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Media ethics issues and cases ninth edition

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iMedia Ethics

Issues and Cases

Ninth Edition

Philip Patterson Oklahoma Christian University

Lee Wilkins Wayne State University

University of Missouri

Chad Painter University of Dayton

ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD Lanham • Boulder • New York • London


iiExecutive Editor: Elizabeth Swayze Assistant Editor: Megan Manzano Senior Marketing Manager: Kim Lyons

Credits and acknowledgments for material borrowed from other sources, and reproduced with permission, appear on the appropriate page within the text.

Published by Rowman & Littlefield An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706 www.rowman.com

Unit A, Whitacre Mews, 26-34 Stannary Street, London SE11 4AB, United Kingdom

Copyright © 2019 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available

Library of Congress Cataloging - in - Publication Data Available

ISBN 978-1-5381-1258-8 (pbk.: alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-5381-1259-5 (ebook)

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences— Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.

Printed in the United States of America



iii For Linda, David, and Laurel


ivBrief Contents

Foreword Preface

1 An Introduction to Ethical Decision-Making 2 Information Ethics: A Profession Seeks the Truth 3 Strategic Communication: Does Client Advocate Mean Consumer Adversary? 4 Loyalty: Choosing Between Competing Allegiances 5 Privacy: Looking for Solitude in the Global Village 6 Mass Media in a Democratic Society: Keeping a Promise 7 Media Economics: The Deadline Meets the Bottom Line 8 Picture This: The Ethics of Photo and Video Journalism 9 Informing a Just Society

v 10 The Ethical Dimensions of Art and Entertainment 11 Becoming a Moral Adult References Index



Foreword Preface

1 An Introduction to Ethical Decision-Making Essay: Cases and moral systems

Deni Elliott Case 1-A: How to read a case study

Philip Patterson

2 Information Ethics: A Profession Seeks the Truth Case 2-A: Anonymous or confidential: Unnamed sources in the news

Lee Wilkins Case 2-B: Death as content: Social responsibility and the documentary filmmaker

Tanner Hawkins Case 2-C: News and the transparency standard

Lee Wilkins Case 2-D: Can I quote me on that?

Chad Painter Case 2-E: NPR, the New York Times, and working conditions in China

Lee Wilkins vii Case 2-F: When is objective reporting irresponsible reporting?

Theodore L.Glasser Case 2-G: Is it news yet?

Michelle Peltier Case 2-H: What’s yours is mine: The ethics of news aggregation

Chad Painter

3 Strategic Communication: Does Client Advocate Mean Consumer Adversary? Case 3-A: Weedvertising

Lee Wilkins Case 3-B: Cleaning up their act: The Chipotle food safety crisis

Kayla McLaughlin and Kelly Vibber Case 3-C: Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ prescription drug choices

Tara Walker Case 3-D: Between a (Kid) Rock and a hard place

Molly Shor Case 3-E: Was that an Apple computer I saw? Product placement in the United States and abroad

Philip Patterson Case 3-F: Sponsorships, sins, and PR: What are the boundaries?

Lauren Bacon Brengarth Case 3-G: A charity drops the ball

Philip Patterson

4 Loyalty: Choosing Between Competing Allegiances Case 4-A: Fair or foul? Reporter/player relationships in the sports beat

Lauren A. Waugh Case 4-B: To watch or to report: What journalists were thinking in the midst of disaster

Lee Wilkins Case 4-C: Public/on-air journalist vs. private/online life: Can it work?


Madison Hagood Case 4-D: When you are the story: Sexual harassment in the newsroom

Lee Wilkins Case 4-E: Whose Facebook page is it anyway?

Amy Simons viii Case 4-F: Where everybody knows your name: Reporting and relationships in a small market

Ginny Whitehouse Case 4-G: Quit, blow the whistle, or go with the flow?

Robert D. Wakefield Case 4-H: How one tweet ruined a life

Philip Patterson

5 Privacy: Looking for Solitude in the Global Village Case 5-A: Drones and the news

Kathleen Bartzen Culver Case 5-B: Concussion bounty: Is trust ever worth violating?

Lee Wilkins Case 5-C: Joe Mixon: How do we report on domestic violence in sports?

Brett Deever Case 5-D: Looking for Richard Simmons

Lee Wilkins Case 5-E: Children and framing: The use of children’s images in an anti-same-sex marriage ad

Yang Liu Case 5-F: Mayor Jim West’s computer

Ginny Whitehouse Case 5-G: Politics and money: What’s private and what’s not

Lee Wilkins

6 Mass Media in a Democratic Society: Keeping a Promise Case 6-A: Reporting on rumors: When should a news organization debunk?

