Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Kidnapping and the ethics of blackouts 
As if we need more evidence that the journo class has uncoupled itself from reality, here's an incongrous pairing of statements from Sig Christenson, president of Military Reporters and Editors.

From Editor and Publisher:

President of Military Reporters Group Hits Blackout on Abduction

The president of Military Reporters and Editors (MRE), Sig Christenson, criticized U.S. media outlets late Tuesday for engaging in a two-day blackout to hide news that an American journalist, Jill Carroll, had been abducted in Iraq.

Christenson, military affairs reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and a three-time Iraq embed, said the effort to keep news about a reporter's kidnapping from readers gives the wrong impression.

"Why isn't somebody asking about the ethics of this?" Christenson said in a phone interview late Tuesday. "I question whether it was ethical of them to do what they did - the (abducted reporter's) newspaper and the others that were involved in this..."

...Christenson contends that such an act of self-censorship hurts their credibility. "You've got to ask yourself who else we would have singled out for this special treatment?" he said. "If this happened to anyone else, they would rush it out on the wires and they should."

Who says they should? What kind of "ethics" values some asshole's trivial little page 3 scoop over the life of a 28 year-old woman? Is Carroll a public figure in any way? Did she do anything to deserve getting sold down the river?

Go out into America, Mr. Christenson. Ask around. Ask if the American people can handle waiting a few days or a week to learn the identity of a kidnap victim, if keeping the information secret would help us recover her alive and nail the bastards who took her - and who, not incidentally, already murdered her translator - and stop them from ever terrorizing or killing anyone else again.

Hell, ask any crime reporter. A lot of them keep their mouths shut all the time, if they have information concerning details of the crime that, if revealed publicly could compromise the investigation.

Your priorities, Mr. Christenson, are ass-backwards. I'm sure you've seen dead bodies before, as a reporter in Baghdad. Have you ever seen one you could bring back to life?

If waiting another week or two weeks or a month before learning this reporter's identity would increase the chance of a good news story about her return home to her family, I'd do that in a heartbeat.

No, Mr. Christenson. You have been hanging out with the press corps too long. Someone should really be questioning YOUR ethics.

Splash, out


Hat tip: Cori Dauber

I think you're correct in stating that it's the best course to keep quiet about abductions, but give the guy some credit. He's arguing for the Principle of Universalisability, whereas Steve Lovelady and his ilk argue that journos are, in fact, "special", and that anyone who points out the absurdity of that position is actively rooting for her ill fortune.

Phil Smith

I'd feel better about the blackout if the standard the US press met was consistent. I find too many cases where names were named or requests not to publish were not met when the subject in question is not a reporter. Seen some ugly things happen because "the story must go out"--and considering why this case is special is worth thinking about.

You may indeed be correct that the reporter's life may have been in danger if the US press didn't hold to the requested blackout. I will note that the day of the event I saw the woman's ID card on a video on French news gotten from an Al Jazeera broadcast--which means that the information was only withheld from the US audience.

I don't see how, though. I remain open to suggestions but don't know what the risk is.

Thinking about ethics for a news blackout before the fact would be a really good thing to do, and not just for reporters.
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