Lying in the name of faith (and politics) is always wrong

The New York Times reports about the Davidson College graduate who bought the expired ChristianTimesNewspaperDotCom domain (which we won’t link to here) and posted this story:

“BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse.”

It wasn’t true. He made it up, including stealing a photo published by a real newspaper. He made thousands of dollars via Google ads placed on the site.

The results:
* Nearly 6 million people saw the lie.
* The lie was pushed around the Internet by people linking to it and remarking on it, eager to believe the lie.
* An Ohio country elections board announced an investigation.
* Ohio’s secretary of state had to issue a statement denying the lie.
* Google figured out what was going on and won’t let the site use its ad service anymore.

And the 25-year-old former political science and economics student, at least in The Times’ story, didn’t seem to fully understand the problem:

Asked whether he felt any guilt at having spread lies about a presidential candidate, Mr. Harris grew thoughtful. But he took refuge in the notion that politics is by its nature replete with exaggerations, half-truths and outright whoppers, so he was hardly adding much to the sum total.
“Hardly anything a campaign or a candidate says is completely true,” he said.

The fact that politicians don’t communicate “completely true” things doesn’t mean it’s ethically OK, of course.

In a world where we talk about ethics as a “rainbow of gray,” this is a no-brainer. If no one has ever told you, then you read it here first: “It’s wrong to make up stuff that people might believe. And it’s particularly wrong to do it under the aegis of religion.”

Lying, especially under a Christian name, reminds me of a 1980s Eddie Murphy routine about the guy who shot Pope John Paul II in May 1981:

“I guess the guy figured, ‘Hey look, I want to go to Hell and I don’t wanna stand in no line with everybody. .. . I wanna take the Hell Express. . .You walk up to the door with your ticket, they say, ‘Shot the Pope? You can go right through, man.’”

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Going undercover-ish to report that athletes have sex while at the Olympics?

TDB_swipingApparently, The Daily Beast thinks it’s newsworthy enough to go undercover and find out whether athletes not only have sex with athletes while at the Games, and whether athletes will meet non-athletes, too.

A reporter used social media tools to see who might meet up with him. Most of the respondents are gay, which when reported can be a problem for athletes from nations where being gay is illegal or perceived to be immoral.

The Daily Beast’s editor has apologized and made some changes after the original posting, but many in the journalism world still say it’s unethical.

Slate calls out the work as “sleazy, dangerous, and wildly unethical.” Salon calls it “reporting gone wrong.”

The reporter says he didn’t lie–sort of:

For the record, I didn’t lie to anyone or pretend to be someone I wasn’t—unless you count being on Grindr in the first place—since I’m straight, with a wife and child. I used my own picture (just of my face…) and confessed to being a journalist as soon as anyone asked who I was.

And squirrels don’t look like squirrels, unless you count those fuzzy tails.

Sissela Bok’s classic Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life comes in handy with its three-part model to justify lying:

1. Are there alternative actions to resolve the dilemma without lying?
If no, then move to Question 2:

2. What are the moral reasons for and against the lie?
If reasons for seem to outweigh reasons against, then move to Question 3:

3. As a test of the two steps, what would a public of reasonable people say about the lie.
If the test of publicity passes, then maybe it’s OK to lie.


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Why is ethics compliance training a waste of time? Mostly, because it’s not about ethics

Slate says corporate ethics training is generally stupid — a waste of time with case studies designed to cover the boss’ backsides while not really dealing with real issues.

Its key takeaway:

Regulators pressure companies to implement training programs in hopes of reducing corporate crime and malfeasance. Executives implement training programs in hopes of protecting themselves against lawsuits and prosecution. Employees see through executives’ motivations and ignore, or even rebel against, the lessons of the trainings.

What Slate doesn’t say is why: There’s not much ethics involved in most moral training. Most corporate ethics training is disguised legal training — the minimum standards of what you must do or not do to keep yourself, your boss and your company out of trouble.

Legal training is necessary, but it’s nowhere sufficient. If this were not true, then Doing Ethics in Media: Theories and Practical Applications would have ended at Chapter 2 instead of Chapter 13.

Ethics is ultimately about moral development. And as James Rest and his colleagues have shown, moral development has four components:

  • moral sensitivity – the ability to identify the ethical dimensions of a situation.
  • moral judgment – the ability to decide what action is the most morally justified.
  • moral motivation – making sure that the desire to follow that decision, instead of taking another path. (It’s one thing to know what’s right. It’s something else to do it.)
  • moral character – working to remain moral throughout your life.

Until ‘ethics’ training actually deals with ethics, let’s find another name for it.

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Cartoonist fired for biting the hand that feeds his publication

This cartoon led to Rick Friday losing his freelance job after publishing more than 1,000 cartoons for a farming publication.

