Class Presentations

CNN Case Study
From Media Ethics: Key Principles for Responsible Practice, Chapter 3

During the 1990s, CNN sought to be a “network of record” for international affairs, highly valuing its access to governments around the world. But that access often came with a price, and nowhere was that clearer than in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, whose regime routinely monitored, harassed, and censored foreign journalists.

As chief news executive for CNN, Eason Jordan said he made more than a dozen trips to Baghdad to lobby the Hussein government to keep the CNN bureau open. Ensuring that CNN could report from Baghdad meant, Jordan said, that it could not report on the horrible reality of Hussein’s regime. When news made the government unhappy, bad things happened. Journalists were ejected from the country if their reports portrayed Hussein in a negative light. CNN regularly faced the threat of harassment. Sometimes those threats were carried out. Jordan said that a CNN cameraman was abducted and tortured. Iraqi citizens who spoke to reporters later disappeared. “Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw and heard – awful things that could not be recorded because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis particularly those on our Baghdad staff”, Jordan wrote.

Only in April 2003, when American forces ousted Hussein and occupied Baghdad, did Jordan feel able to reveal the various ways in which the cable network compromised its news reporting to maintain access. In a newspaper column with the headline “The News We Kept To Ourselves,” Jordan wrote, “I felt awful having the stories bottled up inside me… At last, the stories can be told freely”. Jordan clearly believed that the compromises his network made were the right ones. But other journalists around the country were stunned and outraged, and they argued that while Jordan meant well, he violated fundamental ethical standards of public trust and accuracy. In its zeal to protect its access to an evil regime, CNN failed to convey to the world the regime’s true nature, sugarcoating the reality in Iraq instead.

Critics accused CNN of moral failure. One of them argued that instead of portraying CNN as Hussein’s victim, Jordan should have apologized for cooperating with the regime. “Reading Mr. Jordan now, you get the impression that CNN has no ethical option other than to soft-pedal, “wrote one such critic. “But there were alternatives. CNN could have abandoned Baghdad. Not only would they have stopped recycling lies they could’ve focused more intently on obtaining the truth about Saddam”. Others suggested that if CNN had demonstrated more moral courage and shown Hussein’s brutality more accurately, the world community might have responded more aggressively to isolate the regime in ways that could have averted out right war.

Was the news about Iraq better than no news at all? Which value should be given greater weight in this case and why?


Drunk Teacher Case Study 
From Media Ethics: Key Principles for Responsible Practice, Chapter 4

Nearly three-quarters of American job recruiters report that they have rejected candidates because of information found online, such as photos and social networking sites – material many of us might assume is private. Stories of how our uses of the web undermine privacy are rife in the news media.

One example of that is Stacy Snyder, a young teacher in training at a Pennsylvania high school who posted a photo on her MySpace page in 2006 that showed her at a party wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup. The photo caption read “Drunken Pirate.” Discovering the photo, her supervisor at the high school told her it was unprofessional and, days before her college graduation, university officials denied her a teaching degree. Snyder sued, arguing that the university had violated her First Amendment rights by penalizing her for behavior that was unrelated to any professional obligations. But in 2008, a federal judge rejected her claim, saying that because Snyder was a public employee whose photo did not relate to matters of public concern, her MySpace post was not protected speech.

Some argue that Snyder’s predicament suggests how our conception of digital privacy must include a “right to forget” provision. Digital archiving of our personal content is increasingly limiting our abilities of self-definition. “Far from giving us a new sense of control over the face we present to the world, the Internet is shackling us to everything that we have ever said, or that anyone has said about us,” writes legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen. Up until now, the limits of human memory largely ensured that people’s sins were forgotten and this has also served to underscore the reality that human beings evolve over time and that we have the capacity to learn from past experiences. Some theorists and policymakers are endorsing a “constitutional right to oblivion” and other steps to impose “expiration dates” on certain types of archived data, including our Facebook postings.

How would you respond to claims that we should all have a “right to oblivion” in the digital world and why?


Product Placement Case Study 
From Media Ethics: Key Principles for Responsible Practice, Chapter 5

Authenticity is a key element of good storytelling. Filmmakers and television producers understand that watching a character grab a Heineken, and not a bottle with a generic “beer” label, helps maintain our suspension of disbelief. Brands create authentic environments and, thus, lend believability for us as audience members.

