Saturday, January 14, 2012

ETHICS - Secrets Revealed?

From the point of view of a journalist the discussion begins with “information that becomes known to you and you could release to the public.” Would you reveal it? 

First of all, I would be anxious about even having such a secret (there are always repercussions). If said secret is an important part of the story not just a salacious entry I feel it should be revealed. Of course, there will be people (stakeholders) who do not agree.

As indicated in my first post “Watergate” comes to mind most immediately when it come to the media, journalists and the revelation of secrets.  What began as a story about a burglary ended with the toppling of a president.  The “secrets” involved former FBI agents, White House staff and President Nixon all involved in illicit, illegal activities, lies and cover-ups. Government officials acting as an organized crime unit. There is no doubt that this “secret” should have been revealed.

The United States of America is based upon the ideals of a democracy. These men were going about the business of winning an election and running the country like entitled gangsters. The whole idea if not revealed could have destroyed a nation. The Washington Post showed an enormous amount of courage to publish a story like this. According to the Post publisher there were "unveiled threats and harassment." The notion that they did not buckle under the enormous pressure is really incredible. Quite honorable.

Saving Democracy/Ousting a President?!

In deciding whether to reveal a secret I would use some of the following criteria. The first thing I would start out with is the source. If the source of the information was creditable and facts could be verified I would reveal it. If the secret involved dangerous or illegal activity or components upon which people base decisions/votes/investments, I would reveal it. As in the case of Watergate if it threatened the structure and stability of the country I would certainly reveal it.

As for the fallout, before I would tell anyone anything I would also have to investigate the backing and the protection I would have. What type of history does the paper have when it has to make such a crucial decision? It must be kept in mind that this seemingly selfless act of bravery exposes a lot about all of the folks involved in the reveal. All must be risk takers and not everyone is up to the task. Even though I would probably find a way to reveal it one-way or the other (we now live in an anonymous digital age) my physical safety comes first!

Alas, more often than not those people who do reveal the secrets of the rich and/or powerful frequently lose their jobs, family, reputations and end up in the poor house or on skid row surviving on drink and drugs. In the worse case scenario they end up dead! 

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were extremely lucky, not all reveals end in such glory. Fame, fortune, Pulitzer Prizes, book deals, a movie where A-list actors Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford portray you. They will forever be the standard bearers employing a level of honesty and objective reporting that all journalists should aspire.

That having been said as a journalist I will not be the decision maker as to what is actually printed, the editors would be.  Certainly I would attempt to defend my position as to why this information is important for the citizens to know but ultimately it would be out of my hands.  Basically, it would boil done to the ethics, the objectivity and the courage of the newspaper. I would hope that could/would stand up to the challenge.

As a media professional you will always be privy to secrets, “off the record” conversations and such.  Your responsibility is to the public at large. Ultimately you must always serve the greater good.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ethics – Exercises for the Soul

Welcome To My World.  My name is Jocelyne Hudson-Brown and for the next few blog postings I will concentrate of the matter of “ethics”. Although I’d like to take credit for this highbrow endeavor, I cannot; it was assigned as an ongoing task by my professors for a class on “Media Ethics”. Come on, follow me and let’s begin our walk down the highroad…

“Communication(s)” is my profession of choice. Being an effective communicator is a great responsibility as the information you are providing influences lives. The better you are at it the more people influenced. As I move forward toward becoming an expert in the field the prevailing ethical question for me is (has been) ”the message.” What am I putting out there? Utilizing the oath of honesty “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” is a good tool to use as a measurement device.

Early on as an undergraduate I asked one of my professors what the definition of “spin” was? He told me “spin” was the equivalent of lying. It may have been bit of a stretch (and harsh) for an answer, but the sentiment of it has never left me. The highlight of my last few projects has been my hiring as the communications director/spokesperson on a couple of political campaigns. Trust me, these folks are major beneficiaries of “spin”. Winning is everything and it is not a game for the faint of heart or for those overly concerned about the simple matter of ethics.

Navigating ethical dilemmas in the field of communications for a political campaign is like running a footrace through a minefield. One may indeed reach the finish line but not without an explosion or two. If you are lucky you still have your limbs upon completion. No matter, you will  have left some part of your soul on the field. This analogy applies to winners as well as losers.

Ethical scenarios most commonly encountered in this arena go from when (if at all) to put out certain information regarding the other candidate?  Who is doing what? Where is the money coming from? The last two items are public information and legally must be clearly defined.

There are no shortages of examples of ethics violations in the field of communication for politics and the messages fed to the public. History both past and present is chock full of examples where the messages conveyed to the masses were “spun”, some with a healthy assist from the media.

One of the items that came to mind quickly was the issue of weapons of mass destruction as a reason for going to war with Iraq. No evidence of these weapons was uncovered as testified to by many entities, only the word of then President Bush. Yet, the media got on the bandwagon and spoon-fed this lie to the American people. Those that refused paid a hefty price. That of being cutoff, of being denied access to power. Woodward and Bernstein (Watergate) never backed down and were eventually fully supported in their efforts by the Washington Post. And of course there is Hitler and the non-reporting of the atrocities that were performed at his behest. The New York Times did do some reporting on the concentration camps, however, the stories were buried on the bottom of the back pages.

Sometimes the media is at the forefront of truth telling and sometimes only reports "objectively" once it has no other choice. In each case heavy coverage by the media to uncover truths and present them to a public that would have been outraged by the lies much earlier  would have certainly saved many lives.

I’d like to think that the lessons taught by my parents combined with a bit of spirituality and a formal education have given me the tools needed to make ethical decisions. In addition, having grown into a mature adult and undergone my own life experiences has also provided tools that can only be obtained when faced with real world challenges.

In all honesty most of the decisions I’ve made within the context of my career have been ethical, early on (20+ years ago) some may have been a bit questionable (too eager to please, rationalizing the end result), none were illegal. When working with politicians the question of  "What would I say if I had to testify?" is always on my mind. Going to jail (or the possibility thereof) is where I draw the line.

The lessons I’ve learned from the current reading of the course materials have provided me with  various theories as to the how and whys of making ethical decisions and the foundation(s) upon which these theories are based.

With regard to what I’d like to see in addressed in class, maybe be some ethics situations in which we could apply decision making on the spot. Case studies are great but most bad decisions are made on a moments notice and not after a lot of thought and a good nights sleep. Perhaps some sort of role playing would be interesting where we have to make snap decisions (even with a raising of the hand) and then finding out the result of those decisions.  


Arnettetal - Ch3 - 2