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Essay Subject:
Examines freedom of press vs. ethical reporting, code of ethics, role of court, examples of questionable ethics, invasion of privacy, coverage of celebrities. Outline.... More...
10 Pages / 2250 Words
10 sources, 13 Citations, MLA Format

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Paper Abstract:
Examines freedom of press vs. ethical reporting, code of ethics, role of court, examples of questionable ethics, invasion of privacy, coverage of celebrities. Outline.

Paper Introduction:
Freedom of the Press is a phrase given high value in the American system, but it is not an absolute. Freedom of the Press is found in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the courts give great importance to this amendment when considering competing rights. Still, there are cases where the courts find that the press goes too far, and the public often believes this is true. Unethical behavior by the press is behavior that goes against a fundamental and protected individual right and that does so by breaking one of the elements of the currently adopted Code of Ethics. Recently, the Society of Professional Journalists held a meeting in Arlington, Virginia at which those attending the convention voted on a new Ethics Code. The code contains the four principles seen as most important in ethical behavior for journalists by this group:

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The issue of the First versus the Sixth Amendments has been raisedseveral times. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.Hall, Kermit. However, Freedom of the Press means freedom from most governmentinterference, and not only can the press print what it wants to a greatdegree, it also cannot be forced to print something it does not want. Definition A. Indeed, it seemsat times as if newspapers and other media are more interested in thisscandalous story than is the public, contributing to the view that it isbusiness rather than news judgment driving the frenzy. Freedom of the Press is found in theFirst Amendment to the U.S. Code of Ethics 1. The distinction made by Lindbergh continues to be made by many in theprofession, and they see the regular press on one side and the tabloids,such as the National Enquirer, on the other. Playing It Straight. What is held up as news isshaped not by events as much as by rules of how to please the public. The argument over whether or not thepress should have done this became an argument over the "character issue,"and that has been the phrase used ever since to refer to investigationsthat go beyond competence or questions of professional background. California's courtsdismissed the case and its higher court dismissed it as well, but the U.S.Supreme Court cleared the way for an invasion of privacy trial. Thebroadcast media has been treated somewhat differently because the airwavesare considered a finite resource so that broadcasters are licensed, asnewspapers are not. New York: Longman, 1988.Bossert, Rex. The Paula Jones lawsuit has occupied the attention of the news mediafor a long time, and even with the discovery of new scandals aboutPresident Clinton, the Jones suit has remained a central issue. TheFirst Amendment has evolved a great deal in this century. Otherscandals are talked about as if they were related to the Jones suit. M Minimize harm. Public serviceII. The classic case of the press breaking its own code involves the firsttrue media celebrity in this century--Charles A. Lance. Unethical behavior by the press is behavior that goes against afundamental and protected individual right and that does so by breaking oneof the elements of the currently adopted Code of Ethics. 241 [1974]), the Supreme Court struck down a law from Floridathat required newspapers to publish replies to criticism about politicalcandidates, stating that requiring a newspaper to publish one story asopposed to another was an unconstitutional interference with the rights ofeditors to determine the content of their newspapers (Hall 811). While heseemed to put the matter to rest and did win the presidency, doubts haveremained and continue to make Clinton's character an issue with critics ofhis actions and his administration. Limits/Boundaries C. This sort of case makes theethical rule not to do harm very difficult to follow, leaving us to askwhat constitutes harm. The Hart case "focused publicattention on how far the press should venture in reporting private lives ofpublic officials" (Goldstein 3). Individual Right to Privacy 1. Since then, the press has not needed a challenge but delves into theprivate lives of candidates at will. Her law suit was not forlibel but for invasion of privacy. The press frenzy around recent major cases such as that of O.J.Simpson, the Unabomber, and the Oklahoma City bombing raised questions inthe public about the ethics of the press in covering these trials. Unauthorized photos of her son werepublished, along with confidential details of her financial situation, andphotos of her son appeared in television ads for the Enquirer. Still, the basic principle applies to both, and thereare many court cases supporting the right of newspapers and the news mediato be free to print what they want and to be free to ignore a story if theywant. Freedom of the Press is a phrase given high value in the Americansystem, but it is not an absolute. