Teaching Notes

You must become the flame on the candle. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Group Project

By 9 p.m., Wed., March 9, a representative from each group should post a description of what the group sees as the key ethical issue or issues in their case. The representative should also specify which ethical decision-making model the group is considering applying to the issue or issues. It's important for the clarity and cohesiveness of the group presentation that only one decision-making model be selected. Explain as far as you can why this model seems appropriate.


Meg said...

Group: Meg, Kim, Monica, Lindsey

We chose to do the case regarding Tim Tebow and the controversial commercial that was aired during the Superbowl. Some of the ethical issues that we came up with were 1. that the ad was aired during the Superbowl which is viewed by millions of people and 2. conflicted with peoples beliefs and religion. Both Tebow and his mother spoke openly about the situation and his mother choice. The commercial does not come right out and say that it is an anti-abortion ad, however, knowing the back story, that is the message that is being implied. In another class, we have also talked about how such big issues like these deserve equal airtime. If one opinion is going to be aired on TV, then there needs to be scheduled time for the opposing opinion to also be aired on TV. As for our model, we decided to use the Potter Box.We felt that this model would be very useful in helping us break down the case into steps, especially when it comes to talking about values and principles. A lot of peoples values and principles were/ could have been jeopardized with this ad, and by using the Potter Box, we will be able to break the ad campaign down further.

Howie Good said...

Meg, et al.

Potter Box is OK for this case, as it is for most cases I can think of. But I still don't know what the ethical issue is. if I'm a teetotaler, then beer ads conflict with my values. That doesn't mean beer ads are ethically problematic, though. I'd ask you to consider whether the ad as a persuasive message within context of the TARES model. Think a moment: is the Super Bowl an appropriate place to persuade on such a divisive issue? Consider the ads that surround this one. And the persuasion even apparent. or is it camouflaged, and if so, is that ethical?

Those are ethical issues.

George Selby said...

Sarah, Mike and I have The Nation’s article entitled “Media Lobbying Complex.” This article talks about a situation that reflects our last discussion in class about VNR’s. In the case, lobbyist’s for Exelon, a leader in Nuclear power plant production and other such corporations go onto talk shows on networks FOX, MSNBC, CNN, NBC, and CNBC with no disclosure that they were hired by the company. It is similar to VNR’s as they are in a sense in disguise because to the viewer, it is simply information that they accept as fact.
To evaluate this case, we chose to use Deni Elliott’s approach Case and Moral Systems. This model seams appropriate to the case because it deals with the act of deception, specifically in the media. Smith describes the step-by-step process by which a journalist can decide whether or not an action is ethical. She borrows one of her steps from Kant’s universal rule. We have defined the actors in this case as the show’s producers who did not disclose the lobbyist’s full identities and, the lobbyists who acted for the corporations. We have defined their actions as deception because to the viewer, it is simply accepted as information with no prior knowledge that the corporations in fact hired them. For each of Elliot’s steps we will explain how the actors in “Media Lobbying Complex” violated their duty to the public.

Howie Good said...

George, et al.

You're spot on about the deceitful nature of the guest spots on news talk shows. and the case should be looked at from both the bad work of the journalists and the deceitfulness of the pr practitioners. i'm not convince, though, that the elliott model is the best. it's really designed as a checklist for newsrooms contemplating undercover reporting, which isn't the case here. i'd suggest using potter or bok instead and running both the pr types and journalists through it separately. or just the pr types, with sidelight on how they took advantage of journalism's defects. categorical imperative makes sense (2nd formulation), but also consider howard gardner's definition of good work and the codes of ethics of both professional groups.

JustinMcCarthy said...

I am posting this answer as a representative of my group, which includes Kim Plummer and Maxim Alter. We have chosen to use the Potter Box as our ethical decision-making model because it can be universally applied to all ethical dilemmas and also because we feel it will give us an organized way to present our argument.
The key ethical issue in our case is simple: Anonymity has been an important tool for journalists to protect their sources and, more importantly, to reveal information to the public that would not be revealed without the promise of anonymity. By protecting anonymous posters the same way a journalist’s confidential source is protected, it dilutes the importance and protection of necessary whistleblowers and places them on the same pedestal of an unverified, unnamed John Smith.
Journalists have standards and procedures they go through when using anonymous sources. They know their sources and are obligated to question a source’s credibility before publishing information from them. There is a relationship between the journalist, the confidential source and, usually, an editor. However, anonymous posters are completely unknown and have no relationship to the paper or the reporter. While a journalist can vouch for the credibility of the anonymous source, there is no safeguard to ensure that an anonymous poster’s comments are credible or reliable in any way.