Lee Wilkins Case 6-B: Doxxer, Doxxer, give me the news?

Mark Anthony Poepsel Case 6-C: The truth about the facts: Politifact.com

Lee Wilkins Case 6-D: WikiLeaks

Lee Wilkins Case 6-E: Control Room: Do culture and history matter in reporting the news?

Lee Wilkins ix Case 6-F: Victims and the press

Robert Logan Case 6-G: For God and Country: The media and national security

Jeremy Littau and Mark Slagle

7 Media Economics: The Deadline Meets the Bottom Line Case 7-A: Murdoch’s mess

Lee Wilkins Case 7-B: Who controls the local news? Sinclair Broadcasting Group and “must-runs”

Keena Neal Case 7-C: Automated journalism: The rise of robot reporters

Chad Painter Case 7-D: Contested interests, contested terrain: The New York Times Code of Ethics

Lee Wilkins and Bonnie Brennen Case 7-E: Transparency in fundraising: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting standard

Lee Wilkins Case 7-F: News now, facts later

Lee Wilkins


Case 7-G: Crossing the line? The LA Times and the Staples affair Philip Patterson and Meredith Bradford

8 Picture This: The Ethics of Photo and Video Journalism Case 8-A: Killing a journalist on-air: A means/ends test

Mitchel Allen Case 8-B: Remember my fame: Digital necromancy and the immortal celebrity

Samantha Most Case 8-C: Problem photos and public outcry

Jon Roosenraad Case 8-D: Above the fold: Balancing newsworthy photos with community standards

Jim Godbold and Janelle Hartman Case 8-E: Horror in Soweto

Sue O’Brien Case 8-F: Photographing funerals of fallen soldiers

Philip Patterson

x 9 Informing a Just Society Case 9-A: Spotlight: It takes a village to abuse a child

Lee Wilkins Case 9-B: 12th and Clairmount: A newspaper’s foray into documenting a pivotal summer

Lee Wilkins Case 9-C: Cincinnati Enquirer’s heroin beat

Chad Painter Case 9-D: Feminist fault lines: Political memoirs and Hillary Clinton

Miranda Atkinson Case 9-E: GoldieBlox: Building a future on theft

Scott Burgess

10 The Ethical Dimensions of Art and Entertainment Case 10-A: Get Out: When the horror is race

Michael Fuhlhage and Lee Wilkins Case 10-B: To die for: Making terrorists of gamers in Modern Warfare 2

Philip Patterson Case 10-C: Daily dose of civic discourse

Chad Painter Case 10-D: The Onion: Finding humor in mass shootings

Chad Painter Case 10-E: Hate radio: The outer limits of tasteful broadcasting

Brian Simmons Case 10-F: Searching for Sugar Man: Rediscovered art

Lee Wilkins

11 Becoming a Moral Adult References





Foreword Clifford G. Christians

Research Professor of Communication, University of Illinois–Urbana

The playful wit and sharp mind of Socrates attracted disciples from all across ancient Greece. They came to learn and debate in what could be translated as “his thinkery.” By shifting the disputes among Athenians over earth, air, fire, and water to human virtue, Socrates gave Western philosophy and ethics a new intellectual center (Cassier 1944).

But sometimes his relentless arguments would go nowhere. On one occasion, he sparred with the philosopher Hippias about the difference between truth and falsehood. Hippias was worn into submission but retorted at the end, “I cannot agree with you, Socrates.” And then the master concluded: “Nor I with myself, Hippias. . . . I go astray, up and down, and never hold the same opinion.” Socrates admitted to being so clever that he had befuddled himself. No wonder he was a favorite target of the comic poets. I. F. Stone likens this wizardry to “whales of the intellect flailing about in deep seas” (Stone 1988).

With his young friend Meno, Socrates argued whether virtue is teachable. Meno was eager to learn more, after “holding forth often on the subject in front of large audiences.” But he complained, “You are exercising magic and witchcraft upon me and positively laying me under your spell until I am just a mass of helplessness. . . . You are exactly like the flat stingray that one meets in the sea. Whenever anyone comes into contact with it, it numbs him, and that is the sort of thing you seem to be doing to me now. My mind and my lips are literally numb.”

Philosophy is not a semantic game, though sometimes its idiosyncrasies feed that response into the popular mind. Media Ethics: Issues and Cases does not debunk philosophy as the excess of sovereign reason. The authors of this book will not encourage those who ridicule philosophy as cunning xiirhetoric. The issue at stake here is actually a somewhat different problem—the Cartesian model of philosophizing.

