Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ethics in Journalism...or lack thereof

At Chapomatic, I read something that shocked me...but then again, it didn't. After the Vietnam War, a PBS series called Ethics in America featured many famous people...but one involving journalists (Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace) displayed something disturbing.

These were two star TV journalists: Peter Jennings of World News Tonight and ABC, and Mike Wallace of 6o Minutes and CBS. Ogletree brought them into the same hypothetical war. He asked Jennings to imagine that he worked for a network that had been in contact with the enemy North Kosanese government. After much pleading, the North Kosanese had agreed to let Jennings and his news crew into their country, to film behind the lines and even travel with military units. Would Jennings be willing to go? Of course, Jennings replied. Any reporter would-and in real wars reporters from his network often had.

But while Jennings and his crew are traveling with a North Kosanese unit, to visit the site of an alleged atrocity by American and South Kosanese troops, they unexpectedly cross the trail of a small group of American and South Kosanese soldiers. With Jennings in their midst, the northern soldiers set up a perfect ambush, which will let them gun down the Americans and Southerners, every one. What does Jennings do? Ogletree asks. Would he tell his cameramen to “Roll tape!” as the North Kosanese opened fire? What would go through his mind as he watched the North Kosanese prepare to ambush the Americans? Jennings sat silent for about fifteen seconds after Ogletree asked this question. “Well, I guess I wouldn’t,” he finally said. “I am going to tell you now what I am feeling, rather than the hypothesis I drew for myself. If I were with a North Kosanese unit that came upon Americans, I think that I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans.” Even if it means losing the story? Ogletree asked.

Even though it would almost certainly mean losing my life, Jennings replied. “But I do not think that I could bring myself to participate in that act. That’s purely personal, and other reporters might have a different reaction.” Immediately Mike Wallace spoke up. “I think some other reporters would have a different reaction,” he said, obviously referring to himself. “They would regard it simply as a story they were there to cover.” “I am astonished, really,” at Jennings’s answer, Wallace said a moment later. He turned toward Jennings and began to lecture him: “You’re a reporter. Granted you’re an American”-at least for purposes of the fictional example; Jennings has actually retained Canadian citizenship. “I’m a little bit at a loss to understand why, because you’re an American, you would not have covered that story.”

Ogletree pushed Wallace. Didn’t Jennings have some higher duty, either patriotic or human, to do something other than just roll film as soldiers from his own country were being shot? “No,” Wallace said flatly and immediately. “You don’t have a higher duty. No. No. You’re a reporter!” Jennings backtracked fast. Wallace was right, he said. “I chickened out.” Jennings said that he had gotten so wrapped up in the hypothetical questions that he had lost sight of his journalistic duty to remain detached.

As Jennings said he agreed with Wallace, everyone else in the room seemed to regard the two of them with horror. Retired Air Force general Brent Scowcroft, who had been Gerald Ford’s national security advisor and would soon serve in the same job for George Bush[41], said it was simply wrong to stand and watch as your side was slaughtered. “What’s it worth?” he asked Wallace bitterly. “It’s worth thirty seconds on the evening news, as opposed to saving a platoon.”

As I have joined the military, I've heard lots of people saying that the military "de-humanises" recruits/candidates. Yet, I've never heard of such a blantant example of "dehumanision"...and this is coming from journalists. They have no bond with their own countrymen. Interestingly enough, someone noticed this:

Then a square-jawed man with neat gray hair and aviator glasses spoke up. It was Newt Gingrich, looking a generation younger and trimmer than when he became Speaker of the House in 1995. One thing was clear from this exercise, he said: “The military has done a vastly better job of systematically thinking through the ethics of behavior in a violent environment than the journalists have.” That was about the mildest way to put it.

Go and read all of it. My own contempt for the media has risen to a new level.

UPDATE: This morning (051014), Michelle Malkin posted on the Bias of Mike Wallace. Interestingly, he seems to have lost his "professional detachment" when he talks about gun control.


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