We all read about the "self-inflicted wounds" in the media industry caused by certain journalists, but the last "self-inflicted wound" really caught my attention. Yeah, the others didn’t help the integrity of journalists at all, but they knew what they were doing at the time and deserved their punishments. The last story about Wen Ho Lee is still boggling my mind and I can’t seem to figure out who is right and wrong in this case. Well, obviously the government and the reporters were wrong, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the news media reporting the “facts” they were receiving through these unnamed sources. They were reporting the information they were receiving, and in the end they were wrong and so was the government. Lee was charged and sent to solitary confinement for 278 days for being an “unprecedented risk to national security.
After doing his time, he appeared in court once more and pled guilty. Yep, he pled guilty, but not to being a spy. He said that he downloaded the documents to safeguard them from future misuse by others. So after all of that, the government was wrong and then so were the reporters who had been reporting on the issue for over a year. The information the reporters were receiving from unnamed sources was all misinformation, so in turn, the public was misinformed. The reporters were all held in contempt and were all likely to face jail time.
I will agree that it was wrong of the government to convict him for something he didn’t do and wrong of the reporters to report on the issue, but they had no way of knowing that their unnamed sources were giving them misinformation.
While it's not the answers I want, an article after the fact was published in the New York Times.
Here is a section from the article about Confronting the Culture: “He says if there is to be an ultimate solution, ‘whoever’s in charge of the newsroom is going to have to create a culture and an atmosphere within which everybody knows this is not acceptable. You can’t cheat and stay here. The integrity of everything we put into our report has to be guaranteed by everybody in the process…. You, each person, has a personal responsibility for that…. And in the competitive world we live in now, there are enough people who are still prepared to ease the rules in order not to be beaten on the big stories all the time.”
Now, I understand where the guy was coming from. Newsrooms need to let their reporters know what they expect from them, because if they mess up they could put their job on the line. I get that, but isn’t that supposed to be in the employee manual or private policy of the company? It’s not just reporters in the newsroom that need to know what is acceptable, I feel that everyone is the company needs to know what is acceptable. Advertisers are as much of the team as the reporters, and without the advertisers there wouldn’t be a newspaper or magazine. They should know what is acceptable. What about the graphic designers and page editors? Can they just go and print whatever they want and get away with it? Most likely not, so I’m just saying that everyone in the company should know what is acceptable and not acceptable, not JUST the reporters, photographers, and videographers or whomever it might be.
I came across this quote from Overheard in the Newsroom and I thought it was relevant to this. If the reporters don’t even know what is acceptable and not acceptable, or in this case, the company’s Code of Ethics, how can anyone expect that reporter to always report the truth and exactly what people say? There needs to be guidelines.