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What media knows and ethical and legal responsibility

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by SF_Express, Nov 27, 2011.

  1. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    We've got an internal debate, an interesting one and not an acrimonious one, on the fact that ESPN and the Syracuse paper have had and/or known about this Laurie Fine tape concerning her husband since 2003. The discussion is flying around Twitter too.

    The questions:

    1) Did ESPN or the paper have a moral responsibility to alert authorities? A strong argument can be made that of course they did. But does that change because they're journalistic entities?

    2) Are ESPN or the paper exposed civilly because they didn't go to authorities? Can they be sued successfully over it? My strong feeling is no, that's not their responsibility from strictly that standpoint.

    This is a journalism argument, hence my starting this here. Sorry if it duplicates something going on elsewhere.
  2. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    Yes and Yes.
  3. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    Case can certainly be made for the first; the second, I'm not sure, but I'm lacking the legal skills to really know.
  4. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    Well... They can be sued. I don't know if the other party would win.
  5. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    I don't see this as a decision editors should make -- it's one for the news organization's lawyers, which is why they are on retainer.
  6. lcjjdnh

    lcjjdnh Well-Known Member

    The moral responsibility must be viewed independently of the ethical one. A code of ethics may embody a certain set of moral judgments, but it can not serve as a substitute or a defense to a moral responsibility. If not, one could justify any immoral action by designing a code of ethics that absolves you of responsibility for taking that action. That is not to say this particular action is immoral--one could take some sort of utilitarian approach that says newspapers will do more good in the long-run by ensuring the trust of sources and readers by not "interfering" with a story--but only that whatever their ethical duties, it should have no bearing on their moral responsibility (except to the action would satisfy both moral and ethical duties because they share similar underlying values).
  7. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    Certainly a good point about what they should have done eight years ago.
  8. derwood

    derwood Active Member

  9. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    Frank is of course right about the legal issues, but there's a separate editorial question: Under what circumstances would a news outlet suppress or decline to report actual evidence related to a crime?

    Was the story withheld--by two separate news entities--on advice of legal counsel? Why? There's a tape, why not report you have a tape? Or was there was an editorial decision to not go there?

    Really hoping the unfolding story sheds some light on this, because right now it's just a vomitous mess that doesn't make much sense.
  10. SixToe

    SixToe Well-Known Member

    Who knew and when, and what did they do about it?

    Wasn't that question also asked in the PSU-Sandusky case? People embroiled in it lost their jobs and have been pilloried for not going to the authorities with knowledge of things that might have happened.
  11. Elliotte Friedman

    Elliotte Friedman Moderator Staff Member

    Thinking about question number one a lot today. What if it was me?

    It's unfortunate that in today's world of sports reporting, you have to use anonymous sources a lot more than you'd like and probably more often than we should. You tell who you talk to, and you don't get to talk to anyone.

    But, this to me, is something very different. Years ago, I had a conversation with a psychiatrist. He was telling me I'd be surprised the things patients confessed to him. (He's not like the doctor on Curb Your Enthusiasm who blabbed to Larry David; it stopped there.) But I asked him if he'd ever reveal anything. He kept saying no. Then I asked, "What about an unsolved murder?" He thought about it for about a minute and said, "In that case, I would probably tell the police."

    I understand where he's coming from.

    If I had that tape, I would, at the very least, contact a lawyer to ask what I should do. And I might even go to a cop and give them a "hypothetical" situation they could help me with.
  12. Small Town Guy

    Small Town Guy Well-Known Member

    I'm not sure about alerting authorities; it's not black and white. How many times have newspapers written exposes that exposed crimes? Countless. Usually it'd be something corporate or financial, or having to do with government operations. Just take the Bell salary scandal as one example. Should the LA Times have alerted authorities before publishing their stories?

    Should it be different for violent or sexual crimes? I suppose, but papers have written stories that break details before the authorities have it in those cases, too.
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