The ethics question surrounding the widespread use of product placement, however, focuses on expectations of disclosure. When is the presence of a brand simply an artistic decision, and when is it a financial arrangement? And is it a problem when we can’t tell which?

Product placement is so common now that we all know it occurs routinely. Critics argue that behind the scenes deals impose artistic constraints to ensure that the film or TV show provides a “friendly” environment for the brand. Over time, this can have a serious effect on the kind of programming we see – programming that emphasizes commerce rather than emotionally moving projects.

There is no question that the use of real brands in storytelling is important for producers to cultivate authenticity. For ethicists, that’s not the issue. The issue is empowering audiences with information through disclosure so that they can make their own judgments about whether the “creative” work they are seeing is reduced to a vehicle for products to an unreasonable degree. The types of products written into a show really ought to be up to the writer, according to some.

Where do you stand on product placement and why?


Dead Marine Case Study 
From Media Ethics: Key Principles for Responsible Practice, Chapter 9

In 2009, a squad of Marines was ambushed by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. One of the Marines, 21-year-old Lance Corporal Joshua M. Bernard, was struck in the legs by a rocket-propelled grenade. Julie Jacobson, and Associated Press photographer, had been on patrol with the soldiers, and had just taken photos of Bernard. She instinctively photographed Bernard as he lay dying, surrounded by his comrades.

After the Pentagon released Bernard’s identity, AP released a photo essay and a video narrated by Jacobson to member newspapers, even though Bernard’s father asked the AP not to use the graphic photo showing his son mortally wounded. AP’s decision to do so created a firestorm of protest, with US defense secretary Robert Gates denouncing the agency: “Why your organization would purposefully deny the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me,” he wrote.

Journalists defended the decision. “What it does show – in a very unequivocal and direct fashion – the real consequence of war, “said Santiago Lyon, AP’s photography director. Jacobson noted that Bernard’s fellow Marines saw her photos before she transmitted them and had no complaints. “An image personalizes that death and makes people see what it really means to have young men die in combat,” she wrote. “It is necessary to be bothered from time to time “. While many US news organizations printed the photo in their pages and on their websites, several did not, including the Portland Press Herald, near Bernard’s hometown in Maine.

What would you have done in that situation and why?


Death Row Dad Case Study 
From RTNDF: Newsroom Ethics (Fourth Edition):

While working on a story about childhood vaccinations, KHOU-TV reporter Carolyn Mungo met a woman whose husband was on death row.  The couple had a 4-year-old daughter and her father regularly wrote to her.  Mungo decided to tell their story.  Afterward, some viewers complained that the story seemed too sympathetic to the murderer. Others complained the little girl had been exploited.  Should the story have been handled differently?  How would you tell the story and why?

After viewing the video in its entirety, use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weigh the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.


Ice Boat Sailing Case Study
From RTNDF: Newsroom Ethics (Fourth Edition):

Ice boat sailing is common during the winter in Minnesota. The boats are basically small sailboats with rudders attached. Instead of sailing on the water, they sail across the frozen lakes in winter. One one New Year’s Eve, KARE–TV was told the iceboat sailors would be out on White Bear Lake, northeast of St. Paul. The station covered the story with help from the station’s helicopter. Reporter Ken Speake wrote a script for the story and recorded the audio tracks but did not see the edited story before it aired. After the story aired, the newsroom was abuzz over the deft editing and marvelous video the crew captured. A few days later, the news director heard from a viewer who had seen the story. He said: “You know those boats don’t go as fast as you showed on TV. ” The news director watched the story the next day with the photographer who had also edited the story. He asked the photographer if he had sped up some of the shots and the photographer said that he had. The photographer said he changed the speed of the video because what he saw out there was not recorded by the camera. He thought the boats appeared to be moving more slowly in the video then they had in real life.

This raises the question as to whether or not viewers are misled when video speed is adjusted. Research does show that slowing down video can make crime suspects appear to be more guilty. And Indiana University study shows that viewers are apt to place more blame or guilt on suspects shown in slow motion than those who are shown in standard motion.

After viewing the video in its entirety, use  your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weight the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *