Class Presentations

1. 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 outright war.

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

*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.


2. 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?

*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.


3. 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, an 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?

*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.


4. 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.


5. 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 an 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.



6. As Life Passes By Case Study
From: Indiana University Media Research

Several Years ago, photojournalist Ross Baughman persuaded a Rhodesian cavalry unit to let him accompany them on a mission into the interior. It was rumored that the white army was torturing and killing black civilians. The army denied the charges and the civilians weren’t talking.

Dressed like the soldiers so that he could be inconspicuous, Baughman photographed the 25-man unit while they burned down homes and tortured men, women and children. His photos won a Pulitzer Prize. His choice not to intervene won him international disfavor.

Baughman says that he could have stopped some of the atrocities if he had been so inclined. “I would have been able to make the soldiers feel inhibited. I could have said, ‘Gee, fellows, do you think this is necessary?’”

Or he could have protected the victims. “It would have been possible for me to poke my head into the next hut and shoo the people out the back, giving them a few extra seconds,” Baughman said.

But he knew that style of reporting would have offered no more than what people already knew. It’s no surprise that military units use threats to achieve their ends. “If you’re going to find out if they’re really going to pull the trigger, you have to wait,” Baughman said.

With photos and stories, voters can be brought face-to-face with parts of reality that they would like to deny. The disenfranchised, those living outside of the law, need their stories presented and their faces shown.

Should journalists should watch and wait when the reality they are collecting is information that citizens need and when they alone can be trusted to get that information out?

No one questioned the judgment of the photojournalists who, in 1963, shot pictures of Buddhist monks who self-immolated in protest of the Vietnam War. The world needed that statement.

However, 20 years later, when two Jacksonville, Alabama videographers shot tape while a man attempted suicide by dousing himself with lighter fluid and lighting a match, the community was appalled that no one interceded.

Does society need one profession charged with documenting reality? Journalists can’t provide that without the special privilege of watching life’s drama from the sidelines. They can’t provide that without the special obligation to stay out of life’s way.

Given the choice of shooting a picture or saving a life, what do you do?

*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.


7. Truth and Consequences Case Study
From: Indiana University Media Research

Several years ago, the editors at The Charlotte Observer faced an ethical dilemma with the ultimate potential consequence of a wrong decision – death.

Three candidates were running for two positions on a minor, non-partisan board in one of the dozens of North and South Carolina counties covered by the Observer. During a routine check of clip files, a reporter discovered that one of the candidates had the same name as someone who’d been a leader in North Carolina’s Ku Klux Klan decades before. The Klan leader had pleaded guilty to several misdemeanor crimes, one of them in connection with a Klan shootout.

The reporter called the candidate.

“Must be someone else,” said the candidate, a businessman. “I’ve never had anything to do with the Klan.”

The reporter hung up, dissatisfied. She recalled reading a yellow clipping about the Klan leader which mentioned his small hometown in another state and which named some relatives. It was the same hometown listed in the candidate’s biography.

The reporter called the hometown and sought out the relatives. Whatever happened to their family member who’d come up to North Carolina and been active in the Klan years before? Where was he now?

“Funny you should ask,” one of them told her. “He’s gone straight for years and now he’s running for political office.”

The reporter knew she had a story. Not a big story – the political office involved wasn’t a particularly important one, the Klan activities had taken place more than a decade ago. But it was a story nonetheless.

If former Kluxers and admitted criminals were going to run for office, they had the right. But it was the newspaper’s right – indeed, obligation – to make sure readers and voters knew about their character and background.

When the reporter called the candidate, he confessed. And he pleaded that she not run the story. It was something long ago in his past, he said.

That kind of activity was behind him. He’d made a new life, he said. Even his family didn’t know.

The reporter and I had just started to discuss the implications of the story when my phone rang. It was a local official of B’nai B’rith. He had just gotten a call from the candidate, whom he described as an ” old friend,” and needed to talk. He arrived at my office breathless.

“If you print the story about (the candidate) and the Klan,” he said, “you’ll be making a terrible mistake. Everything in the clips about the Klan and the crimes is true.”