A herd of media are writing about Rick Friday, who was fired from Farm News, a weekly publication of The Fort Dodge (Iowa) Messenger, after it published this cartoon pointing out that the CEOs of three men who run major farming-focused corporations earned a combined $53 million in 2015, as much as 2,129 Iowa farmers.

Reports say a major advertiser was upset by the cartoon and pulled its advertising. The paper is owned by Ogden Newspapers Inc., a privately held West Virginia chain.

A few of the issues raised include:
* Editorial independence. If a big advertiser can push you around, then who else can?
* Editorial judgment. If this sort of cartoon was going to be a problem, then why not bring it up before it’s published?* Loyalties. Savvy readers now know who will win when there’s a threat.
* Traditional threats to niche publications and magazines, who more likely face a narrow set of potential advertisers.

This last point addresses the key issue of money, which is drying up in the news business. It seems harder to be ethical when losing a major advertiser becomes even more of an existential threat.

There’s a famous quote from a 20th-century newspaper chain owner that goes something like this: “It’s OK to lose your top advertiser. Just don’t lose your second.”

In this new millennium, losing a top advertiser may be enough to kill you. But it’s becoming clear that the threat of losing a top advertiser is enough to put a kink in your ethics.

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AppSumo and Michael J. Fox: An online marketer makes a solid apology

If you’re in mass media or sales or nearly any other activity involving humans, write this down: Don’t make fun of sick people.

AppSumo, an online selling company that relies on emails and clever writing, learned that lesson this week. Its April 25 email peddling a product included a joke involving Michael J. Fox, who in 1998 made public his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. (He has been known to make jokes at his own expense, such as this appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm. (note some bad language.))

AppSumo’s line: “We’ve all taken a photo or video that looks like Michael J. Fox was behind the lens.”









To its credit, the company quickly apologized and said it would donate profits on sales of the Pocket Tripod (a small iPhone stand) to Fox’s non-profit for Parkinson’s research.

In our poor attempt at imitative humor, we crossed the line and in the process offended many of you, our Sumo-ling family.

It was by no means in our intention to belittle a disease as serious as Parkinson’s – a condition that affects nearly 10 million people around the world. There were a thousand other ways to crack that particular joke and it’s unfortunate that we chose the one we did.

While we know this is only a first step, we are donating all the profits from the Pocket Tripod offer directly to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

We are also updating our email review process to make sure this never happens again.

Once again, our deepest apologies, and we promise to do better next time.

The company’s fast response checked off all four elements of a good apology:

  1. Express remorse.
  2. Admit responsibility.
  3. Make amends.
  4. Be strategic in showing how it won’t happen again.

Michael J. Fox may have no Elvis in him, but I’m bet he’s pleased at the result.

The moral: Mistakes are inevitable. How you deal with them defines your morality to yourself and others.

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The pathos of Taylor Swift

By Cara Walker

One of the oldest phenomena regarding entertainment and advertising is the humor in other people falling down. Successful shows such as America’s Funniest Home Videos and Tosh.0 are evidence of that, but why does it seem to be universally appealing for pain to be humorous?

Diana Mahony, a psychologist and humor researcher at Brigham Young University, told ABC News that this type of humor is appealing not only for the sake of laughter, but also because it makes us feel better than the one falling down – in a “I laugh in triumph and superiority at the foibles and stupidity of other people” way, she said.

Advertisers have capitalized on the idea of appealing to the emotions of their audience through various types of humor. This method is related to pathos, one of the three concepts of credibility introduced by Aristotle’s Rhetoric which dates all the way back to 350 BC. The idea of pathos in advertising is that by stirring some type of emotion in the viewer, the advertisers can prompt an immediate reaction. In the case of humor, laughter causes happiness, and the viewers link that happiness to their product.

There is power, especially in advertising, when combining our positive reactions to humor with the mindset described by Mahony. Last week, Taylor Swift posted her advertisement for Apple Music on her Instagram, which demonstrated this principle. In it, Swift is seen running on a treadmill listening to Apple Music. As she continues to run, she gets more enthusiastic about singing the song, and falls off the treadmill onto the floor.

On a basic level, this is humorous because once again, we just like when people fall down. But Apple took it step further by featuring a well-known, generally well-liked celebrity. If we have the tendency to feel positively about ourselves through others’ misfortunes, as explained by Mahony, then how much more appealing is it that a celebrity is the one falling.

Additionally, we often like to feel connected to celebrities. US Magazine has an entire section devoted to showing pictures of how celebrities are “just like us.” It makes them seem more relatable, and we, in turn, feel more connected to them. If Swift is clumsy, and I am clumsy, then we must be similar. This also builds their credibility for the product they are endorsing.

Although we logically know the Apple commercial is staged and that Swift is not even the one falling down, pathos-driven advertisements often cause us abandon logic in favor of our positive emotional response. This shows just how persuasive emotional appeals and advertising can be.

