During the Constitutional Convention of the newly succeed and forming United States of America, many concerns were raised about preventing future restriction and impediment of rights similar to what the citizens’ of the British Crown had experience prior to the Revolutionary War. One of these main concerns stemmed from a lack of a free press, and the inability to look into various parts of society (especially the government for the purposes the convention) and attain whether or not those parts of society were acting in a way consistent with societal norms, ethical codes, and legal obligations.
As a result, the freedom of the press clause was added to the Bill Rights proposed by James Madison. The government requirement to not abridge the freedom of the press exists to allow members of the press to serve as a watchdog for society. Journalists and reporters then and now are charged with the responsibility to investigate, verify, and inform the public of the things happening around them, and to do so for the betterment of society at large.
Though the First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press, that clause does not give journalists free license to act outside of the law, legal repercussions, and, most importantly, the ethical standards that bind us as rational thinkers. Elliot Cohen and Deni Elliot, authors of Journalism Ethics, write, “[u]ndercover investigation falls more squarely into the ethical realm than into the legal realm. This idea applies not only to the actions of undercover investigators, but more broadly to the realm of journalism as a whole, and how reporters and editors should act when dealing with newsworthy material. First, we must address what ethics are. “Simply stated, ethics refers to standards of behavior that tell us how human beings ought to act in the many situations in which they find themselves-as friends, parents, children, citizens, businesspeople, teachers, professionals, and so on,” writes Manuel Velasquez, Philosophy Professor at Santa Clara University.
The word ought refers to a natural obligation, something that compels us to act in one way (the “right” way) over another (the “wrong” way). As ethics refers to a judgment on the part of the actor as to what is right or wrong, we must have some framework to address whether or not a decision is ethical. Velasquez lays out a clear guideline for how we should act when addressing ethics. First, we must recognize the ethical issue, potential harms, legality, and efficiency. Second, we must gather all relevant facts about a situation before making a decision.
Third, we must evaluate ethical principles (specifically the utilitarian approach, rights approach, justice approach, common good approach, and virtue based approach), and choose the most appropriate (for the journalism world it is usually utilitarian based). Fourth, we must make a decision and test it. Finally, we must act and reflect on the outcome out of our decision. Ethics apply to all people, at all times. As a result, to help guide decision makers, organizations like the Society of Professional Journalist (SPJ) and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) have come up with codes of ethics to guide behavior.
These codes of ethics mirror the guidelines set forth by Velasquez, and show that journalists too must work within the framework of ethical action. With the important watchdog task entrusted to journalists, it is of the utmost that they act ethically in all situations to inform and protect the public. This responsibility requires that they evaluate their behavior from an ethical and legal standpoint, including taking into the account the harm and impacts that their work may have. With an understanding of ethics, and an ethical framework to apply to situations we can now move forward with addressing situations that journalists may encounter.
Scenario 1 When applying the burden of acting legally and ethically to Seymour Mudd and Dirk Content’s position, we can see that both standards apply, as they do at all times to all individuals, and that both standards can provide insight into how the individuals should have acted and should proceed. First, we can look into the legal issues addressing whether or not Mr. Mudd should run the story. The facts around the gathering of the information are especially important in this scenario.
The unnamed source has confronted Mudd with information that is confidential; thus, it is illegally obtained information now in the hands of Mudd. Many cases have ruled on this type of interaction. First, must address whether or not this information was intrusively gathered, a crime. We can look to the ruling in Dietemann v. Time, Inc. In this case, a group of reporters used hidden cameras to gather information on a man who was impersonating a doctor. The case found that direct, illegal means of gathering information do in fact amount to intrusion regardless of the intent behind the illegal action.
Loving and Teeter write that this is case is “a ruling that says loud and clear that the First Amendment gives the media no right to break laws with impunity, even if legitimate news is being pursued. ” This idea is reaffirmed in Chiquita Brands International v. Gallagher. In this case, Michael Gallagher, and investigative reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, was gathering information on the working conditions of Chiquita’s farm workers’ and various other illegal actions committed by the corporation.
Gallagher’s story was based on over 2,000 company voicemails he had illegally obtained through hacking their voicemail system. His illegal activity was not protected as he broke the law in order to obtain the information. Reporters provided with illegal information that they did not gather themselves, however, can be protect by the law. This was found in the case of Bartnicki v. Vopper. In this case Vopper, a media personality, was given information that he in no way gathered himself. Realizing the content of what he had been given, he ran a story.