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. TheEnquirer settled days after the Supreme Court announcement (Bossert 3).The Enquirer often fights to avoid the fourth element in the new code--"beaccountable." Even journalists following the precept to seek information of publicimport may be accused of invasion of privacy. Ms. Hood is the mother of an illegitimate son by actor EddieMurphy and was the subject of a 1992 article. Mr. Fellows felt that this law was about "peace of mind andpersonal feelings" ("California: False Light Privacy Treated Like Libel"4). was the celebrity partiallycreated by a media that then believed it owned him. Just as the consumer is kept passive bythe media, so is the media kept passive by economic realities and thetendency to protect the way things are so as not to change the prevailingpower of the news to attract an audience (Bennett 17). Tornillo(418 U.S. Broadcast Media 1. Charles Lindbergh, Sr. The way the media has treatedthis entire story fits the image of the "feeding frenzy" said to occur whenall reporters descend on the same story at the same time. C. The Character Issue 3. Consider the important right to a fair trial, and courts today areoften asked to consider which of these rights should be first in differentcases. Tornillo 2. In deciding how to follow astory, reporters must consider what is ethical and what is not. Arthur Fellows a. TheEnquirer argued that the story was true, of public interest, and protectedby the First and Fourteenth Amendments (Pike 1). Thepress has a gatekeeper function that is supposed to serve the public byalerting the people to problems. "Introduction." Killing the Messenger. The FirstAmendment was adopted as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791, but nearly allof the Supreme Court cases interpreting the language of the First Amendmenthave been decided since World War I: The Supreme Court's treatment of free speech and press issues is not only dynamic, but also to some degree unpredictable. In another case, the Enquirer settled out of court with Tamara Hoodand her son. In the case of Miami Herald Publishing Co. Mr. Fellowschose to sue not under libel law but under a false light invasion ofprivacy claim. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility (Hernandez and Schmitt 22).Few argue that press ethics in themselves are a bad thing or that thereshould be no code of ethics by which professional journalists recognize thefact, but there are strong arguments about specific issues and whether theyconstitute ethical failures or not. The Enquirer won the case when the California court determined thatunder false light invasion of privacy there needed to be a proof of specialdamages ("California: False Light Privacy Treated Like Libel" 5). Mr. Fellows is happily married, and Mrs. Fellows hadbeen at Spago's with them. "National Enquirer Settles Suit Over Paternity Story." Los Angeles Daily Journal (December 2 , 1995), 3."California: False Light Privacy Treated Like Libel." News Media & the Law (Fall 1986), 4-5.Goldstein, Tom (ed.). The Enquirer often prevailsin court challenges to its press rights, but it often invades privacy inways that do not serve the public's need to know "as distinguished frompublic curiosity," showing that ethical behavior cannot be equated simplywith whether or not a given instance leads to a negative court decision. Act independently 4. M Be accountable.The intent is to "promote front-end ethics" and get people to think all thetime about ethical decision-making before they are in a crisis situation.The code begins with a preamble that sets forth the view the professionaljournalist should take of ethical questions related to the profession: Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Gennifer Flowers c. v. The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. This also makes the news media more responsible for what theyreport. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.Hernandez, Debra Gersh and Bill Schmitt. The Court relies on a wide variety of legal concepts and tests to decide the speech and press cases it hears. . Professional integrity 2. In the August 17, 1982 issue of the National Enquirer, a photo waspublished showing producer Arthur Fellows and actress Angie Dickinsonleaving the restaurant Spago. Investigative journalism hasbeen much in favor at least since Watergate, and this can lead to dilemmas: "But when the hunt is up, reporters and editors sometimes have difficultyjudging how far to go and where to stop" (Hulteng 55). Continuing to Protect the Freedom of the Press 1. Libel plaintiffs need to not only prove malice,they need to prove injury to property, business or occupation. Richard JewellIII. News: The Politics of Illusion. The public today senses an abuse of privilege for profit and self- aggrandizement when a Richard Jewell is falsely named as a prime suspect in the Atlanta bombing case, or when a Dallas newspaper reports a purported confession in the Oklahoma City bombing, which may have been a hoax (Schorr 18). "SPJ Approves Ethics Code." Editor & Publisher (October 19, 1996), 22.Hulteng, John L. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. The solution is fornewspapers to stop making the First Amendment the only part of theConstitution or the legal system considered when deciding what stories topursue and how to pursue them. Simpson 2. . Mother of Eddie Murphy's illegitemate son B. However,the press had a defense in that Hart had challenged reporters to followhim. Unabomber 3. The code contains the four principles seen asmost important in ethical behavior for journalists by this group: M Seek truth and report it. Thismakes the dismissal of the lawsuit on April 1, 1998 a major event, and ithas been treated as such in the news media. Among the issues that have been raisedare constitutional conflicts between freedom of speech and a fair trial,issues of disclosure versus the right of privacy, and the right of thepeople to choose their leaders versus press rights and freedoms which mayimpinge on this right. Angie Dickinson 3. The issue has been raised recently in circumstances inwhich the press is seen as both intrusive and unethical by much of thepublic, and though the press privilege has been supported