The public’s shifting attention has implications across the media landscape, from CBS’ plans to sell its historic radio division to the expanding influence of topical comedy on TV and the internet.
Radio historian Frank Absher appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” to talk about the heyday of CBS radio. The broadcast described CBS as one of the first networks to truly realize the power of news and develop its uses. Established in 1928, the network owns 117 stations and has an illustrious news-breaking history.
Voices were key to that development—the calm, measured and authoritative voices of correspondents like Edward R. Murrow and Lowell Thomas.
What was the state of broadcast journalism when CBS started? “There wasn’t any,” said Absher, a member of the Radio Preservation Task Force and the St. Louis Media History Foundation. “Broadcast journalism did not exist, not even as a concept. In fact, the early, early radio stations would simply grab a newspaper because a lot of them were owned by newspapers. And they would read stories on the air out of today’s edition.”
The Boston Globe added another twist to a bizarre political season by publishing a satirical front page intended to show a future based on presidential candidate Donald Trump’s words and proclamations.
“Deportations to Begin,” was the banner headline of the fake page, dated Sunday, April 9, 2017. “Markets sink as trade war looms,” read one headline. “New libel law targets ‘absolute scum’ in press,” read another.
Let me make it clear right now that this is not an attempt to cover politics. AdviceLine patrols the journalism ethics beat. We let the political writers, columnists, bloviators, commentators, prognosticators and fulminators deal with the uncertainties and comedy of political life.
The Boston Globe’s hypothetical front page did not run on the actual front page of the newspaper, but appeared inside as a front page of the Ideas Section of a Sunday edition of the Globe. It referred to an editorial, “The GOP must stop Trump.”
Reuters called the page a “parody.” CNN said “the faux front page resembles an April Fools’ Day prank by a college newspaper,” although it was nine days too late for that.
More importantly, the Globe was not joking. It was trying to show “Donald Trump’s America,” according to an editor’s note in the lower left-hand corner of the bogus page. “What you read on this page is what might happen if the GOP front-runner can put his ideas into practice, his words into action.” The editorial made the same point.
Normally, AdviceLine considers the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics its highest source for guidelines and standards on ethics.
But we’re always willing to be open-minded about new and thoughtful ways to think about ethics and do the right thing in journalism.
Take Pope Francis for example. The pontiff is unusually frank and quotable on his world tours, accompanied by media aboard the papal airliner. He gets involved in current and political issues that some popes might have shunned as too earthly, too secular.
On his way back to Rome from a six-day visit to Mexico, where he is known as Francisco, the pope weighed in on comments by Donald Trump, the Republican presidential hopeful. In a midair press conference, Reuters’ Phil Pullella asked for a response to Trump’s claim that the pope was a pawn in Mexico’s migration politics – an apparent reference to Trump comments on the pope’s trip airing on Fox Business. Pullella noted the candidate’s call to wall off the U.S.-Mexico border.
A transcript indicates the pope did not address Trump’s comments directly, but said that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Trump said the pope heard only one side of the story. In later comments, the pope clarified: “I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”
So now we have an ethical conundrum. If he is not sure what Trump said, and gives Trump the benefit of the doubt, are media free to tie the “not Christian” remark to Trump? Media reports on the event tend to say the link to Trump is stronger than the pope himself will admit. Trump has vowed to force Mexico to build a wall and increase deportations.
That night, on the PBS News Hour, John Allen, a Boston Globe reporter who covered the event, said it is possible that the pope does not know who Trump is, and was taking the word of reporters that Trump made the remark. Essentially, reporters coached the pope.
Moderator Judy Woodruff rightly pointed out that other politicians have asked for border walls, not just Trump. So was this a media-created conflict?
What should an ethical reporter do?
The answer might lie in the pope’s own comments during another in-flight press conference, when he touched on journalism ethics.
In the wake of the so-called Vatileaks scandal, in which the mainstream press reported on corruption in the Vatican, the pope was asked about his opinion of the importance of a free press in rooting out corruption.
“The professional press must tell everything, without falling into the three most common sins,” the pope responded. The sins he named were:
Misinformation – telling half the truth.
Calumny – dirtying another person, with or without the truth.
Defamation – to take away the good name of a person who has not done anything wrong.