“But there’s one other thing. He was in the Klan as a plant. An informer. For the FBI. Working with them and with us, he prevented more Klan violence than you’ll ever know. He wasn’t a devil in the civil rights struggle. He was an angel.”

I thought that made it an even better story.

“But, you don’t understand,” the man from B’nai B’rith protested.” He sent people to jail. No one knows to this day he was an informer. If you print this information, he’ll end up at the bottom of the Catawba River.”

He mentioned the name of former Observer staffer who had covered the Klan in the 1960s and 1970s. “Ask him,” the man from B’nai B’rith said. “He knows the whole story.” I called the former staffer, now a senior Knight-Ridder executive. He was stunned.

“Everything the B’nai B’rith guy tells you is true,” the executive said.” To write this story could mean death (for the candidate). It’s so dangerous, I’m surprised (the man from B’nai B’rith) told you. It might have been better just to let you go ahead with the original Klan rather than reveal the secret.”

The reporter, her editor and I met to consider our options.

One of them was going ahead with the original story. It would, after all, deal with what was on the record. But even though the story would be factual, it wouldn’t serve the truth.

Printing the true story would certainly serve the public in the fairest way possible, leaving it to individual voters to decide what they thought of the facts. But that could put the candidate in physical danger.

Doing nothing was an option that left us all unsatisfied. If the candidate were elected, the original story about the Klan involvement would surface somehow. The newspaper could be accused of knowing relevant facts about a candidate and keeping them secret. And there would be no way to explain why we had done what we did.

With no clear idea of which way to go, we called the candidate. It was his life, after all, and we wanted his thinking on what we should do. We realized we were taking a rare and, for some, uncomfortable step: consulting with the subject of a story about how it should be written and whether it should be written at all.

As the reporter and the candidate talked, the candidate came to a decision. That afternoon, he dropped out of the race, citing “personal reasons.”

Would you run the story? Would you consult with the candidate? That’s highly unusual. What would you do?

*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.


8. Killing News Case Study
From: Indiana University Media Research

He killed himself on a Saturday, four days before the newspaper’s deadline. By the time we’d pasted up Wednesday night, we were grateful for the time.

Todd, a 14-year-old freshman at Ipswich (Massachusetts) High School, shot himself at home one morning in March, 1985. I was editor of the Ipswich Chronicle at the time, a weekly newspaper covering the North Shore seacoast community.

North Shore Weeklies, the parent company of the Ipswich Chronicle, had an unwritten policy about suicides: If the person who killed himself was a public official, or if he killed himself in public, we covered it and called it suicide. If we knew it was a suicide but the person was relatively unknown in the community and he did it privately, we wrote a straight obituary, leaving out cause of death.

It was clear that we would report on Todd’s death and call it suicide. But it was not clear how extensively we would cover the story or where it would run.

When we began dealing with the story, the editor-in-chief and I disagreed with the newspaper chain’s publisher/owner on how to cover it. Selma Williams, the editor-in-chief, and I thought the coverage should be fairly low-key, but Bill Wasserman, always mindful of the competition, two daily papers, was worried the dailies would cover it extensively.

Selma, Bill and I discussed the story from all angles. Todd did not shoot himself in public. But he was a high school student and the school was buzzing with the news. In addition, Ipswich High School observed a moment of silence in his memory. The story had become a public event.

While we continued to argue about the story, one of the daily newspapers came out with a front-page lead story reporting the death. “Ipswich High School student shoots himself,” the headline blared in 48-point type.

About an hour after that paper hit the street, I got a call from Dick Thompson, superintendent of Ipswich schools. He was very upset by the daily’s headline and he wanted to know how we were planning to run the story. I said we hadn’t made a firm decision; did he want to talk with our publisher? I pushed that huddle because I thought it would be helpful if Wasserman could hear Thompson’s side.

Thompson swayed Wasserman, who seemed now to lean toward calling Todd’s death suicide but leaving out quotes about him from classmates and teachers.

Wasserman decided to call a local psychiatrist, Dr. Howard Stone, who often worked with adolescents, and explained our predicament.

Stone gave us new information. He said he was aware of a possible suicide pact, where other students had agreed to kill themselves if one did it.

