Tag Archives: New York Post

A Reporter Discovers the Pain of Being Ethical

By Casey Bukro

It’s hard to be good and ethical. Sometimes it comes at a cost.

Amelia Pang, metro reporter for Epoch Times in New York, discovered this when she called the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists in 2012 and asked a question that AdviceLine gets sometimes:

When calling a news source, is it necessary for reporter to admit to being a reporter? That is, not say that she is a reporter, unless asked?

It is a question that arises among young reporters, those learning the ropes or those who work for organizations without printed standards or spelled out ethical guidelines that can leave a reporter wondering what to do.

In Pang’s case, she called AdviceLine on advice from a colleague.

“I am doing an article about a controversial homeless shelter in New York City,” Pang told AdviceLine adviser Hugh Miller, an assistant professor of philosophy who teaches ethics at Loyola University Chicago.

“The shelter is located in a very rich area, therefore many residents have been quite unhappy about it. The shelter has received a lot of bad press since they opened last year, and now they are reluctant to talk to any media.”

Continue reading A Reporter Discovers the Pain of Being Ethical

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The Steve Kroft Affair

 

 

By Casey Bukro

We here at Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists sometimes clash over what is ethical or not.

The Steve Kroft affair is the latest example.

The veteran “60 Minutes” correspondent admits he had a three-year fling with a New York City lawyer, though both are married.

“I had an extramarital affair that was a serious lapse of personal judgment and extremely hurtful to my wife and family, and for that I have nothing but regret,” Kroft said in a statement to the New York Post. Both the Post and the National Enquirer published salacious text messages between Kroft and his lover, proving once again that anything on the internet is not private.

A CBS spokesperson said “It’s a private matter.”

Soon after the scandal broke, an AdviceLine colleague wrote: “Are personal values/ matters the same as professional matters? Should I teach my students that I don’t care what they do in their personal lives as long as they make good ethical choices in their professional ones? Personally, this Kroft story does not interest me. His professional work does.”

Kroft is one of the most high-profile journalists in America. He has been a CBS newsman for 31 years, 26 of them as a correspondent with “60 Minutes,” which specializes in asking the high and mighty tough questions about their personal lives, their entanglements, their dalliances and the quality of their professional judgment.

Here’s what I say to my AdviceLine colleague: What people do in their personal lives reflects on their credibility and integrity. I don’t think you can separate personal and work lives that easily.

By your reasoning, we should have ignored Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, as we did with JFK and his affairs. Looking back on JFK, journalists are criticized now for turning a blind eye to his dalliances. Now we’re more inclined to think about accountability.

Kroft is a very public figure by virtue of his role on “60 Minutes.” Part of his job is exposing the conduct of public officials. I would buy your argument if he were not a public figure. That is why, in ethics, we draw the distinction between public and private individuals.

Also, there is the issue of blackmail. Anyone involved in something he or she does not want the public to know is subject to the possibility of blackmail and manipulation.

Tell your students that they have to be smart enough to recognize that ethical values apply to all facets of people’s lives, especially to public figures, and that they, themselves, become public figures when they become very visible journalists. Think Woodward and Bernstein.

That’s why, these days, we encourage publishers and editors to avoid becoming involved in civic organizations, a practice that once was common, and to a degree still is. There is the public perception that if a publisher is an official on the board of a civic organization, he will favor that organization and give it favorable publicity. He also is seen likely to keep bad information about the organization out of the news.

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics warns journalists to avoid conflicts or interest, real or perceived.

All of this is in the realm of accountability, an issue we take more seriously these days. People with ethics issues should not be pointing fingers at others with ethics issues. “60 Minutes” sets very high standards and its correspondents should measure up to them.

Personally, I always thought my role as a journalist meant that I was forbidden from doing things others could do. When I covered finance, I avoided buying stock in companies I covered. I did not join organizations I covered. I did not take part in political campaigns.

You can argue that any American citizen is entitled to do those things, and you would be right. But I always believed that anything I did should be above reproach. Being a journalist was paramount. It is an honor, a privilege and a duty to be smart enough to avoid any activity that could tarnish my reputation, and the reputation of the journalism organization I worked for.

