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Objectivity Group Discussion

by on February 7, 2013

In class, we broke into groups to discuss scenarios that related to objectivity. The first question, which I hope to continue to address now, was concerning an election. The scenario was one where a third party candidate, an un-affiliated engineer, submitted a press release to a news organization accusing the Republican candidate, who was a top contender to win the election, of being a pedophile. This was sent the night before an election. What are journalists supposed to do?

In my opinion, there are two decisions I am most likely to make. I would either publish that night, and have it run the day of the election, that the engineer sent in an accusation against the Republican, but that it was still being investigated. I would specifically omit the type of accusation, as pedophilia is an alarming issue that would almost certainly skew the election results. And, if it was not true, would leave an unwarranted smudge on this politician forever.

The other option which I would consider, it to withhold the story completely until the day following the election. Not only would the election be voted upon more fairly, but it would also give me more time to investigate whether or not it was true and more accurately report the story. It completely changes the bad guy in the story, depending on whether or not this man is a pedophile.  If he were elected and it was later found out that he was guilty, chances are pretty high he would be asked to step down, face serious back lash, or even be impeached.

Is it ethical to withhold the story an entire day in order to benefit the election? Can it be perceived as bias, like I am trying to protect the Republican candidate? What about omitting the type of accusation that was sent in?

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2 Comments
  1. Of the two options that you have there, I would be more likely to choose the second. I wouldn’t necessarily run it the day after the election, but I would write the article when I have more solid proof that he was in fact a pedophile. With a claim as explosive as pedophilia, you have to be sure what you are writing is true because it would essentially kill his career, whether or not he did it. According to the engineer, he just has police sources, none of which are identifiable. With absolutely no proof, I personally could not write that article in good conscience.

    A topic came up in class on whether or not you would write the article based on the engineer’s party affiliation. I think I would be more likely to write the article if the engineer is unaffiliated rather than if he was a Democrat. From the engineer’s point of view, what does he have to gain by saying the Republican candidate is a pedophile. He is not going to win the election whether he says anything or not. If it was the Democratic candidate, he has the most to gain and may be more inclined to lie, in the hopes that it wins him the election.

    I think it is ethical to withhold the story to benefit the election. If you make this claim, the Republican candidate would lose no matter what, even if he is truly the best person for the job. By writing that story, you are destroying everything he has worked for over his career. The Democrat may win even though he is completely unqualified. Like you said in the post, if you withhold the story and the claims ultimately are true, he would be forced to step down or be impeached and probably brought to trial for pedophilia and thrown in jail. If you only have “police sources” that you can’t even communicate with, you can’t run the story. Anybody can make outlandish claims.

    I also don’t think it would be perceived as bias on your end towards the Republican candidate. I think as a sound journalist, you shouldn’t write an article of that magnitude unless you have sound proof. It could potentially be a career ending article. If it is found that he is a pedophile and word is leaked that you knew before the election and didn’t say anything, all you need to do is say the information that you were given and I don’t see how anybody could blame you.

  2. I don’t know if it is ethical to withhold a story the day before an election in order to benefit the election, but I do think it absolutely ethical to withhold a story because you are unsure if the accusation is even true. There was no proof that that candidate was telling the truth in his accusations, but how do we as journalists handle these kinds of stories? I agree with Dan, that it isn’t right for a journalist to publish a story if there is no sound proof. Society has to trust journalists. Not telling a story may hurt the public because they are being withheld from information, but accusations without proof give no reason for publication. It is difficult to decide whether or not such a conflicting story should be published, but evidently, if you don’t have sources for a story, then what is the story’s basis? An accusation, or taking someone’s word? This just makes a story unreliable and in the end, I would decide that publishing the story would cause more harm than good.

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