17 After mildly chiding the editors for burying their apology on page 10 of the

17 after mildly chiding the editors for burying their

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17 After mildly chiding the editors for burying their apology on page 10 of the paper, Okrent went on to illuminate systemic weaknesses in the news business contributing to the inadequacies in the Times ’ reporting on WMD. First, he points out that editors as well as reporters are responsible for the content of news stories. Editors must take responsibility for ensuring sufficient cross-checking of stories from anony- mous sources. Second, even for the prestigious Times , the desire for scoops occasionally trumps careful checking, which would delay publication. Third, many reporters are eager to write it onto 1 , meaning getting your story placed on the front page with your byline. Such eagerness can lead to overstating the significance of a particular piece of information, the breathless claim of earth-shattering revelations. Okrent felt the editorial system at the Times needed to be stronger and more rigorous in its demands on reporters and their use of anonymous sources. Still another ethical problem is represented in the development and increasing use of what are known as video news releases , or VNRs. These com- munications are typically produced by an advertising or public relations firm in such a way as to look like a genuine news story, with news correspondents seeming reporting live on a breaking story. For many smaller media outlets, the prepackaged stories are easy to run and come with often high produc- tion values. There may not always be the realization that they are pack- aged press releases and not actually news from an objective news-gathering organization. Shortly after the Times episode, CBS News faced similar criticism in another prominent case for its failure to rigorously check the authenticity of a memorandum that raised questions about President Bush’s record in the National Guard during the time of the Vietnam conflict. Dan Rather of CBS issued an apology to the American public for failing to ensure that the memo in question had been thoroughly checked before broadcasting the story. 18 The CBS network commissioned an outside study of the events surrounding the broadcast about the suspect memo. Although the report, coauthored by a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, did not find any political bias present in the case, it did find that the news department at CBS proceeded with myopic zeal to be first with the story. Although the head of the news division repeatedly demanded rechecking sources for the story, according
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Ethical Issues in Mass Communication 203 to the report, his directives were not carried out. In the event, four senior executives and producers at CBS were dismissed because of the case. 19 One is reminded of the similar case of the anchor for NBC News, Brian Williams, who was suspended and then demoted from his anchor position for embel- lishing his experience in Iraq—claiming to have been in a helicopter under fire when in fact he was not.
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