Sampling of stories & clips that reveal the ethical decisions journalists face

Correspondent Lara Logan of "60 Minutes" is on a leave of absence following an internal review by CBS News of her story on the Benghazi embassy attack. (AP Photo/Robert Spencer)

CBS memos suggest Logan had bias, but don’t say why no one addressed it

The CBS memos from Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News, and Al Ortiz, executive director of standards and practices, suggest that correspondent Lara Logan had a preconceived bias that prevented her from fully vetting her source before airing his story about the attack on the Benghazi embassy compound that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

But the leaked memos don’t explain why Logan’s superiors allowed her to pursue the story in the first place and why others at CBS didn’t compensate for her potential blind spots.

CBS announced the unspecified leave of absence for Logan and her producer Max McClellan. The Huffington Post ran memos from both Fager and Ortiz. Ortiz offered a summary of CBS’ findings that included these points:

  • It was possible to know that Dylan Davies’ account to the FBI was inconsistent with what he told CBS.
  • Logan and McClellan did not try to tap into the wider resources at CBS to get at the FBI information.
Read more

Tuesday, Nov. 08, 2011

Sharon Bialek, a Chicago-area woman, addresses a news conference at the Friars Club, Monday, Nov. 7, 2011, in New York. Bialek accused Republican presidential contender Herman Cain of making an unwanted sexual advance against her in 1997. She says she wants to provide "a face and a voice" to support other accusers who have so far remained anonymous. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Why did journalists act as a pack in withholding names of Herman Cain’s accusers?

Until today, media covering allegations of sexual harassment leveled against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain have universally withheld the identities of the women, who did not voluntarily come forward.

Then today, The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s iPad publication, revealed the identity of one woman, in a flattering article that gives credibility to her claims.

That prompted Business Insider and the Daily Caller to follow suit. Shortly after that, NPR confirmed with Karen Kraushaar that she is “woman A,” but she initially declined to say anything more.

Kraushaar spoke with The New York Times Tuesday evening.

She said she did not know whether or how she might tell more of her story but said that she had been warming “to the idea of a joint press conference where all of the women would be together with our attorneys and all of this evidence would consider together.”

Since then, attorneys for the women have been in touch and plans for a joint appearance are progressing. Read more


Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006

A New Ethics Column from Poynter

Hello Everybody,

We’d like to alert you to a new blog – Everyday Ethics — by Poynter’s Kelly McBride and colleagues. The column includes reports on ethical decision-making in newsrooms big and small, and will provide shorter, more frequently updated posts than we offered with Ethics Journal.

You’ll find the new column here:, and you can sign up to receive it as an e-mail newsletter (whenever new items are posted) here: Soon, we’ll also offer Everyday Ethics by RSS as well.

We’ll send Everyday Ethics updates to both lists for a while, so please forgive any duplication during the transition.

Thanks and best regards,

Bill Mitchell
editor/Poynter Online

  Read more


Wednesday, Nov. 09, 2005

Covering the End of Life: Tips & Resources

The living will is a nice idea that isn’t working, says a report by the Hastings Center expected to be released Thursday afternoon. This news comes after thousands of people created such documents in order to avoid the fate of Terri Schiavo, the woman whose family battled over her death, drawing in the Florida State legislature, the federal Congress and the Supreme Court.

The report suggests new alternatives and explores why making decisions about death has become so difficult, according to an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer by Michael Vitez.

This report comes at time when state legislators across the country are considering new laws that govern medical procedures, including feeding tubes and respirators. It comes at a time when governments are battling over who will pay for hospice care and who will make decisions for elderly people when the family can’t or won’t. It comes at time when investigators are looking into how hospital and nursing home employees cared for the terminally ill during and after Hurricane Katrina. Read more


Monday, Aug. 01, 2005

DeFede and Beyond: Second Chance Ethics

Sometimes I feel journalists work in a
reform-minded, ethical environment that seems as efficient at dealing
with ethical lapses as the French state was with political lapses
during its 18th century revolution. In both cases,
transgressors faced immediate consequences. For today’s journalist, it
may mean abiding by the new rules or face the employment guillotine.