by most courts,journalists are still concerned about what might happen in the future: But the privilege accorded to the press depends on public support, and will wither without public support. Recently, the Society of Professional Journalists held ameeting in Arlington, Virginia at which those attending the conventionvoted on a new Ethics Code. M Act independently. Society of Profesional Journalist 1. Still,there are cases where the courts find that the press goes too far, and thepublic often believes this is true. Be accountable D. "Journalists' Loosening Grip On the Public's Trust." The Christian Science Monitor (March 21, 1997), 18.Seldes, George. The problem isthat even when newspapers believe they are acting in an ethical fashion andfollowing the elements of their Code of Ethics, they may in effect beacting unethically because they are in conflict with fundamentalconstitutional and legal rights held by the individual and because elementsof the Code itself may conflict with one another. First Amendment B. Gary Hart a. On the other hand, the press is cited as a bad influence on theAmerican electoral process because of cases like that of Gary Hart or theongoing investigation of President Clinton, who now that he has beenelected is subject to wide-ranging attack so that he may not be able tofunction in his job as the people would like. He raised ethicalquestions by trying to behave in an ethical manner himself, for he tried totake note of differences between the "good" press and the "bad" press: Lindbergh Jr.--the aviator--has always tried to distinguish between the newspapers which treated him well and those he thinks treated him badly. Freedom of the Press and the U.S. Applying the Same Principles 2. Allowance to Publish and Forcing to Publish B. The courts are being asked more and more toprotect the rights of defendants by curtailing press access and the rightto print all information. Seek truth and report it 2. Unethical behavior by the press isbehavior that goes against a fundamental and protected individual right andthat does so by breaking one of the elements of the currently adopted Codeof Ethics. The central issue relates to what the newspaper iswilling to do to get the story, meaning the ethical breaches that might beinvolved, versus whatever rights held by others would be trampled in theprocess. "The Press and the Individual." In Killing the Messenger, Tom Goldstein (ed.), 28-54. Thebehavior of the courts also raise ethical issues as efforts are made bysome to stifle the press. Indetermining when press freedoms might interfere with such other importantfreedoms as the right to a fair trial, courts examine press behavior anddetermine what is legal and what is not. [and] the Court has balanced the interests in free expression against other social values without seeming to give favored treatment to individual speech or the press (Hall 8 8).One of the protections given to the press is protection from being forcedto print anything. BillClinton had a similar problem when allegations were raised about a womanwho said she had had an affair with him, something he denied. Bill Clinton a. "Judges Allow Trial Against Tabloid Paper: Truth Not An Issue." Los Angeles Daily Journal (December 5, 1995), 1, 8.Schorr, Daniel. Miami Herald V. Works CitedBennett, W. Bennett notes that the news is a consumer good and is thus packagedand sold to the public like any other product. Oklahoma City Bombing 4. However, the glare of publicity had actually fallen earlier inLindbergh Sr., who had been defeated for governor of Minnesota in 1918 andwho was thereafter attacked in the press on numerous occasions: "Thenewspapers of America had reason to hate Lindbergh. Ethical questions were raised in the 198 s with the Gary Hart issue,and the press was accused at the time of going too far by following Hartand discovering his affair after he had denied he was having one. Paula Jones 1) Monica Lewinsky b. Donna Rice 2. Conclusion A. Minimize harm 3. Political Candidates and Office Holders 1. Right to a Fair Trial 1. In addition, there is a clash again between theneed to seek truth and report it and the need to minimize harm. 2. Affects on Other Rights A. The caption labeled Mr. Fellows as the "newman" in Angie's life. Constitution, and the courts give greatimportance to this amendment when considering competing rights. MediaI. Lindbergh, who waselevated to the role of Hero by the press because of his accomplishment,and who was then hounded by the press in a way no one ever had been before. In other words it is the so-called rules of the so-called newspaper game which Lindbergh was challenging as much as the things done to him (Seldes 37).The way Lindbergh was treated violated the sixth canon of the code ofethics of the American Society of Newspaper Editors: "A newspaper shouldnot invade private rights or feelings without sure warrant of public rightas distinguished from public curiosity" (Seldes 37). Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. This is a process that has been seen many times since in our media-drivenculture, and the glare of publicity and the press has only increased withthe development of new media and new audiences. Charles Lindbergh, Jr. O.J. He was a great enemyof the bankers, he believed in the public ownership of the power companiesas well as the public ownership of natural resources" (Seldes 31-32).Lindbergh Sr. Chester, Connecticut: the Globe Pequot Press, 1981.Pike, David F. Taking Responsibility Tamara Hood a. Moreover, on more than one occasion he issued statements in which he absolved the actions of reporters, saying they were only doing the work assigned them by the newspapers. was the victim of unethical press behavior in the politicalrealm, as discussed below, but Lindbergh Jr.

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