WORDS TO WISE
The Washington Post recently reported that its sports columnist Mike Wise was suspended for a month for tweeting, apparently in jest, that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will only serve five of his six game-suspensions for alleged misconduct. The tweet moved quickly through the Internet and, when Post editors questioned Wise, he said the tweet was a joke. "I tried to test the accuracy of social media reporting. Probably not the best way to go," Wise tweeted later. On his radio program, he said he agreed with the punishment, "I made a horrendous mistake, using my Twitter account which identifies me as a Washington Post columnist...." The Post sports editor quoted from the paper's social media use guidelines, which say that reporters must protect their "professional integrity." "We must be accurate in our reporting and transparent about our intentions," the guidelines say. "But Wise wasn't reporting. He was fabricating, which is the greatest sin in journalism," the Post ombudsman said. Wise's Twitter account is named "Mikewiseguy." Enough said.
As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas were starting their most recent round of peace negotiations in Washington, D.C., they made a joint appearance with President Obama, Jordan's King Abdullah and Egypt's President Mubarak. President Obama walked ahead of the group to a photo opportunity, the result of which was disseminated around the world. Except that Egypt's largest and oldest newspaper, the state-run Al- Ahram, altered the photograph to place Mubarak at the head of the group. Al-Ahram's editor defended the photographic manipulation by saying that "The expressional photo is a brief, live and true expression of the prominent stance of President Hosni Mubarak on the Palestinian issue, his unique role in leading it before Washington or any other." Opponents of the 30-year-old Mubarak regime took the opportunity to say that's how Egypt is run-as a state based on deception. Al-Ahram's business editor told the Los Angeles Times that Al-Ahram was "a big name and an important asset in the Egyptian and Arab journalism and I'm very sad to see the paper take part in such fabrication." He added that the newspaper's administration is appointed by the government and is to serve the interests of the state. It is hard to see how an altered photograph serves the interests of either Egypt or Al-Ahram.
ABC BUYS PHOTOS -- BUT NOT NEWS
Several media outlets reported recently that, in a pre-trial hearing, it was revealed that ABC News had paid $200,000 to Casey Anthony, the Florida woman who is accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter. ABC said the payment was for "exclusive rights to an extensive library of photos and home videos" and "no use of the material was tied to any interview." ABC and its affiliates have been using the material without revealing the agreement or the payment. Those who might have been tempted to raise the issue of "checkbook journalism," should be relieved to see such a clear line drawn between pictorial material and news. Or not.
SCOOP AT ANY COST?
According to Radio Netherlands Worldwide last summer, the Dutch daily De Telegraaf had said it expected to lose "thousands" of subscribers after it ran the contents of a telephone interview with a 9- year-old boy, who was the only survivor of an airplane accident in Libya that killed 103 people (including the boy's parents). The interview was conducted via telephone from the boy's hospital room in Tripoli before the boy was informed of his parents' death. As complaints and subscription cancellations protesting the violation of the boy's privacy started to come in, the paper apologized in print and online. Its director explained that those who cancelled were not just "short-term, trial" subscribers, but "also faithful Telegraaf readers who had been taking the paper for decades. That is truly worrying." One wonders if such an interview was worth it-to the paper or its readers.
PHOTOS VS. ILLUSTRATIONS
The New York Times reported last summer that The Economist cover of President Obama standing alone on a Louisiana beach, looking at the ground, was a digitally altered Reuters photograph. In the original, the president was standing with the Coast Guard admiral in charge of the massive oil spill cleanup and a local official. The Economist deputy editor said the publication never edits "photos in order to mislead," and in this instance the aim was to focus on the president and "not to make him look isolated." Concerning the cover's headline, "The damage beyond the spill," the editor said it referred to the damage caused not to the president but to America's business. How about the damage caused readers who hadn't been informed that the photo had been altered, or told what the original had shown?
WORLD CUP HIDE-AND-SEEK
The Guardian reported that a London Sunday Mirror reporter was arrested in Cape Town, South Africa, during the 2010 Soccer World Cup, for orchestrating a security violation and then reporting on it. The police commissioner said, "The police strongly believe the motive was to put the World Cup security in a bad light, and possibly to profit from this act." Furthermore, the authorities alleged the reporter had arranged for a fan to penetrate the game's security circle (by pretending he was looking for a restroom) and reach England's dressing room. (There, the police said, he told British soccer star David Beckham the English team's performance was disgraceful.) The police said the reporter "admitted to harboring and interviewing" the fan by "booking hotel accommodation...using false or incorrect particulars...at a time when the police were searching" for him. The Mirror, however, dismissed the allegations, saying its reporter was after a legitimate news story. Hmmm . wonder what would have been an illegitimate news 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.