I Won’t Watch It

Kish and I were driving home yesterday, so we missed the TV news coverage of the awful shootings in Virginia.  We therefore didn’t see the footage of the killer gunning down two innocent people, for reasons no one will be able to explain.

We listened to the radio, though, and heard the sounds of the gunshots and the terrified and anguished screams of the witnesses — and that was bad enough.

Whatever other twisted grievances and chilling fantasies may have motivated the killer to commit a cold-blooded murder of a reporter and cameraman on live TV, it’s obvious that a desire for public attention was one of them.  I won’t give it to him, nor will I have my sensibilities jaded and perverted and corrupted by watching something so horrible.  I’m not going to look for his Facebook page, or read his “manifesto,” either, nor am I going to put a picture of him, or his criminal deed, on this post.  Consider it my little protest against publicizing the evil actions of a sick, depraved mind.

There’s a serious journalistic ethics question lurking here:  if you are a TV news program, do you broadcast the footage, which plays into the killer’s desires and potentially might lead to copycat actions, or do you decline to do so, knowing that some of your viewers might change the channel to a station that takes a different approach?  I can’t fault those outlets that broadcast the footage, on a “just report the facts” rationale, but I can applaud those networks and programs that declined to do so.  Journalists are part of society, and as a society we have an interest in discouraging murderous acts by disturbed individuals.

We live in a weird world, where ethical questions arise that wouldn’t even have been possible in an earlier, less technological age in which “social media” didn’t raise the possibility that every criminal could also become a celebrity.  Sometimes, as in the case of the Virginia shootings, it’s a truly ugly world.  I’d rather not dive into that ugliness.

A Stunning Assault On The Citadel Of Media Objectivity

Today MSNBC indefinitely suspended Keith Olbermann, the host of the cable network’s Countdown program, after it learned that Olbermann had made contributions to three political campaigns — all for Democratic candidates.

I applaud MSNBC management for acting promptly to safeguard the network’s hard-earned reputation for objectivity and balance in its coverage of American politics.  It is hard to believe that Olbermann, who is one of the paragons of temperate commentary and unbiased reporting in the new media, would not have understood that contributing money to political candidates was grossly inconsistent with MSNBC’s high standards of journalistic integrity.  After all, it is not as if the network would allow news show hosts to routinely describe political figures of particular viewpoints as “the worst person in the world,” or to regularly launch harshly worded, mean-spirited attacks in an effort to drum up better ratings.

I’m sure that MSNBC’s other prime time news show hosts, Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, have never provided any support, financial or otherwise, to any political party or movement.  Both Matthews and Maddow are universally recognized for their even-handed treatment of political news and have contributed tremendously to high esteem which every rational person must feel for MSNBC and its fair and credible treatment of opposing viewpoints.

Update On Journalistic Ethics

I’ve written before on the Washington Post‘s tremendously ill-conceived “salon” concept, where attendees would pay the Post to hobnob with D.C. movers and shakers on health care and other issues.  After the uproar about obvious conflicts of interest, the Post bagged the concept, and now the marketing executive who was supposed to run the program has resigned.  You might not expect a marketing executive to appreciate the nuances of journalistic ethics; you sure would hope that the Post‘s editorial staff and publisher would appreciate those nuances.  So far, none of them have resigned — even though the salon concept was floated before the marketing executive came on board.

Journalistic Ethics (III)

The Washington Post is now falling all over itself in trying to explain the colossal blunder in its “salon” business concept, in which corporations would have paid $25,000 a pop to have drinks with Post, Obama Administration, and congressional insiders. This article tries to explain how the ethical lapse happened.

I appreciate the Post‘s willingness to contemplate its own navel on this incident, but this article and the other explanations I’ve seen simply don’t address the fundamental question — how in the world did someone in a position of authority at the Post not realize the shockingly obvious ethical problem posed by the salon concept? The problem for the Post is that all of the people whose antenna are supposed to tingle when a “pay to play” scenario is outlined apparently felt nothing and said nothing. Journalism relies entirely on the personal ethics of reporters and editors, and if the ethical sensibilities of Post editors and writers are so deadened that they did not hear alarm bells, that is a very serious situation. Perhaps the enormous criticism the “salon” concept has received will reawaken the Post‘s ability to recognize ethical problems. I hope so. The Post is a worthy institution, and it would not be good for anyone if it were crippled by scandal and hindered in its vigorous news-gathering as a result.