19 thoughts on “Is there a 12-step program for journalistic ethics?

  1. Nicely done, Keliher, presenting varying viewpoints on the matter via quotes. Certainly there is a need for everyone to become aware of journalistic ethics, or at times their lack thereof, including journalists themselves… Thank you.

  2. PM says:

    I don’t know.

    “That’s not hypocritical. It is consistent. Sad, misguided and self-loathing maybe. But consistent with his values as an imperfect sinner in need of redemption.”

    OK, maybe this twisted situation isn’t hypocritical, but it is twisted and convoluted and, well, wrong. The guy’s position is as tortured and illogical and nonsensical as it is possible to imagine. Maybe, because of his bizarre worldview, it isn’t technically hypocritical–but if a crazy person is making statements, i’d like to know that he is crazy. And i think that journalists have a duty to report that.

    I am not denying that there are not ethical issues surrounding how they got that information, but the lack of hypocrisy based on a whaacked out world view isn’t enough to condemn the piece.

    1. Sure, but that is just one of the arguments in that direction. Does the exposure of presumably confidential information from a support group do anything for you?

      I’m quite torn on this matter, but I’m leaning toward feeling as though this story goes a bit too far over the line. Not even so much for this specific person and this case but for the effect this case might have on other people — discouraging openness in support groups and having people fearing being outed when they really need the support and so on.

      1. PM says:

        I understand all of that–the confidentiality aspect. And i agree that it is disturbing.

        I have always felt rather conflicted about the role of support groups, particularly in a case like this. Just when is ” support” owed? clearly not is a situation where there is something illegal going on (imagine Tom Petters in a suppport group talking about his fraud…or a child molester in a sexual addiction support group). I do not think that there was anything illegal going on here, but you have a person who is horribly conflicted asking for support while he is imposing this horrible confliction of his on others from a position of power. How much “support” is owed, and to whom–the member of the group, or those who are suffering because of his actions.

        I don’t know the answers, but it seems far from clear cut to me.

      2. I agree — far from clear-cut. That’s what makes it interesting.

        Here’s another take, as reported in the Star Tribune:

        Jane Kirtley, the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, said the magazine crossed the line.

        “I’m a believer that the use of undercover reporting should be reserved only for the most important stories that you can’t get any other way,” she said.

        That’s not an uncommon sentiment among media ethicists. Anyone know where we can find a current or former journalism professor?

  3. Dennis Lang says:

    Fascinating subject. Too bad no one knows any journalism professors who might frequent this site. (Or are they all vacationing in Aruba?)

  4. Ellen Mrja says:

    OK, OK. Maybe Aruba Bruce is lounging but I ain’t vacationing. I’m trying to review two textbooks – one called “Public Journalism 2.0: The Promise and Reality of a Citizen-Engaged Press” and the other, called “Journalism as Practice: MacIntyre, Virtue Ethics and the Press.” However, I sense a throw-down here so I’ll quickly respond.

    The decision-making that went into publication of the minister’s name seems to me less than honorable. It fails to meet even one of the major theories that usually guide ethical decision-making.

    In media ethics class, I taught students the use of the Potter Box, a four-step tool that could help them make ethical decisions (such as this one). But the key to the Potter Box was this: base your decision-making on an ethical theory.

    Five Categories of Ethical Theories:
    1. Ethical Theories based on Virtue
    Aristotle’s Mean/Confucius’ Golden Mean – Is this the proper time and the proper place in which to choose the golden mean?
    2. Ethical Theories based on Duty
    Kant’s Categorical Imperative – What categorical duty is represented here? Tell the truth always? What about if you’re hiding a family of Jews in your attic and the Nazis come to your door and ask if you’ve seen any? Tell the truth then – or is that “unethical”?
    3. Ethical Theories based on Utility
    Mill’s Principle of Utility – What is the greatest good for the greatest number here? Is there a principle of harm that is being deflected or are innocent persons being protected?
    4. Ethical Theories based on Rights
    Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance – Would you want this rule universalized so that if you were covered by a veil (along with YOUR secret) would you want to be outed in this way?
    5. Ethical Theories based on Love
    Judeo-Christian Persons as Ends – “Love they Neighbor as Thyself” or as I like to put it: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” including this apparently conflicted minister.

    Sorry this is such a short analysis but here’s a recommended link to an excellent website PPT, if you really want to consider this issue analytically: myweb.arbor.edu/rwoods/Media_Ethics7/intro.htm.ppt

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Professor.

      I’m far from an expert in media ethics, but my team did (BRAGGING!) win the St. Thomas journalism department’s media ethics bowl (debate) my senior year of college. I’m kind of a geek for this stuff, and reading Mrja’s comment above makes we want to pick up Aristotle again.

    2. Dennis Lang says:

      Well, this deserves more thought than I can provide but it looks more like the publisher’s personal vendeta than any serious attempt at journalism. Personally, as touched upon in the Brauer article, one can question if the pastor is even behaving hypocritically as he’s evidently wrestling with a behavioral predisposition contrary to his beliefs. So the mag used their platform to viciously denounce him–in the name of journalistic integrity? And these are professional journalists? Kind of sick.

    3. PM says:

      Actually, i think that it would meet #3–the classic utilitarian model of ethics. Sure, it hurt that one person (the minister), but it was probably intended to help all of the people who would suffer from his anti-gay hate speech./ One person hurt, versus many helped.

      1. Dennis Lang says:

        Contrary to your example preceding of Petters who, had he revealed in the confidentiality of a support group that he had or was in the process of a giant fraud, how does the publication exposing the minister in this way help anyone–other than land a blow for the magazine against a sadly misguided and irrational human being, who seems to be seeking help?

      2. Ellen Mrja says:

        Hey, PM. Here’s a thought. If the minister were a pedophile, absolutely out him. But he’s – well – human. Why is that deserving of blame?

      3. PM says:

        Those who would be helped would be the entire gay community, who are seeking acceptance and equality within our society. Turning off this spigot of hatred would be a huge step towards that goal of no longer being second class citizens, and having rights similar and equal to those of the rest of our soceity.

        This minister was preaching hatred both on a radio show and from the puylpit towards a section of our community that had done nothing to deserve that treatment, that demonization, from this minister.

      4. I’d argue it hurt more than one person. It hurts anyone who believes (believed) in and relied on the confidentiality of a support group — not the least of which would be the folks in the room this journalist reported from. It could have been harmful to at least some of the pastor’s congregation. It could be harmful to his friends and family. It could be harmful to the fella who invited this reporter to the group. I could go on.

      5. PM says:

        I could argue that support groups are inimical to human psychological wellbeing, so that this is really a help to all of those same people….. 😉

  5. Dennis Lang says:

    Hey PM–And the strategy employed by Lavender was a worthy method of “turning off the spigot”? Still looks sleazy, underhanded and innoble to me while remaining unlikely to alter the beliefs of the pastor, muffle him or prevent countless others from sharing to some degree this warped point of view. How many times have we heard this expressed by Christian fundamentalists in one form or another?

  6. john sherman says:

    This is a difficult one. To the extent the pastor was a serious gay-basher of the deny-them-civil-rights sort, I have no trouble with outing him; just as I have no trouble with the male prostitute outing Ted Haggard. It’s almost self-defense.

    The trouble is infiltrating a support group; if support groups fall under the general penumbra of medical confidentiality–and I suspect they do–Lavender’s behavior was severely unethical.

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