Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Covering a downfall--what's ethical?

It would be obvious to anyone that reads my blogs that PoynterOnline has become a favorite perusal spot of mine. Looking through some of the old archives, I came across a really interesting story about the ethical problems involved in covering the downfall of evangelical ministers.

The article specifically covers the downfall of evangelical minister Pastor Ted Haggard of the New Life Church in Colorado. Bob Steele, of PoynterOnline, conducted an interview with Tim Ryan, the executive news producer of the station covering the unfolding drama. Ryan described the difficulty in deciding whether or not to cover such allegations.

"It's not the kind of story that you can typically just report in the form of 'here's an allegation, here's the response.' The allegations are explosive, the political and religious implications are enormous, and it's the type of story that can threaten our news organization and our careers."
Other issues were also thought about before running such a type of story.

"We never used any graphic descriptions of the claims of what went on between Jones [the man making allegations] and Haggard. We had heard some of the details before but decided by saying 'homosexual sex acts' and 'drug use' we had covered the topic as tastefully as possible and with as much details as needed."
Many ethical issues and standards are involved in the coverage of such a story. This is obviously a story that the public needs to know about. Using the theories of John Locke, when a person in rule becomes tyrannical or corrupt, the public has the right and duty to overthrow. The press, in this case, helped this cause, making the corruption known and forcing the minister out of his position of power.

Unlike Kant, too, Tim Ryan had to think about the consequences of making such knowledge public. Using the idea of utility and thinking of the greatest good for the greatest amount of people, Tim Ryan did believe that making the information public knowledge was in the public's best interest.


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