Howie Good said...

justin, max, kim. . . excellent!

pspengeman said...

this is brought to you by eden, allison, vicki, and pete:

As a group we’ve decided that the key ethical issue in “prosti-dude” is not specifically that the reporter went undercover, like the reporters in the big nell’s case, but rather to explore the question of wheter or not male prostitution and the reasons for it are ethical. The first point that we will focus on is the ethical dilemma of being a “hooker” vs. a “surrogate lover”. The prosti-dude Patrick aka Markus claims not to be a prostitute but an artist, eccentric and performer. For markus his profession is not solely based on sex with his clients, but romance and other necessary steps in pleasing and connecting with women. What we found to be the most prominent ethical dilemma is whether or not males and females should be held in the same category when talking about prostitution. Can we legitimize the argument that male prostitutes provide companionship and female prostitutes provide sex? In this case Markus considers himself a “surrogate lover” which is creating a higher standard for this new found demographic of male prostitutes.
We have decided to use John Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance because it would spark the debate of the legitimacy of Markus’s argument. Based on his reasoning, should his actions be considered prostitution? By using the veil of ignorance, we remove the definition of Markus’s role as a prostitute, and see him, based on this report, as genuinely thinking that what he’s doing is to satisfy on a deeper level, to provide pleasure both mentally and, if desired, physically.
Ultimately, this case provides two opposing perspectives: is it possible for prostitution, portrayed as an unethical profession, to become legitimized? Or is it impossible to make prostitution right; that is to say, is Markus’s case irrelevant in the spectrum of prostitution? It relates to the difference in theories that ethical dilemmas such as this should be handled based on the situational, or should they be solved by a more regimented, absolute process.

pspengeman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DevonP said...

This posting is in representation of Devon Pope, Lynn Impagliazzo, Andrew Limbong, and Kaitlyn Hutchinson.
We found that the key ethical issues in our article, the Mary Stauffer Rape Tapes, would be privacy of the rape victim and privacy of owner of the tapes, even though he was in jail for rape. This lends to the consideration of prisoner rights v. victim rights. There is the ethical consideration for the 1st amendment right to information. We also thought there was an ethical issue in the destruction of privat property, as the tapes were indeed ruled to be owned by Ming Sen Shiue, but were erased without his permission.
We decided to use John Rawl's Veil of Ignorance to evaluate the ethicallity of this situation. We chose this because there are a lot of perspectives to be examined in this case; the lawyers and the judge, the rape victim, the prisoner, the press, and the audience who would have potentially view the tapes. The Veil of Ignorace gives us the ability to evaluate this situation from each of these perspectives.

Julia said...

Julia, Sarah, Alana

We are investingating the Disaster Porn case. This case exposes the media's and society's obession with disaster and horrific news and images. One ethical issue we plan to discuss is whether or not these images should be put on a continuous run on television and other mediums of information. We also will investigate why society needs these images and whether or not they harm or do good. One one hand a disastorous picture adds to one's grasp and understanding of the event. On the other hand, these pictures eventually sensitize society. Haiti is a prime example. We wanted all the horrifying images from that, but now it is out of society's mind. We also will examine the presence of reporters such as Anderson Cooper in their "tight black tees."
We plan to apply the Bok Model to this case. This method has a lot to do with conscience and what one feels is right. We will seek expert advice that we feel is relevant to the case. We need to find out if the obbession with disasters is just a way to be informed and to empathize with the people of Haiti. Or if by being obbessed one day and forgetting about the disaster once Anderson Cooper and his black shirt are gone is actually harmful to others.

Samantha said...