We now realized even more that we were carrying an enormous responsibility. Stone understood our needs and agreed that it would be irresponsible, and perhaps, even more upsetting to other unstable youngsters if we ignored the story.

We thanked Stone and huddled again, this time coming up with a mutually agreeable solution. In the middle of page two, with a two-deck, 24-point headline, we ran a short, straightforward story telling what had happened. The other obituaries ran farther back in the paper.

On the editorial page, we ran a lead editorial about an unrelated story. The second and third editorials were about teenage suicide.

*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.



 9. Naming A Murder Suspect Case Study
From: Tom Jackman, Reporter

Winchester Star reporter Sarah L. Greenhalgh. No one has been charged in her slaying. (e all want to know who killed her in her Fauquier County home on July 9. So when police searched a suspect’s home, and then arrested him 10 days later on a completely unrelated court violation, two major media outlets in our area — (the online version of the Manassas News & Messenger) and WJLA-7 — publicly identified the man, though he still has not been charged with murder.

For many years, naming an uncharged suspect was strictly prohibited in journalism. A suspect was not named until the authorities had at least enough proof — probable cause — to file charges. The idea was not to publicly, permanently besmirch someone who might be innocent — and also not to create legal liability for the newspaper or broadcaster by falsely accusing someone.

But this rule started to change years ago when the news media identified security guard Richard Jewell as a suspect in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. Jewell, then 33, was the security guard who first alerted police to a bomb in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, at his home outside Atlanta in July 1996. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution accurately reported that he was a suspect, and other outlets followed. But a suspect is not necessarily a defendant. And Jewell was innocent. In 2002, the media named Steven Hatfill as a suspect in the anthrax mailings. He didn’t do it. Both men’s lives were destroyed.

Most local media did not name the “person of interest” (a purposely vague and meaningless term) in the Greenhalgh case, including The Post, even after he was arrested in another case. But InsideNova, the top newsgathering operation in Prince William County, and the website (but not the television programs) of WJLA-7 did name him.

What would you do in the Greenhalgh case?

*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.


10. New Year Baby Case Study
From: Norm Lewis

Like many local news organizations, the Gainesville Sun writes on Jan. 1 a story about the first baby of the born in a local hospital in the new year. Medical records are private, not public information, so journalists depend on the hospitals and the new mother to cooperate. Most do, for the first-baby story is usually a happy one. And it’s a must-do story for the Sun (or any other local news outlet), because New Year’s Day is a slow news day, and the first-baby story is a tradition. In other words, ignoring the story is not an option.

On Jan. 1, 2009, the first baby born in Gainesville arrived at Shands. She was Ariana Yerlin Lopez. Her mother was Reyna Lopez from the North Florida county of Suwanee, which is almost in Georgia and outside the Sun’s coverage area. She consented to being interviewed, so a reporter and a photographer went to Shands. The storywas headlined, “Uncertain future tempers joy for mom of first baby in 2009.”

Through a friend who translated for her, the mother said that three years earlier, she left her three older children (then ages 2, 9 and 10) behind in Mexico and entered the United States illegally. She wanted to deliver Ariana here because babies born in the United States are automatically citizens, not an illegal immigrant. Reyna said she hoped eventually to return to Mexico to rejoin her family. She also said that, as an illegal immigrant, she knew she could be deported at any time. Were that to happen, she would leave her baby behind in the United States to be raised by someone else. “She’s trying not to think about that at the moment,” the friend said.

On first blush, there may appear to be no dilemma here. The mother was willing to talk and discussed her legal status.

But did she understand the potential consequences of what she said?

She may have spoken in the warm haze of a powerful epidural given to ease the pain of childbirth. Any woman who’s just given birth knows the incredible mix of emotions and neurochemicals can result in a judgment-altering mirth.

Further, as a journalist, you know that Reyna may be a bit naïve or perhaps complacent after three years without deportation. Yes, in recent years, immigration agents have been focusing their attention on workplace raids rather than individual homes. However, featuring an illegal immigrant as the first baby of the year in a news story makes her case so public that immigration authorities might feel compelled to act. It’s a bit like waving the proverbial red flag before a bull.

