Media Ethics Goes to the Movies

Article excerpt

* Media Ethics Goes to the Movies. Howard Good and Michael J. Dillon. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. 208 pp. $64.95 hbk.

Films, TV shows, novels, and other popular culture artifacts can be powerful tools in helping students to think critically about the media. In this book, Howard Good and Michael J. Dillon use movies as case studies in media ethics. Good is coordinator of the journalism program at the State University of New York at New Paltz and the author of several other books about journalism movies; Dillon is professor of communications at Duquesne University.

The book draws upon many of the usual suspects in the films it analyzes along with a few that on the surface have little to do with the media. The purpose is to illustrate primary approaches to doing ethics as well as central ethical dilemmas that media practitioners, especially journalists, face. Thus 1951's Ace in the Hole (a.k.a. The Big Carnival) is used at the start to introduce Aristotle's Golden Mean, Kant's Categorical Imperative, Mill's Utilitarianism, and Rawls's Veil of Ignorance. Deadline, USA (1952) becomes a study in social responsibility theory. The Paper (1994) employs the Potter Box while All the President's Men (1976) analyzes means versus ends (in this case, whether deception is justified in uncovering malfeasance at the highest levels of government).

At the same time, 12 Angry Men (1957) uses a jury's deliberations to show how prejudice and misperception can confound Enlightenment ideals of rationality and truth: an important lesson for prospective journalists. Eight Men Out (1988) draws a parallel between baseball and journalism in considering competing loyalties to the "team" or organization, to owners, and to the public. The Rock (1996) is a case study in entertainment violence. Other movies covered in individual chapters include Under Fire (1983), True Crime (1999), and Network (1976).

Each chapter concludes with a set of questions for students, and, especially for teaching purposes, those questions are the book's greatest strength. Ace in the Hole launches a discussion about reporters becoming part of the stories they cover, Deadline, USA raises concerns about the separation between the news and business sides of media organizations, and Under Fire considers how American journalists cover the rest of the world. Network poses particularly provocative questions: "Which do you feel poses a greater threat to freedom of expression in the United States, the government or the corporate media? …