An increasing number of news organizations today waste little time
with journalists who fail to follow their ethical codes or rules. An
infraction often brings termination. And there seems to be few
second chances. The Miami Herald last week fired
Jim DeFede, a popular columnist. It did so the same day he
admitted taping a phone call from a distraught Miami politician, Arthur
E. Teele Jr., who committed suicide that day. Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler acknowledged in a Sunday column
that the decision to fire DeFede was “perplexing” to many readers and
colleagues. But he insisted that any lesser punishment would send
a message that the paper tolerates breaches of its trust with readers. Read more


Wednesday, Mar. 23, 2005

Schiavo Case a Chance for Journalists to Lead

The national debate over the fate of Terri Schiavo lays bare the ways we in America talk about our most important values. It is a cautionary tale for journalists faced with the challenge of framing issues fueled by fiercely held beliefs, complex science and hotly contested claims that defy simple resolution.

This is a story that journalists can better serve with questions than answers. If there were ever an opportunity for journalists to transform their work from lecture to conversation, as many journalism reformers are proposing these days, this is it.

Unlike any story in recent memory, this one highlights the intimate connection between the personal and the political, the private and the universal. It’s a story that is rearranging the liberal/conservative landscape on such issues as states rights and the role of a spouse.

“It touches a lot of nerves,” Fox News producer John Finley told the Orlando Sentinel.  “Many stories that get this kind of coverage boil down to people’s personal connections to it.”

It’s also the kind of story that invites us to change the way we talk with one another, to declare our beliefs at the same time we wrestle openly with our doubts. Read more


Friday, Mar. 04, 2005

On the Dangers of Holding Back

The arrest of a suspect in the BTK serial murder case in Wichita, Kan., is shining a light on a common police beat practice – holding back.

In the 1970s, Cathy Henkel was a staff writer at the Wichita Sun, a weekly. She got a copy of a two-page letter BTK sent to police. She said there was no way the newspaper could run the whole letter. It was too graphic, she said, and police were of no help. As soon as the Wichita police chief learned she had a copy of the letter, she said he kicked her out of his office and refused to talk to her ever again.

Henkel, who now works at the Seattle Times (she wrote a column about the BTK case published in the Times Feb. 27), said she remembers discussing with her editor what to report about the letter. They talked about the graphic content and bad grammar. Read more


Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005

The Reporting Process Unveiled (Warning, It’s Not Pretty)


The CBS report released almost two weeks ago pulls apart the reporting process and reveals the many faults of the “60 Minutes Wednesday” investigation. It provides a rare and detailed look at the path this particular investigation took as it went from idea to story.

It’s easy to sit back and shake our heads at the mistakes the CBS crew made along the way. But the report provides a great case study for reporters looking to scrutinize their own practices.

If an investigative team took a magnifying glass to your last big story, what would they find? What if someone attempted to surmise your state of mind at every stage of the reporting process? What if they recreated all your casual conversations, as well as your formal interviews?

Other than the instructions to “get it right,” there really is no step-by-step formula for reporting a complicated story. Most reporters develop their own methods and practices, occasionally sharing some tips along the way. Read more


Friday, Jan. 07, 2005

Covering Trauma & Tragedy: What it Takes

Dr. Frank Ochberg remembers the first time he cut into a live human being. He was doing his surgical rotation as a medical student decades ago. He held the scalpel as his teacher placed a hand on top of his. Together they pressed into the skin.

Cutting a person open is difficult. Surgeons have to learn to overcome the natural human instinct not to hurt someone. In the same way journalists who cover suffering, violence, and disaster must overcome some natural human instincts if they are to do their jobs well, Ochberg says.

He went into psychiatry, not surgery. He specialized in trauma. He founded the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma. And from 2000-2003, Ochberg served as the center’s chairman. 

Journalists covering the tsunami and its aftermath are consistently reporting that the devastation and suffering are among the worst they have ever witnessed. Several journalists have reported that the magnitude of death and sorrow surpass what they have witnessed in the war, the Sept. Read more


Friday, Dec. 17, 2004

Journalists: More Ethical than People Realize?

The American public thinks journalists are ethically challenged, according to a Gallup Poll. Yet another study shows journalists have highly developed abilities when it comes to moral reasoning. What gives?

First the studies. The American public doesn’t trust reporters. This according to Gallup’s most recent poll rating of perceived honesty among certain professions. Less than 25 percent of the people who responded the survey rated reporters’ ethical standards as high or very high.

This is really nothing new. Frank Newport, the editor-in-chief of The Gallup Poll, points out that journalists have been rated low since his organization began asking this question in 1974.

The numbers have bounced around, all the way down to 16 percent in 2000 and as high as 33 percent in 1976.

But for the most part, according to Newport, the conclusion has been the same: “Americans are suspicious of the news media.”

Other Gallup studies suggest this distrust is greater among people who are politically moderate and conservative, he said. Read more