to consider the proper way to rebut them, or whether to rebut them. They come in torrents, based on thoughtless, factless presidential eructations. They serve their political purpose: Solidifying a population of supporters who believe Trump over the media even when presented with evidence upending their inclinations.” He quotes a Trump supporter who says you have to live in New York to understand what Trump is saying.

This comes at a time when 15 states have ordered stay-at-home shutdowns or other emergency action, according to the Daily Beast. Governors are taking sweeping efforts to contain the coronavirus to “fend off the kind of onslaught of patients that has caused southern Europe to buckle,” The Associated Press reported.

The World Health Organization took note of the epidemic’s dramatic speed, the Associated Press reported.

“It took over three months to reach the first 10,000 confirmed cases and only 12 days to reach the next 100,000,” the U.N. health agency said. Across the U.S., governors and public health officials watched the European crisis from afar with mounting alarm and warned of critical shortages of ventilators, masks and other protective gear.

Worldwide, the number of infections exceeded 244,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. More than 86,000 people have recovered, mostly in China.

By comparison, the Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 influenza epidemic, infected 500 million people — about a quarter of the world’s population – from January 1918 through December 1920. The death toll is estimated at anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.

Coronavirus Mixed Messages

 

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

At a time of extreme urgency, public trust in all credible sources of information is vital to public safety.

As the global coronavirus death toll rises, it’s clearly time to set aside petty disputes that divide or confuse us. Yet in the United States, we get coronavirus mixed messages from the Trump administration, beginning a few weeks ago when President Trump called the coronavirus threat a hoax by Democrats and the news media.

That appears to be taking a toll on the president’s credibility.

“Americans have little trust in the information they are hearing from President Trump about the novel coronavirus, and their confidence in the federal government’s response to it is declining sharply,” according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Just 46 percent of Americans now say the federal government is doing enough to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, down from 61 percent in February, writes Domenico Montanaro. According the poll, he writes, just 37 percent of Americans now say they had a good amount or a great deal of trust in what they’re hearing from the president, while 60 percent say they had not very much or no trust at all in what he’s saying.

The president rates worst of all groups tested, according to the poll, and that includes public health officials, state and local leaders or the news media. When it comes to the news media, two-thirds of Democrats trust news media information, independents were split and Republicans overwhelmingly said they do not trust media information. Republicans think the coronavirus is blown out of proportion.

Public health officials got the highest level of trust at 84 percent, followed by state and local leaders at 72 percent. Americans were split 50 percent to 47 percent on whether they trust news media information or not.

“Having significant chunks of the country either not believing their president (who controls the fedral government’s response), the press (which is a gate-keeper for information), or both, could be dangerous in a pandemic,” writes Montanaro.

These divisions rooted in political squabbles does nobody any good, and it’s a good time for President Trump to stop demonizing the media because it does not help his reputation as a credible source of information, and tarnishes the nation’s only real reliable network of information. They should work together against the coronavirus scourge.

The president should quit using  coronavirus briefings as a platform for attacks on the media, as he did recently, when he said: “It amazes me when I read the things that I read. It amazes me when I read the Wall Street Journal which is always so negative, it amazes me when I read the New York Times, it’s not even – I barely read it. You know, we don’t distribute it in the White House anymore, and the same thing with the Washington Post. Because, you see, I know the truth. And people out there in the world, they really don’t know the truth, really don’t know what it is.”

How do remarks like that fit into a briefing on the coronavirus, an existential threat to people across the world? It’s pandering to his political base, who can’t seem to let go of their political haggling as though that is more important than life itself.

Erik Wemple, the Washington Post media critic, writes: “Nearly five years into Trump’s nonstop attacks on the media, it’s bewildering to consider the proper way to rebut them, or whether to rebut them. They come in torrents, based on thoughtless, factless presidential eructations. They serve their political purpose: Solidifying a population of supporters who believe Trump over the media even when presented with evidence upending their inclinations.” He quotes a Trump supporter who says you have to live in New York to understand what Trump is saying.

This comes at a time when New York State moved to join California in confining nearly all residents to their homes, as reported by the Associated Press. Governors undertook their most sweeping efforts yet to contain the coronavirus and “fend off the kind of onslaught of patients that has caused southern Europe to buckle.”

“We’re going to close the valve, because the rate of increase in the number of cases portends a total overwhelming of our hospital system,” New York Gov Andrew Cuomo said, as cases in the state climbed to more than 7,000 and the death toll reached at least 38.

The World Health Organization took note of the epidemic’s dramatic speed, the Associated Press reported.

“It took over three months to reach the first 10,000 confirmed cases and only 12 days to reach the next 100,000,” the U.N. health agency said. Across the U.S., governors and public health officials watched the European crisis from afar with mounting alarm and warned of critical shortages of ventilators, masks and other protective gear.

Worldwide, the number of infections exceeded 244,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. More than 86,000 people have recovered, mostly in China.

By comparison, the Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 influenza epidemic, infected 500 million people — about a quarter of the world’s population – from January 1918 through December 1920. The death toll is estimated at anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.

Extraordinary Times

Extraordinary times: We can no longer doubt that we are living through extraordinary times, writes Pankaj Mishra about the coronavirus pandemic.

“In fact, the last such churning occurred almost exactly a century ago, and it altered the world so dramatically that a revolution in the arts, sciences and philosophy, not to mention the discipline of economics, was needed even to make sense of it,” Mishra writes.

 

Covering Coronavirus Better

Covering coronavirus better: Shoddy coverage of the virus can cause panic and overreaction, writes Al Tompkins.

Limit adjectives, choose images carefully, frame stories with context, bust myths and get creative.

“The public is starting to freak out,” he writes. “Don’t add to it with screaming clickbait headlines and scary generic images.”

 

Speaking Ill of the Dead

Speaking ill of the dead: A backlash against Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez for mentioning the Kobe Bryant rape case “steams from the ancient wisdom that urged folks not to speak ill of the dead,” writes Erik Wemple.

“A fine rule for everyone except for historians and journalists….,” he writes.