Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yesterday in Journalism Ethics We Discussed Lou Grant, Season One, Episode Five

Jonah Hill, american actor (MACBA, Barcelona).Image via Wikipedia

Reporter friend whose name I reserve:

Pretty good discussion yesterday! Nothing earthshaking, but the kids did note many of the “dated” elements – Billie’s flirting; the “patriarchal” newsroom – and their possible “ethical” significance -- and we had quite a good time talking about how the presentation of the text – the casting; the direction – pushed us toward taking Billie’s side. We talked about how different out reaction might be if the Nazi had been played by Jonah Hill, whom I assume you enjoyed in Superbad…

Dig the opinions of my other experts. I said you were the only one of the four who was not pretty much constantly drunk during the workday.

Ehe Education Reporter

I think the issue here is less about the ethics of the case than in how reckless they were in ignoring the Jewish Nazi's threats to kill her and maybe take others down ("I have nothing to lose," he said in the newspaper office.) They should have gotten the police or FBI involved to watch this guy, if not the entire terrorist organization.

But I guess that's a 21st century perspective. (Also, Billy's coy 'li'l ol' me' behavior at the beginning would never wash today.)

Strictly on the run/don't run question, sure they had to run the story. Not only was it a great tale -- which your crazy Jewish Nazi always will be-- but it's kind of like ol' Lou said at the end: It's a valuable lesson in how hateful behavior comes about. (Or words to that effect.) That's important for people to understand before terrorism gets out of control. So my view is that it would have been more irresponsible to sit on it than to run it, despite the suicide.

But getting back to my earlier point, they got off easy. He could have taken them all down. Btw, there was a real-life example of this, sorta. Tanya Schevitz was covering the hell out of UC in about 2006 or 7 when the UC chancellor (a woman...can't remember her name) hurled herself off a building in SF. Poor Tanya actually heard the words "you killed her."

The Columnist

Watched the Lou Grant episode, pleasantly surprised to see the reporter and boss meet in a bar. Ah, good times. As to ethics, I didn’t see an ethical question. The reporter played it by the book mostly. She asked if it was all right to use her tape recorder to a friendly interviewer, didn’t mention it to the Nazi, used the old, “accurate quotes” explanation when he brought it up. A minor sin and how business is done. The episode showed the work involved in a story, while avoiding the boredom, fear and discomfort of talking to strangers. A minor sin. The Jewish-Nazi guy is a legitimate news story, what people do with it is up to them. Nobody knows the future.

So, I don’t see an ethical dilemma. It’s more of a made-up TV ethical dilemma.

The Prize Winner

Enjoyed the opportunity to view the old Lou Grant episode and maybe contribute a “true blue” journalist’s opinion of the ethical question(s) raised in the TV production. No question that the newspaper was justified, and duty bound, to run the Striker story. Young Striker’s fatal destiny began the day he rejected his Jewish birthright for the ideological hatred of Adolph Hitler, a vile, deluded murderer sworn to eradicate the Jewish race--- his people, his family, his heritage. From my perspective the paper’s profile on Striker and his gang of crazies did not drive him to self destruction. The man’s horrific guilt of inflicting pain on his family, and the Jewish community worldwide, took him over the edge. After all, here was a man who was a, “clear thinker”, intelligent, grounded, according to a former teacher. Exposure by the media, highlighted by Striker being a Jew, prompted the man, I believe, to grasp the realization of a series of unforgivable choices. Hitler did not have the right idea. Neither did Striker in aligning with the architect of the Holocaust. Good reporters should not get weepy if a misguided, guilt-driven young man ends his life because the beacon of truth found him in a dark lonely crowd idolizing violence against selective humanity.

The Executive Editor

I parse the dilemma in two steps:

1. Before you decide to publish, you weigh how public the person is and what his danger to society is. If the guy has been the public face of the American Nazi party and an out-there KKK member, then he has made himself public and his politics and background are relevant and fair game. If he is a closeted Nazi and KKK member, and otherwise a nice guy, his politics and background and personal beliefs are none of your business. But if the guy is a private person, and you have clear evidence that he is a serial killer, child molester or otherwise presents a clear and present danger, then you must take action (perhaps going to the cops rather than publishing a story, but that's another discussion).

2. Assuming you decide there is a story and it is worthy of publication, you ask yourself: What is the worst that could happen? If you can live with that worst, then publish. If you can't, then consider your alternatives. Among those might be: Should you be in the reporting/editing business? Another alternative is to make the information public is a less threatening way: Slip the item to your gossip columnist so he/she can print a "blind item" that won't identify you or, directly, the Nazi/KKK fellow. Or, these days, post anonymously on the Web...

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Anonymous said...

yo man....................................................................................................

Peter Moore said...

So I click on the other comment and get taken to some Japanese porn site. WFT?

....J.Michael Robertson said...

I apparently have a big Japanese porn following. Quirk in the translation algorithm apparently works in my favor.