The admission by Bush in mid-September that there was no such connection got far less coverage. At least a couple of column writers, one in Texas and one in Michigan, were relieved of their duties because of their anti-war sentiments; al-Jazeera reporters lost their New York Stock Exchange press credentials when their station "broadcast footage of U.S. POWs in alleged violation of the Geneva Convention." Talk-show host Phil Donahue's show was dropped, according to an unpublished but widely-circulated memo, partly because its guests and themes leaned against the war and MSNBC feared it would lose audience to its flag-waving Fox competitor.
War Casualties II: Profiteers Indeed, Fox's show of patriotism brought it unprecedented ratings success. Most of its anchors managed to almost seamlessly combine fact and opinion in war coverage, and unabashedly used language not often heard in American news programs. Its attitude is perhaps exemplified by the words of lead news anchor Britt Hume who, as the Hussein regime was collapsing, said that "There is a see-ya-later-buddy quality to this." Fox network executive producer Bill Shine explained the network's posture this way: "You don't give up your American citizenship when you are a journalist. There isn't anyone here who doesn't wake up every day and says to themselves, 'Wow, I'm an American and there are American troops over there.'"
War Casualties III: The Embedded "Embedded" Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden said that he went "over to the dark side" when he helped American troops eliminate a band of Iraqi soldiers firing at his group. "Now that I have assisted in the deaths of three human beings in the war I was sent to cover, I'm sure there are some people who will question my ethics, my objectivity, etc.," Crittenden wrote. "I'll keep the argument short. Screw them. They were not there."
War Casualties IV: The Big Name Even Pulitzer winner Peter Arnett, who won accolades for his coverage of the bombing of Baghdad in 1991, got in trouble. At the start of the war, he made the "misjudgment," as he later called it, of giving an interview to government-controlled Iraqi TV, in which he criticized the administration's war plan. NBC at first defended him but eventually fired him. Walter Cronkite said Arnett's "long experience makes it all the more difficult to understand how he could have been so grossly irresponsible...He besmirched his reputation, offended a nation and lost his job-and justifiably so." Cronkite conceded, however, that "With him gone from the airwaves, Americans have lost an eye on Baghdad that had been proved a valuable addition to our knowledge of a mysterious enemy." Arnett was immediately hired by London's The Daily Mirror.
War Casualties V: Advertising And then there was Internet search engine Google, which canceled an advertisement that sold "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" bumper stickers. Google told the advertiser, Unknown News.net, that its ad was suspended because it contained "language that advocates against an individual, group or organization," thus demoting Unknown News to a hate site. After Google was challenged, in view of its stated guideline that it "believes strongly in freedom of expression and therefore offers broad access to content across the Web without censoring search results," it reconsidered and found the slogan acceptable. Google apologized for the "miscommunication" and said it found that the slogan, "Who Would Jesus Bomb?," was "used in a way that would not be offensive to others."
War Casualties: Coda At the end of World War I, U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson said that a war's first casualty was the "truth." Could the second be "common sense"?
Impartiality, Objectivity, Neutrality Last January, The New York Times' Venezuela correspondent Francisco Toro resigned because he said he "can't possibly be neutral" about his country's political situation. Toro has participated in protests against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and regularly posts derogatory remarks about Chavez on his Web site. He told the Times that he could not "muster the level of emotional detachment from the story that the New York Times demands.... My country's democracy is in peril now, and I can't possibly be neutral about that." Despite that, Toro recently was hired by London's Financial Times.
All the News That's Fit Former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, who was fired amid allegations of journalistic fraud, recently signed a book deal with New Millennium Entertainment, a three-year-old California publishing company that claims to offer "the best in written and spoken word." The company already has had two highly publicized battles with some of its more prominent authors, who complained about the way their works were being promoted. NME's Web site says it specializes in products that "entertain, inspire, inform and enlighten." Knowing Blair's work at the Times, one wonders under what category his book will be marketed.
Over the EdgeHartford Courant editorial cartoonist Bob Englehart recently produced a cartoon that depicted a black couple telling a black police officer they wouldn't turn in criminals in their neighborhood because that would be "acting white." The Courant's Reader Representative said, "beyond the complete disregard for the reality of fear of retaliation was the outrageous implication that black people in Hartford don't value the safety of their children and their neighborhoods as much as white people do." Courant Editorial Page Editor John Zacharian said that if cartoonists are "any good at all, they are on the edge. Sometimes they are over the edge." Geronimo!
A New(s) Cop on the Beat WCCO-TV police reporter Caroline Lowe was in a real police uniform last summer patrolling the Minnesota State Fair. Most journalism observers would say there should be a clear separation line between police and the reporters who cover them-but not Lowe, or her anchor Don Shelby. Lowe, who has been studying to become a certified police officer, said she talked to both her station and the police and she would not be a reporter while in uniform. Shelby said he saw "absolutely no difference" between what Lowe was doing and a court reporter getting a law degree. After all, shouldn't reporters gain experience? How about a crime reporter robbing a bank for experience?
Take Him Out to the Ball Game. Please...Sacramento Bee sports writer Jim Van Vliet was fired recently for covering the San Francisco Giants-Pittsburgh Pirates game by watching it on television. The paper said Van Vliet's behavior had violated "basic journalistic values and ethics as practiced by The Bee." The Bee should be grateful it got a story at all-what if Survivor had been on at the same time?
An Academic License to Steal Editors at The Columbus Dispatch thought there was something wrong when they got calls that several paragraphs from a guest column on nuclear energy had appeared in other newspapers in articles written by other authors. When they questioned the writer, an Ohio State engineering professor, he said that he saw no problem with his work because, the paper said, "his rule of thumb was that it isn't plagiarism until it passes 150 words." "Students take note," the paper said, "That's enough wiggle room to claim the famous second sentence of the Declaration of Independence-the one that begins, 'We hold these truths to be self evident,'-as your own."
Fiction to FactU.S. News and World Report Editor Mort Zuckerman wrote in an editorial last summer that in America these days anyone can sue anybody about anything. One of the examples that he used was the case of a woman who threw a soft drink at her boyfriend and when she slipped on the wet floor, she sued the restaurant. Another was about someone who, to avoid paying a nightclub cover charge, went through a bathroom window, fell, broke her teeth and sued the night club. Several reputable journalistic and legal sources immediately pointed out that these "stories" were nothing more than "urban myths," part of a 2001 Internet spam campaign and they never really happened. USNWR refused to run a correction, but a Zuckerman spokesperson said that these cases had been reported in "other reputable publications, such as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the London Telegraph," and after all, "few would disagree with the proposition that there are far too many frivolous lawsuits filed." Let's not let the facts stand in the way of a good story.... * This column is a regular feature in MEDIA ETHICS. Readers with verifiable contributions for future issues (all subject to editing), or comments on the entries chosen for this issue, should send them to Manny Paraschos, c/o MEDIA ETHICS. The above article was published in Media Ethics , Fall 2003 (15:1), pp.2,43-44.