Group: Samantha, Chelsea, Chanel, Joshua

Our case deals with whether or not advertisements should put a warning label on ads that have been photoshopped beyond cropping. We are planning on using the TARES model to assess the ethical issues in our case. We want to use this model because it is specifically geared towards persuasion and advertising. We think that the advertisements with heavily retouched photographs are not truthful, authentic, respectful of viewers, does not put the viewer equal to the creator nor is it socially responsible. Heavily retouched photographs put unrealistic standards into the minds of viewers who may resort to harming themselves to make themselves look like what they see in advertisements. However, if they were to notify viewers when a photograph has been heavily retouched then they will be following all of the specifications in the TARES model for an ethical advertisement. In fact, if they were required to notify the public when a photograph is retouched they may stop retouching so much all together.

Howie Good said...

Devon, et al.,

I think precisely because there are so many views and stakeholders in the case Rawls is NOT a good model to apply. The presentation may become unwieldy and incoherent when you put so many stakeholders behind the veil. In privacy cases, a good model is WANT TO KNOW, NEED TO KNOW, RIGHT TO KNOW, which we haven't covered in class yet, but which you can find explained in some of the previous group presentations on the blog. Also check out Patterson & Wilkins' MEDIA ETHICS: ISSUES & CASES from the library. It explains the model well. Essentially, need to know info is the most ethically justifiable, while want to know (gossip, voyeurism, etc.) is the least. Right to know is a legal concept that kind of establishes the situation in which need and want to know conflict. You can look at what kind of info came out (want or need) and justify or critique the actions of the press accordingly.

I'd leave the private property issue out of it.

Howie Good said...

Peter, et al. -- you're looking at the case through the wrong end of the telescope. It isn't about prostitution (which is legal in Nevada). It's about sensationalism and the growing infotainment nature of the news. Read ahead in our text to the chapter STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE. If the reporter used deceit, isn't that an issue, too? According to code of ethics, was deceit justified in this case?

Please do another writeup. Thanks.

Howie Good said...

Julia, et al. - You're on the right track. You might want to jump ahead in the text and read my chapter on journalism and victims of war. I think the question is why are they showing us these pictures of death and suffering and destruction? Is it voyeurism? Is it brotherhood? Is it information? Is it entertainment (of a grisly kind)? Does it make us more empathetic? Does it desensitize us? Is it a way to spike ratings? Is it a cause of genuine concern? Two books you'll want to look at are COMPASSION FATIGUE by Susan Moeller and IN REGARDS TO THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS by Susan Sontag.

Howie Good said...

Samantha, et al. -- right on!

Is Media Ethics Education DOA?

It sounds like a joke Jay Leno would tell during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show. Hear about the graduate students at the prestigious journalism school? They got caught cheating on an ethics exam. Ha ha ha. Except that’s actually what happened at Columbia University in late 2006.

Students had been given 48 hours to sign onto a Columbia Web site to take the final exam in a required course called “Critical Issues in Journalism.” They then had 90 minutes to answer two essay questions.

The students were warned to not discuss the questions with each other, but apparently they did. As the headline over a story reporting the scandal put it, “Ivy J-Schoolers Fail Ethics, Ace Irony.”

No one admitted cheating despite pressure from the school’s administrators and pleas from classmates, who feared the scandal would damage the market value of their degrees. Meanwhile, the teacher of the course, New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman, refused to comment. But if the disgruntled posts on RateMyProfessors.com are any indication, his students hadn’t exactly been soaking up knowledge. “Maybe he could e-mail his ‘speeches’ to the students instead of making everyone suffer through the most wasted class in j-school. . . ,” one read.

There’s an old cowboy saying that goes, “When your horse dies, get off.” Journalism ethics education is a dead horse. Or else those aren’t vultures circling in the sky.

A Question for Socrates

The question of how ethics is learned, or even if it can be, is as old as Western philosophy. In Plato’s dialog Meno the title character asks, “Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?” Of course, Socrates, being Socrates, resists giving a definite answer. But we can’t. The sad fact is, students had better get an effective ethics education now or they may never.