Too often, the public complains that the media gleefully write about the transgressions of politicians and others, while keeping silent about the transgressions of journalists. The “old boy” syndrome. They say we cover up for each other. It’s a double standard. We should report on the transgressions of journalists as vigorously as we do about the transgressions of others. It’s only fair.

Comments are welcome.

Images of War

 

By Casey Bukro

James Foley was an American photojournalist who captured the gruesome images of savage warfare, until he became one of those images himself.

Foley, 40, dressed in prisoner orange with a shaved head, is seen kneeling next to a masked, black-clad man holding a knife. Kidnapped in Syria almost two years ago, Foley seems to grimace as the masked man clutches his shirt from behind.

A video posted on YouTube, then taken down, reportedly shows Foley decapitated, his bloody head detached from his body and resting on his back. Two U.S. officials said they believe the video is authentic.

Journalistically, one of the issues in reporting on Foley is whether the grim photo, which seems to show the journalist in the last moments of his life, should have been published.

The New York Post and the New York Daily News gave the photo front-page exposure, causing Washington Post reporter Abby Phillip to ask if the tabloids had gone “too far by printing gruesome images of James Foley’s execution.”

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics encourages sensitivity in the use of photographs involving those caught up by tragedy or grief, and “avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”

For tabloids, that can be a challenge. The rule seems to be the more shocking, the better, and big images are best

This is not the first time the New York Post is seen as going “too far.” On Dec. 4, 2012, it published a cover photo of a man desperately trying to climb up on the platform of the New York City subway after a panhandler allegedly pushed him onto the tracks.

The man in the photo is moments from death as he looks at the train bearing down on him.

The photo appeared with the words, “this man is about to die,” and “doomed.” It caused outrage among those who thought it was heartless to publish such a photo. Some thought the photographer should have helped the doomed man, instead of taking his picture.

Shock value has always been a tool of the trade for tabloid journalism, and, to some extent its younger media relative, online journalism.

What does it mean these days to “go too far”? Is that idea passé?

There was a time when the personal lives of American presidents were off limits. Clearly, rules change.

What do you think?  Is shock value just a hangover from tabloid journalism and outmoded, or justified at a time when movies and television trade in sex and sensationalism? Are we just old-fashioned when we cringe from photos of men about to die?

Journalists from three organizations, including SPJ, are pondering writing or rewriting codes of ethics. What should they say about shock value in the news?

Pitfalls of Identifying Bystanders as Bombers

By Casey Bukro

Stupidity is not a crime, and ethical lapses usually will not land you in jail.

But they have consequences, as the New York Post learned when two men sued the tabloid newspaper for showing them in a front-page photo at the height of the search for Boston Marathon Bombing suspects, with a “Bag Men” headline.

CNN reported that the men, 16 and 24-years old, accused the Post of libel, negligent infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy for showing them standing next to each other in the April 18 edition. Also displayed in large letters on the photo were the words: “Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon.” The photo appeared three days after the Boston bombing, making it appear that the FBI were searching for them. One of them wore a backpack.

Post editor Col Allan said the Post did not identify the men as “suspects.”

Huffington Post reported outrage at the use of the photo, with some calling it “a new low” and “appalling.”

Later that day, authorities released photos of Boston bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

NBCNEWS.com reported that the two innocent men were stunned to see themselves pictured on the front page of the tabloid and one of them suffered a panic attack.

Minimize harm, advises the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics. And be judicious, it says, about naming criminal suspects before they are charged. Though the two men were not  named by the Post, it’s an apt comparison when showing their faces.

The New York Post photo is considered an example in a series of errors and false reports that were rampant during the frenzy of trying to learn motives for the bombing, and who did it.

Crowd sourcing, it turned out, was not as valuable as its supporters might have supposed. Authorities essentially told the public they were not interested in the flood of iPhone photos that were offered of people and things considered suspicious. Instead, authorities zeroed in on the Tsarnaev brothers by using highly sophisticated identification technology.

There’s one more questionable thing about that New York Post photo, and that’s the use of the words “Bag Men.” You don’t have to be from Chicago or New York to know “bag man” is slang for a person who collects money for racketeers, or a mob errand boy.

It was bad enough that two innocent men were linked falsely with the Boston bombing. It got worse when they were tainted with language that implied criminal activity. Words hurt. They also can get you sued.