Media Ethics: Issues and Cases Chapter 2 CASE 2 D
Did Laurens do the right thing by sumitting her story without the benefit of an independent investigation into the mayor’s accusations about Councilman Michaels?
Is the mayor correct in arguing that Laurens acted responsible by providing fair and balanced coverage of both sides of a public controversy without trying to judge whose side is right and whose side is wrong?
Is the councilman correct in arguing that Laurens acted irresponsibly by concerning herself only with reporting the facts truthfully and ignoring the truth about the fact?
Is it sufficient when covering public controversies to simply report the facts accurately and fairly? Does it matter that fair and accurate reporting of facts night not do justice to the truth about the facts?
Does the practice of objective reporting distance from the substabce of their stories in ways contrary to the ideals of responsible journalism?
If reporters serve as the eyes and ears of their readers, how can they be expected to report more than what they’ve heard?
What distinguishes fact from truth? For with should journalists accept responsibility?
If journalists know that a fact is not true, do the have an obligation to share tha knowledge with their readers? And if they do share that knowledge, how can they claim to be objective in their reporting?
Justify or reject the role of objectivity in an era when more media outlets are available than ever before. 42 CHAPTER 2: Information Ethics: A Profession Seeks the Truth
week’s episode of This American Life, we will devote the entire hour to detailing
the errors in “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.”
Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the
fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn’t excuse the
fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.
Subsequent inspections at Foxconn plants did reveal numerous violations of
agreements to working conditions there. Daisey, in subsequent interviews, has said
that while the specifics of his allegations were fabrications, the overall indictment
of Apple is “true.”
1. Justify Schmitz’s decision to go to his editors, who work for the same organization that
broadcasts This American Life, asking to reinvestigate this story.
2. Download the original Mr. Daisey piece and the New York Times investigative report.
Examine the sources for each. What principles regarding “knowing” and “telling the
3. Was the retraction that Ira Glass provided ethically justifiable? Why or why not?
1. Many reporters work in countries where they do not speak the native language(s). What
are the risks to accurate reporting when the individual journalist does not understand the
words that are being spoken? Should “helpers such as translators receive some byline or
on-air credit for their assistance with such coverage?
2. What journalistic norms made Daisey’s accounts so believable? How do you see those
norms expressed in other investigative reports?
3. The New York Times has never had to retract any of its reporting on this issue. Evaluate
the distinctions between the Times report and the Mr. Daisey piece based on the ethical
news values outlined in this chapter.
1. How should journalists treat sources that lie to them, particularly after the lie has been
discovered? Is what Ira Glass did in his retraction ethical?
2. Is Mike Daisey right—even though his facts were wrong? Was the overall story “true”?
What definition of truth do you use in responding to this question?
When Is Objective Reporting Irresponsible Reporting?
THEODORE L. GLASSER
Amanda Laurens, a reporter for a local daily newspaper, covers the city mayor’s
office, where yesterday she attended a 4:00 p.m. press conference. The mayor,
CHAPTER 2: Information Ethics: A Profession Seeks the Truth 43
Ben Adams, read a statement accusing Evan Michaels, a city council mem-
ber, of being a “paid liar” for the pesticide industry. “Councilman Michaels,”
the mayor said at the press conference, “has intentionally distorted the facts
about the effects of certain pesticides on birds indigenous to the local area.”
“Mr. Michaels,” the mayor continued, “is on the payroll of a local pesticide
manufacturer,” and his views on the effects of pesticides on bird life are neces-
The press conference ended at about 5:15 p.m., less than an hour before her
6:00p.m. deadline. Laurens quickly contacted Councilman Michaels for a quote in
response to the mayor’s statement. Michaels, however, refused to comment, except
to say that Mayor Adams’s accusations were “utter nonsense” and “politically moti-
vated.” Laurens filed her story, which included both the mayor’s accusation and the
councilman’s denial. Laurens’s editor thought the story was fair and balanced and
ran it the following morning on the front page.
The mayor was pleased with the coverage he received. He thought Laurens
had acted professionally and responsibly by reporting his accusation along with
Michaels’s denial. Anything else, the mayor thought, would have violated the
principles of objective journalism. The mayor had always believed that one of
the most important responsibilities of the press was to provide an impartial forum
for public controversies, and the exchange between him and the councilman was
certainly a bona fide public controversy. Deciding who’s right and who’s wrong is
not the responsibility of journalists, the mayor believed, but a responsibility best
left to readers.
Councilman Michaels, in contrast, was outraged. He wrote a scathing letter to
the editor, chiding the newspaper for mindless, irresponsible
journalism. “The story
may have been fair, balanced and accurate,” he wrote, “but it was not truthful.” He
had never lied about the effects of pesticides on bird life, and he had never been
on the payroll of any pesticide manufacturer,” he wrote. “A responsible reporter
would do more than report the facts truthfully; she would also report the truth about
the facts.” In this case, Michaels said, the reporter should have held off on the story
until she had time to independently investigate the mayor’s accusation; and if the
accusation had proved to be of no merit, as Michaels insisted, then there shouldn’t
have been a story. Or if
there had to be a story, Michaels added, “it should be a story
about the mayor lying.”
By way of background: The effects of pesticides on bird life had been a local
issue for nearly a year. Part of the community backs Mayor Adams’s position on
the harmful effects of certain pesticides and supports local legislation that would
limit or ban their use. Others in the community support Councilman Michaels’s
position that the evidence on the effects of pesticides on bird life is at best ambigu-
ous and that more scientific study is needed before anyone proposes legislation.
They argue that pesticides are useful, particularly to local farmers who need to
protect crops, and because the available evidence about their deleterious effects is
inconclusive, they believe that the city council should not seek to further restrictor
their use. The exchange between Mayor Adams and Councilman Michaels
is the latest in a series of verbal bouts on the subject of pesticides and the city’s role
in their regulation
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