Last summer I conducted an ethics workshop for some reporters and editors at the Poughkeepsie Journal, a small daily in upstate
New York owned by Gannett Co., Inc. The woman in charge of organizing the workshop had supplied us with several case studies to examine. I remember one dealt with a classic conflict of interest, a copy editor who moonlighted at a local radio station.

But what I remember most is the air of defeat that clung to the staff as we sat on hard plastic chairs in the break room discussing the cases. I could hear in their voices the bitterness and cynicism of employees forced to follow corporate policies they despised. Recently, for example, the paper had started running display ads on the front page and section fronts, a much more grievous ethical lapse, their mumbled asides suggested, than anything the case studies might have to offer.

I don’t want my students to ever wear the gray, defeated expression I saw that day on the faces at the Journal. But given the downward direction in which the media are moving, and fast, how in the world can I prevent it from happening?

Teaching Media Ethics by Telling Stories

A friend of mine who teaches at a big Midwestern university recounts in class the events of her first week as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was sent to Duluth to cover Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on the campaign trail. When they were introduced, Humphrey vigorously shook her hand. “Oh yes, Susan,” he said, “I read your stuff all the time.” He couldn’t have read her stuff, though; she hadn’t written anything yet. “Just a few words,” she explains to her students, “but words that taught this fledging reporter a great lesson about pols and the little lies they tell.”

I usually find occasion during the semester to quote I. F. Stone’s dictum, “Every government is run by liars and thieves, and nothing they say should be believed,” to make the same point. But Susan’s story makes the point better. That’s because it has existential force. Her story vividly captures in a way a secondhand quote can’t the realities of a reporter’s life.

Some might think telling “war stories” is a waste of precious class time. I’ve a colleague who didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of regaling students with stories ad nauseam (“which, let’s face it, is easier than teaching or grading,” he said). So one semester he kept track. When he toted it all up at the end, he was surprised that he’d used less than an hour - out of 45 – talking about his newspaper experiences. And yet, he admitted, it was his stories that students seemed to remember most.

“Stories teach us how to live,” Daniel Taylor said in his essay, “The Ethical Implications of Storytelling.” What he meant was that stories preserve our experience for contemplation and evaluation. Although not all stories carry a heavy message, there’s an entire category of stories, so-called “exemplary tales,” that are told to convey a moral.

Our war stories are potentially just such tales. They can provide evidence, in ethicist John Barton’s words, of “how real human beings live through various crises and trials and remain human.” My colleague who kept tabs on his storytelling has described his stories as cautionary. Most, he said, deal with “screwups I learned from.”

But sometimes the storyteller and the audience can’t agree on what exactly the moral of a story is.

When Susan was a cub reporter on the Tribune, she interviewed the Beatles, who were on their second tour of the States. She got into their hotel room by dressing up as a waitress in an ugly, mustard-colored uniform and accompanying an actual room service waiter upstairs. Ringo took one look at her little plastic name tag – it read “Donna Brown” – and snorted, “What kind of name is that?” The waiter nudged her in the side. “Tell them what you real name is,” he urged. She did, as well as her reason for being there. Rather than throw her out, the Beatles politely answered her questions. They even let her phone for a photographer. The next day her story ran on the front page, with a photo of John sitting at a table and looking up at her and laughing as she poured coffee in his cup. She still has a glossy print of that photo somewhere.

Many of Susan’s students think she’s nuts for not having the photo hanging up in her office. They also think she’s nuts for saying she’d never participate in the same kind of stunt today. To her celebrity-struck students, disguising herself as a hotel waitress to get an interview with the Beatles seems soooo cool. They lose all sight of the fact that it wasn’t a story of vital public interest that demanded undercover methods.

Susan intends one lesson when she talks about her hard day’s night, but her students, living in a paparazzi-saturated culture, draw another. “It may be a lost cause,” she remarked to me.

Or maybe not. Negotiations over what the point of a story is can be part of the point of the story. In the process of negotiating, we test different interpretations, try out different themes. This is helpful. This is educational. Lawrence Kohlberg, the Harvard psychologist famous for his research on the stages of moral development, contended that “the teaching of virtue is the asking of questions. . . not the giving of answers.” Stories don’t necessarily have to yield clear moral rules to be of value. It’s enough sometimes if they just give us something to think about.