The founder of modern philosophy, René Descartes, preferred to work in solitude. Paris was whirling in the early 17th century, but for two years even Descartes’s friends could not find him as he squirreled himself away studying mathematics. One can even guess the motto above his desk: “Happy is he who lives in seclusion.” Imagine the conditions under which he wrote “Meditations II.” The Thirty Years’ War in Europe brought social chaos everywhere. The Spanish were ravaging the French provinces and even threatening Paris, but Descartes was shut away in an apartment in Holland. Tranquility for philosophical speculation mattered so much to him that upon hearing Galileo had been condemned by the Church, he retracted parallel arguments of his own on natural science. Pure philosophy as an abstract enterprise needed a cool atmosphere isolated from everyday events.

Descartes’s magnificent formulations have always had their detractors, of course. David Hume did not think of philosophy in those terms, believing as he did that sentiment is the foundation of morality. For Søren Kierkegaard, an abstract system of ethics is only paper currency with nothing to back it up. Karl Marx insisted that we change the world and not merely explain it. But no one drew the modern philosophical map more decisively than Descartes, and his mode of rigid inquiry has generally defined the field’s parameters.

This book adopts the historical perspective suggested by Stephen Toulmin: The philosophy whose legitimacy the critics challenge is always the seventeenth century tradition founded primarily upon René Descartes. . . . [The] arguments are directed to one particular style of philosophizing—a theory-centered style which poses philosophical problems, and frames solutions to them, in timeless and universal terms. From 1650, this particular style was taken as defining the very agenda of philosophy (1988, 338).

The 17th-century philosophers set aside the particular, the timely, the local, and the oral. And that development left untouched nearly half of the philosophical agenda. Indeed, it is those neglected topics—what I here call “practical philosophy”—that are showing fresh signs of life today, at the very time when the more familiar “theory-centered” half of the subject is languishing (Toulmin 1988, 338).

This book collaborates in demolishing the barrier of three centuries between pure and applied philosophy; it joins in reentering practical concerns as the legitimate domain of philosophy itself. For Toulmin, the primary focus of ethics has moved from the study to the bedside to criminal courts, engineering labs, the newsroom, factories, and ethnic street corners. Moral philosophers are not being asked to hand over their duties to


technical experts xiii in today’s institutions but rather to fashion their agendas within the conditions of contemporary struggle.

All humans have a theoretical capacity. Critical thinking, the reflective dimension, is our common property. And this book nurtures that reflection in communication classrooms and by extension into centers of media practice. If the mind is like a muscle, this volume provides a regimen of exercises for strengthening its powers of systematic reflection and moral discernment. It does not permit those aimless arguments that result in quandary ethics. Instead, it operates in the finest traditions of practical philosophy, anchoring the debates in real-life conundrums but pushing the discussion toward substantive issues and integrating appropriate theory into the decision-making process. It seeks to empower students to do ethics themselves, under the old adage that teaching someone to fish lasts a lifetime, and providing fish only saves the day.

Media Ethics: Issues and Cases arrives on the scene at a strategic time in higher education. Since the late 19th century, ethical questions have been taken from the curriculum as a whole and from the philosophy department. Recovering practical philosophy has involved a revolution during the last decade in which courses in professional ethics have reappeared throughout the curriculum. This book advocates the pervasive method and carries the discussions even further, beyond freestanding courses into communication classrooms across the board.

In this sense, the book represents a constructive response to the current debates over the mission of higher education. Professional ethics has long been saddled with the dilemma that the university was given responsibility for professional training precisely at the point in its history that it turned away from values to scientific naturalism. Today one sees it as a vast horizontal plain given to technical excellence but barren in enabling students to articulate a philosophy of life. As the late James Carey concluded,

Higher education has not been performing well of late and, like most American institutions, is suffering from a confusion of purpose, an excess of ambition that borders on hubris, and an appetite for money that is truly alarming (1989, 48).

The broadside critiques leveled in Thorstein Veblen’s The Higher Learning in America (1918) and Upton Sinclair’s The Goose Step (1922) are now too blatantly obvious to ignore. But Media Ethics: Issues and Cases does not merely demand a better general education or a recommitment to values; it strengthens the communications curriculum by equipping thoughtful students with a more enlightened moral awareness. Since Confucius, we have understood that lighting a candle is better than cursing the darkness, or, in Mother Teresa’s version, we feed the world one mouth at a time.



More than three decades ago, two of us began the quest of delivering a media ethics textbook grounded in the theory of moral philosophy and using case studies for students to be able to apply the theory learned. In our planning, the book would begin and end with theory—moral philosophy and moral development, respectively—and the chapters in between would be topical and cross all mediums. So instead of chapter titles such as “journalism” or “public relations” you see titles such as “loyalty” and “privacy.”