“These are the three defects that are an attack against the professionally of the press,” the pope said. “We need professionally, what’s right. … And on corruption? To see the data well and say it. … If there is corruption, they should say it. And if a journalist, if they are truly professional, gets it wrong, he should excuse himself. Things go very well like this.”
Writer Terry Mattingly, reporting on that in-flight press conference, wrote: “To be honest, I think it would have been interesting to ask the pope to define the line that he sees between ‘calumny’ and ‘defamation.'”
Possibly all three “defects” apply in Trump case, since the controversy appears to stem from information fed to the pope, rather than from his own knowledge. This is a nuance that was not explained in many reports on the incident, although John Allen clarified that in his PBS News Hour appearance. And it could be argued that the pope was telling one side of the story.
The controversy did cast a shadow on the character of a political candidate, intended or not.
In the rough and tumble of American politics, even a pope may be dragged into the fray. It’s possible he was duped into commenting on something he was not familiar. Even a pope should be wary during election time in America.
The SPJ code of ethics says: “Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.”
Pitting the pope against Trump might have been a misrepresentation or oversimplification. How would you have handled the story?
Is GamerGate about ethical violations in video-game journalism?
Or is GamerGate just a smokescreen for harassing women who want to work in the male-dominated gaming industry?
Or is it something else?
A live-streamed debate will sort it out Aug. 15 in Miami.
Elements in the controversy include the $15 billion video game industry, the video game press, game reviewers, developers, commentators and those who sell advertising in gaming magazines. It’s a volatile mixture.
Michael Koretzky, a regional director for the Society of Professional Journalists, organized the conference and will moderate. His region covers Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. Sponsors are the region and SPJ Florida.
Fareed Zakaria finds himself the target of anonymous bloggers who accuse him of plagiarism.
Zakaria says he is not a plagiarist, but media carrying his columns on international affairs — Newsweek, The Washington Post and Politico — have posted corrections or editor’s notes advising readers that Zakaria had not sufficiently attributed sources for material in some of his columns.
Now take a step back for a minute to ponder how the case underscores differences in the way journalism works now, compared with just a few years ago.
In the past, even a whiff of plagiarism was a firing offense. The hammer came down hard in most cases. Mike Barnicle was fired from the Boston Globe for plagiarism. Jayson Blair was booted from the New York Times for similar offenses, plagiarism and fabrication.
And some editors in the past would dismiss information from anonymous sources as lacking credibility unless identity and motivation were known.
In the Zakaria case, the sources are bloggers known only as BlippoBlappo and CrushingBort who consider themselves plagiarism watchdogs at Our Bad Media. They cited 50 examples of what they considered insufficient attribution in Zakaria’s columns. They describe themselves as two young men who are not journalists.
Zakaria also appears on CNN in a program focusing on international affairs. He is widely respected and seen or read on multiple platforms. And that’s part of the problem, say the anonymous plagiarism sleuths. They say Zakaria is treated with a deference that is not shown to minor league journalists. He continues to write columns for media that attached warnings to some of his past columns.
Maybe that makes what he did correctable or excusable. Another new slant on journalism as it is done today, when the focus is more on finance and new business models. And maybe some editors believe lack of attribution is not plagiarism.
The Columbia Journalism Review points out that “outcry within the journalistic community, meanwhile, has been unexpectedly mute, with many discussions focused on the semantic question of whether Zakaria’s mistakes constitute what some news organizations consider an unforgivable sin.”
Zakaria admitted to a “mistake” in 2012, but said that for the most part he uses information that is generally or widely known.
In tweaking its code of ethics, the Society of Professional Journalists this year added “always attribute” to a long-time admonition to “never plagiarize.”
National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel began a segment on Zakaria by pointing out that The Washington Post was the fifth news organization to say “that work it has published by Zakaria appears to have attribution problems.”
NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik said the anonymous bloggers argue that “he’s done so much lifting unattributed characterizations of other people’s reporting that it amounts to plagiarism.”
Folkenflik went on to say that other critics insist Zakaria “is getting away with stuff that others wouldn’t be allowed to do who are more junior, who don’t have the brand-name recognition that he does…”
Dylan Byers of Politico.Com also outlined the campaign waged by the anonymous “plagiarism detectives,” and reported that Zakaria, in an email to Politico, argued “that he simply cited the same facts as others, which did not constitute plagiarism.”
Others say it’s a troubling pattern.
Writer Lloyd Grove wondered if Zakaria can survive the firestorm.