Because he was simply reporting on what he had been given by a third party, rather than illegally gathering the information himself, he was protected. Thus, if the information is gathered by a third part, the reporter is safe. Finally, we can look to the case of Peavy v. WFAA-TV. In this case WFAA colluded with the third party in order to obtain the information necessary to create a story. Even though WFAA, did not gather the information directly, it was found that this collusion with the third party was enough to constitute illegal action. So what does all of this mean for Mr. Mudd?
Due to the ruling in Bartnicki v. Vopper, we can see that the confidential company messages were gathered by a third party, and, as a result, can be used for the purposes of running the story with no fear of an intrusion law suit. The case, however, does not stop here. The source has now given Mr. Mudd means necessary to gather more information through hacking company emails. The rulings in both Dietemann v. Time, Inc. and Chiquita Brands International v. Gallagher show illegally gathering information, no matter how newsworthy, is not protected.
Thus, moving forward with that action would be illegal. Moreover, Peavy v. WFAA-TV tells us that if he was to collude with the source to get more information, that too would be illegal. Thus, running a story with what he has so far is fine. Moving forward with any more information gathering in the ways that the source has confronted him with, however, would be illegal. It is important that reporters not get overly greedy when gathering information and writing. The fact that this report was written before the trip even took place is big news in and of itself.
There is no need to break the law and gets ones self in trouble in an attempt to make the story even bigger, and potentially harm the good story you have to begin with. Additionally, in the ever-changing world of technology journalists have new responsibilities in how they handle content gathering. Bill Loving and Dwight Teeter, authors of Law of Mass Communition, write, “[m]edia personnel must look to their ethics as they use modern technology to gather and to broadcast news. ” Thus, we must also look to the ethical implications of the actions Mr. Mudd can take.
The best way to do this would be to evaluate the Society of Professional Journalist Code of Ethics, as discussed earlier, since it mirrors what Velasquez says we should do as ethical decision makers. First, the SPJ Code of Ethics points out that “[p]rofessional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. ” The code requires that journalists seek truth and report it. Under that section of the code it says, “[a]void undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information. ” For Mudd’s purposes, that means following the law in order to create the most accurate story possible is of the utmost importance.
Giving into the temptation to break the law for a bigger story by hacking emails, etc. are certainly not the types of interactions that a journalist acting within the code should do. This is reaffirmed when discussing acting independently, the code moves on to say, “[r]emain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility. ” Finally, the code requires that journalist be accountable. Ethically, it demands that they “[a]bide by the same high standards to which they hold others. ”
At the point in time in which Mr. Mudd hopes to disclose the corruption, greed, and illegal activity to the public that Zeus is participating in, he too must avoid that behavior. He must also be willing to accept the ramifications of any story that he may run. When addressing the ethical behavior of Dirk Content as Vice President of Public Relations for Zeus, another code of ethics applies. This time it is the Public Relations Society of America’s. The code points out, “[t]he practice of public relations can present unique and challenging ethical issues.
At the same time protecting integrity and the public trust are fundamental to the profession’s role and reputation. Bottom line, successful public relations hinges on the ethics of its practitioners. ” As the Vice President of Public Relations for a multi-national corporation, it is a business obligation for him to advocate to the public on behalf of his employer. Given the circumstances of this situation, however, Content is getting himself in trouble if the allegations are true. First, it is important to note that the PRSA code, like the SPJ code and our ethical standards, says that advocates should act truthfully.
Additionally, the code says that advocates should avoid conflicts of interest, and disclose them when they exist. Taking these two ideas, and applying them to this scenario, we can see that Mr. Content is not living up to the code. At the point in time in which a prominent hire is made under the pretenses of publishing a false report, both of these standards have been violated. Thus, the behavior on the part of the advocate and the other participators is unethical, and, in this case, probably illegal. Mr. Content has violated the ethical code in this case.
While, yes, advocacy is an important part of a public relations employee, honesty and ethical behavior will always supersede. In fact, the PRSA pledge itself only discusses good, ethical behavior, and doesn’t mention advocacy at all. Ethics, in all circumstances, should be put over personal gain and the gain of your employer. All ethical codes and the code of ethics for both of these institutions make that quite clear. Scenario 2 The second scenario involving Juvenile Court Judge Percival Handler from Broadview, WY, is quite the compelling ethical dilemma.
