Preach Press Ethics Abroad, but Practice Them at Home

By Hughes, John | The Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 2003 | Go to article overview

Preach Press Ethics Abroad, but Practice Them at Home


Hughes, John, The Christian Science Monitor


I was in New York last week for a meeting of the board of directors o the International Center for Journalists, a nonprofit organization that promotes the cause of a strong and independent press and responsible press ethics in lands where there hasn't been much freedom of the press.

Volunteer American journalists are sent to countries in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia where journalists who are inexperienced, or have been suppressed, are enthusiastic about learning from journalists from a free society. There is also some return flow of journalists from these countries to American newspapers and television stations whose operations and procedures they can study.

It has been a successful two-way program. The resolve and techniques of many journalists in disadvantaged areas has been strengthened. American reporters and editors, for their part, have come to be more sensitive to the problems and needs of the press in troubled areas of the world.

Most of ICFJ's board members are journalists, and, as is often the case when journalists get together in formal professional meetings, the gossip in the corridors was at least as intriguing as board-room discussion.

Corridor debate focused on two grave current lapses and one perceived lapse of journalistic ethics at home in the US.

The first of the two lapses about which there was no doubt, and unanimous disgust, was the plagiarism and journalistic fraud of a New York Times reporter, Jayson Blair, the subject of an extraordinary five-page Sunday New York Times mea culpa. Over an extended period, Mr. Blair falsified interviews, made up quotes, and lied about his whereabouts.

The second was the sale for $20,000 by two Salt Lake Tribune reporters, Kevin Cantera and Michael Vigh, of fallacious information on the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case to the National Enquirer. Upon threat of legal action, the Enquirer was obliged to publish an abject apology, the reporters were fired, and their editor, Jay Shelledy resigned. As this took place at the newspaper of our competitor in the city of my residence, I was pressed for details.

The third issue for considerable discussion was the sale by reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of their Watergate notes, memos, story drafts, transcripts, and other papers to the University of Texas at Austin for $5 million.

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Preach Press Ethics Abroad, but Practice Them at Home
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