Moreover, Florida state government is hostile toward illegal immigrants. Some states have passed laws that allow police to ask any person on the street to immediately provide papers documenting legal status or face arrest. Congress has been unable for years to agree on what to do about illegal immigrants other than vilify them. So this new mom could be a cause célèbre for those who argue that tougher enforcement is needed. After all, here’s a mother who would rather leave her newborn behind than take the baby with her to Mexico if she were deported. That sounds like a “bad mom” to some people. So her story may attract more attention than she realizes.

The SPJ Code of Ethics requires that journalists both minimize harm and tell the truth. You can’t do both here. Which takes priority?

The minimize harm side says you have to consider whether telling the whole story about this new mom could put her in legal jeopardy. You have to consider whether the warm glow of childbirth has clouded her judgment.

On the other hand, if you hide her illegal status, the public is deprived of a chance to learn more about illegal immigration and its complexity. Reyna Lopez seems to be a willing participant in a story that illustrates how illegal immigrants live in the shadows, risking deportation for a chance at the American dream. She puts a name and a face on a social issue.

What would you do?

*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.


11. The Fallen Servant Case Study
From: Indiana University Media Research

It had all the elements of which heroes are made.

A firefighter died in a furniture warehouse fire. Norman E. Creger, a 17-year veteran of the Jackson (MI) Fire Department was killed when a wall collapsed.

The Sunday Citizen Patriot devoted most of page one to the fire. The mayor ordered city flags to half-staff. An honor guard of firefighters flanked the casket until the funeral. Fire officials from throughout Michigan formed a three-mile procession following a pumper truck with Creger’s bronze casket atop it.

Creger’s widow received the America flag covering his coffin. It was a hero’s departure.

Forty-five days later, the newspaper revealed that Creger was legally drunk at the time of his death.

Rumors of Creger’s drinking were heard within hours of his death. He had been off-duty at the time of the fire, in a bar. When summoned, he finished his beer and drove to the blaze.

Creger was one of four firemen playing hoses on the north side of the four-story building. Fire Capt. Leland Bowman saw the wall might fall and ordered them back.

Witnesses said the other three firefighters sprinted to safety, but Creger turned and walked into a double-headed parking meter. The impact knocked him flat.

Seconds later, the falling wall covered him. Creger died of massive chest injuries.

A month after the fire, city officials received the autopsy report on Creger. Because it was a bombshell, they kept it secret for two weeks as they discussed legal ramifications.

The report indicated Creger’s blood alcohol level was 0.16 percent. In Michigan, a motorist with 0.10 percent is considered to be under the influence.

The police report was inconclusive on whether Creger’s drinking was a factor in his death.

What made this an important news story for the Jackson community?

The possibility that a fireman died in vain, fighting a fire he shouldn’t have been allowed to work.

That his drinking prior to the fire made it questionable as to whether he was fit for duty.

That violation of a new fire department check-in procedure might have cost Creger’s life.

The day the autopsy was released, the consensus at the Citizen Patriot news meeting was to play the story on page one, with a single column headline, not as the lead story. It was the most interesting story of the day, but we didn’t make it the lead story on page one because we knew it would be unpopular, and would draw criticism wherever we put it. Knowing our conservative community, we anticipated the cries of “Sensationalism!”

Numerous complaints from the public followed publication of the autopsy story which revealed Creger’s drinking.

“How can you speak ill of the dead,” was the general complaint, “especially a hero who died serving the public.”

“Do you really expect firemen to show up if your newspaper catches fire?”

“How crummy, anything to sell newspapers!”

“You owe the Creger family an apology.”

Perhaps handling the drinking/autopsy story differently might have prevented some of the criticism. We could have prepared the public for the drinking disclosure with a story saying an investigation was underway into Creger’s death, and that he came to the fire from a bar.

The number of complaints might also have been reduced if we had emphasized that it was the city’s investigation that revealed he had been drinking. 

No matter how we approached the autopsy story, some people would still have been angry that we had “tarnished” a hero. “What good did it do?” was often the question raised. 

What would you do?

*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.

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