It requires that we address a situation quite quickly. As discussed earlier, journalists have a responsibility to disclose newsworthy information in their role as watchdogs. In this case, the responsibility, if the allegations are true, would be to protect alleged juvenile offenders. Currently, reports have been made that Judge Handler has become unstable in the courtroom, that he often falls asleep during trial, and, most egregiously, getting sex and drugs in exchange for lenient sentences or probation. My police reporter has now informed me that the WBI has been investigating this situation.
Unfortunately, as Handler is the son-in-law of a former Wyoming governor, the investigation has been halted (painting a potentially even bigger story into corruption in Wyoming government). We confront the judge about this situation, where he gets angry and orders us out. He later calls and informs us that if we run this story, he will kill himself. Now we are placed in quite the dilemma. There are two options, if the allegations are true and I don’t run the story, unfair trials of troubled youth continue. If the allegations are true or untrue, and I run the story, Handler will kill commit suicide.
So where does that leave me as a managing editor? If I run a story that causes a man’s death, can I be held liable? What are the ethical implications of running such a story? etc. etc. Remedying this type situation will be tumultuous at best, but possible. First, we must look into the allegations made by the WBI source. This is the idea that the judge is trading drugs and sex for lenient sentences and probation. Launching an investigation into the drug and sex allegation is certainly possible, but immediately we can look into the record of Handler.
As he has been elected to three consecutive six-year terms, he will have tried many cases. We can use that public record to look into trends of sentencing. If he has in fact become more lenient in his sentencing the record will reflect that. Legally, when we look to the Sipple v. Chronicle case, we can see that despite how embarrassing a situation may potentially be, once a person has become a public figure newsworthy information about them may be released without any concerns of an invasion of privacy lawsuit.
Additionally, the SPJ code points out that journalists should “[r]ecognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy. ” Handler’s responsibility vested in him by the people of Broadview and the story’s implications put it well within the realm of protection under Sipple v. Chronicle. It is a necessity to bring this type of story to light for the people of Broadview.
More importantly, going through with the story has the potential to protect the lives of children in the judicial system and expose further government corruption. I would be both be legally and ethically protected by running this story. In fact, a clear case study into the legality and ethical nature of running this story happened in Knoxville, TN with Judge Richard Baumgartner. Baumgartner resigned from the Knox County Criminal Court bench in March of 2011 after a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe found that he had bought drugs from a probationer in his court.
He pleaded guilty to felony official misconduct, was given a suspended sentence of two years, granted judicial diversion, and was disbarred in October of 2011. Prior to the March probe, Knoxville News Sentinel court reporter Jamie Satterfield noted, “Baumgartner has appeared disoriented during recent court hearings. ” As judges serve as the gatekeepers to ensure that justice is brought to light in a trial, situations like this must be fixed as soon as possible. Moving forward with the story helps preserve justice and exposes the truth. To these ends, I as a journalist and editor would be fulfilling the fullest xtent of the law and ethical standards in running the story. Finally, we must look into the concern of suicide. Ethically, when evaluating the loss of the life of another human being based on my actions, this is the biggest concern. Similarly, we can look to the story of Judge Gary Little of Seattle, Washington. In August 1988, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published a story outlining Little’s sexual abuse of juvenile defendants. Shortly before publication of the story, Little killed himself. The ramifications of running this story are very real, but so are the implications of what Handler is doing.
Handler called and told us that he intends to kill himself if we run the story. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention writes, “[m]ost suicidal individuals give warning of their intentions. ” Referring back to the Velasquez analysis of ethical behavior, we can see that we have a responsibility to consult other people when making decisions as vital as these. Since we do have warning from Handler, calling his family and the proper officials before running the story is of the utmost importance in order to protect his life.
The Handler case is the culmination of what happened with Judge Baumgartner and Little. Though the thought of suicide is a very real, devastating concern, we as journalists cannot give into fear and be intimidated out of running stories. Remember, we serve as the watchdogs that protect society and we accept the ramifications of our stories. After contacting the proper officials, I would run the Handler story in order to protect future young people going through the Broadview judicial system.