Two items testing ethical waters in journalism today.
CLUNKERS VS. KATRINA
NPR’s ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, takes NPR’s Mara Liasson to task for this:
Nearly 2,000 people died and thousands more were injured or lost their homes during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Bush administration’s inability to help hundreds of thousands of people in New Orleans after Katrina is considered one of the greatest recent examples of government incompetence.
It is inconceivable anyone could compare that disaster to Cash for Clunkers, which simply gives people a voucher worth up to $4,500 to trade in an old car for a newer, more fuel-efficient vehicle.
Liasson, meanwhile, is contrite. “I said something really stupid, which I regret,” Liasson told Shepard.
Anytime a news organization plays the “withhold the name/don’t withhold the name” game, it runs into a minefield of ethical questions.
Generally speaking, news organizations in these parts withhold the name of people who have been arrested until they’ve been charged. But most apply the guideline inconsistently.
One canon that the Associated Press has is not naming victims of a sexual assault.
But the AP couldn’t see the case of the Wisconsin man coming who, apparently, played around on his wife with four (or more) women, and then was attacked by them. The AP did not name the man because he’s a victim of a sexual assault. So far, so good.
Then he got himself arrested on an allegation of child abuse. Now is he a victim? Or a perpetrator who can be named? This morning, the news organization named him once he was charged.
But by afternoon, the AP issued this advisory:
Please note BC-US–Cheater Assaulted, 1st ld-Writethru, which makes an important change deleting the suspect’s name because he is named as the victim of a sexual assault in another case.
The AP named three of the women charged in the case, but didn’t name the fourth.
Because he’s the man’s wife, identifying her would identify him.