Despite the passage of decades, our foundational assumption remains that the media and democracy need one another to survive. If there is a single animating idea in this book, it is that whether your focus is entertainment, news, or strategic communication, whether your role is that of a professional or a parent, your “job” is made easier in a functioning democracy. And democracy functions best with a free and independent mass media that spurs change, reifies culture, and provides opportunity to read and think and explore and create. We believe that thinking about and understanding ethics makes you better at whatever profession you choose—and whatever your role when you get home from work. This book remains optimistic about the very tough times in which we find ourselves.

Let’s begin with what’s been left out and conclude with what you’ll find in the text. First, you’ll find no media bashing in this book. There’s enough of that already, and besides, it’s too easy to do. This book is not designed to indict the media; it’s designed to train its future practitioners. If we dwell on ethical lapses from the past, it is only to learn from them what we can do to prevent similar occurrences in the future. Second, you’ll find no conclusions in this book—neither at the end of the book nor after each case. No one has xvyet written the conclusive chapter to the ethical dilemmas of the media, and we don’t suspect that we will be the first.

All along, the cases were to be the “stars” of the book—mostly real life (as opposed to hypothetical), usually recent and largely guest-written, especially when we could find someone who lived in close proximity to the market where the case study happened. We would end each case with pedagogical questions. These began, at the lowest level, with the actual details of the case and were called “micro issues.” The questions then went out in ever-widening concentric circles to larger issues and deeper questions and eventually ended at debating some of the largest issues in society such as justice, race, fairness, truth-telling, media’s role in a democracy, and many others. We called these “macro issues.” The questions were not answered in the textbook. It was left to the student and the professor to arrive at an answer that could be justified given the ethical underpinnings of the text.

This simple idea became popular and subsequent editions added to the depth of the chapters and the recency of the cases. As the field changed and student majors within the field changed, so did the book. Some additions, including an “international” chapter and a “new media” chapter, came and went, and the material was absorbed in other places in the book. Writing about “public relations” became “strategic communications” with all the nuances that entailed. Social media rocked our industry and changed our economic model, and the book followed with the obvious ethical issues that citizen journalism brought with it. At every stage, it remained a true media ethics textbook and not simply a journalism ethics book. Both the current chapters and current cases bear that out.

This ninth edition brings with it many changes, the major ones being a new publisher, a new co-author, and a new chapter on social justice. More than half of all cases also are new. But a large amount of the text remains the same and a significant minority of the cases also remain in the textbook. These decisions mirror the state of the field of media ethics: some of the problems media professionals face today are new; others are as old as our professions.

Each of us bears a significant debt of gratitude to families, to teachers and mentors, to colleagues, and to our new and delightful publisher. We acknowledge their contributions to our intellectual and moral development in making this textbook possible, and we accept the flaws of this book as our own.xvi



11 An Introduction to Ethical Decision-Making

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to

• recognize the need for professional ethics in journalism • work through a model of ethical decision-making • identify and use the five philosophical principles applicable to mass communication situations


No matter your professional niche in mass communication, the past few years have been nothing short of an assault on the business model that supports your organization and pays your salary, on the role you play in a democratic society, on whether your job might be better—and certainly more cheaply—done by a robot or an algorithm.

Consider the following ethical decisions that made the news:

• the New York Times choosing to call President Donald J. Trump a liar in its news columns as well as on the editorial pages. National Public Radio made a different decision, refusing to use the word in its news coverage;

• Facebook users who, in the last two weeks of the US presidential election, chose to share “news stories” originating with Russian bots more frequently than they shared news stories from legitimate news organizations. Meanwhile, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg continued to assert that Facebook is not a media organization;

• 2the Gannett Corporation and Gatehouse Media closed down copy desks at individual newspapers in favor of a regional copy hub system, thereby ensuring that local news would no longer be edited in individual media markets;

• H&R Block purchasing “native advertising” that included a photo of a woman “taking a break” after filling out her name and address on her income tax forms. Native advertising is now found ubiquitously online and in legacy publications such as the New York Times and the Atlantic. Comedian John Oliver has skewered the practice in multiple segments, noting, “It’s not trickery. It’s sharing storytelling tools. And that’s not bullshit. It’s repurposed bovine waste”;

• television journalists and other cable personalities charging their employers, specifically Fox News management, with systemic sexual harassment;

• films such as Get Out—with its blend of horror and science fiction—that included some subtle and some in-your-face messages about race—earning critical and box office success. The year before Get Out was released, the Academy Awards were the focus of furious criticism for a lack of diversity in nominations, the Oscar-so-white movement;

• and last, but in many ways the most central, President Donald J. Trump, less than six months into his administration, labeling “the media” as the enemy of the people, a characterization that was greeted with anger and alarm by some and embraced by others.

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