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‘Angry’ Joe Vargas: an Echo in the Spiral of Silence

By Kasey Hullett

Joe Vargas quit his cubicle job back in 2008 shortly after doing a review for the latest Madden franchise game. The video combined sketch and serious criticism. It showed football players tackling developers in the game studio. The video shortly went viral and soon enough the developer contacted Vargas and assured him that the points of criticism that he pointed out would be fixed for next year’s game.

Little did he know, he would become one of the loudest voices in gaming and movie criticism on the internet. With almost 2.5 million subscribers and over 485 million views today, the Angry Joe Show is a widely successful YouTube channel. It even spawned a gaming community known as the Angry Army.

Vargas is a YouTube gaming personality. However, his coverage of new movies and games would also classify him as an opinion journalist. He reviews works with realistic criticisms and previews games with developers. However, the companies he reviews do not pay him.

The giants in the industry frequently cover video game and movie journalism. Take for example the online entertainment media outlet Ign.

IGN claims in its reviewing policy that:

Under no circumstances are review scores influenced by anything other than our own opinions on the quality of the product in question. Scores cannot be bought, sold, traded for favors or promises of future favors, or any other form of exchange or manipulation. . . . Most reviews are conducted using publisher-, studio-, or developer-provided review copies and screenings.

They claim that by receiving free copies of these works, they are getting the review out in a timely manner–when in reality this skews their perception of the work. Look here at the extensive IGN gaming library provided by the publishers they review.

In my opinion, this clearly breaks the SPJ Code of Ethics. They do not act independently. I can understand generating revenue by having advertisements on their website from the publishers, but it should be up to the news organization to buy the products that they are reviewing. They should not generate good favor for what seem to be frequently generous reviews.

Take for example the recent release of EA’s Star Wars Battlefront game. IGN rates them an 8/10 for:

improving on the classic original Battlefront, developer DICE has made almost exactly the Star Wars multiplayer shooter I’ve always wanted.

Angry Joe gave it a 5/10 for an average game with a step in the wrong direction.

Let’s map out the changes of the previous battlefront games of 2004 and 2005 to the 2015 game.

Pros: The 1080p graphics are a clear improvement to the game. The sounds are fantastic and the online modes are massive and immersive.

Cons: There are only 13 maps. There is no single player campaign. You cannot mod it. There is no space combat. There is no galactic conquest. There are no classes. There are only a few vehicles. You can only play in the classic era. You have to pay for in-game purchases on top of a $60 game. It also costs $50 for the season pass and each DLC will cost as well.

Therefore, from 10 years, the game series suffered greatly. How could IGN rate a Star Wars game without space combat or a single player an 8/10?

The Spiral of Silence.

IGN does not want to give a game made by EA a bad rating. This game giant owns the rights to the Battlefront series, The Sims, Madden, and almost every sport game imaginable. They are a major source of game reviews and clearly, IGN doesn’t want to upset them with a negative review.

As a journalist, I understand not wanting to burn a source, but this is unacceptable. This is providing more money to producers and developers that continue to create bad products with money hungry in-game purchases. This not only continues down the spiral of silence, but it promotes unethical reviews.

Vargas, along with a score of other YouTube personalities, will continue to give reviews without being bought by the companies they critique. As these self-made journalists continue to produce ethical content, it is alarming to see larger companies selling out.

I can only hope that other companies will take standards that are more ethical.


  1. Angry Joe Show YouTube Channel
  2. Angry Joe original Madden video
  3. Angry Joe Show Website
  4. IGN Battlefront Review
  5. IGN Reviewing Policy
  6. IGN Game Library Video
  7. SPJ Code of Ethics
  8. Angry Joe Show Battlefront Review
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Aristotle and Persuasion: Are Gossip Magazines Doing This Right?

By Anna Van Der Like

According to AristotleMagazinethe New World Encyclopedia, “celebrity” journalism is less reputable than other types of journalism. Some would argue that these gossip columns are not journalistic at all. Yet they are incredibly successful and continue to sell even in a time when print media is slowly fading away.

Aristotle taught us that persuasion required ethos, pathos and logos. It would be hard to argue that celebrity journalism utilizes the logos aspect, but is there an argument that this type of journalism uses ethos and pathos? Gossip magazines have managed to not only capture an audience, but to hold onto them.

Ethos correlates with attractiveness. In a journalistic sense, it seems that the sources used by gossip columnists are not the most credible. Yet the topic of conversation within the articles usually is an incredibly attractive celebrity. They may not be using the ethos in the journalistic sense, but they are still taking Aristotle’s advice.

Us Weekly has an entire section of their website dedicated to beauty. Just by scrolling through the front page of the website, anyone can see the amount of attractive people that Us Weekly is using to bring in readers. Is this what Aristotle was talking about? It certainly seems to be persuading the readers.

Pathos is an emotional appeal. Journalists and psychologists alike have questioned whether or not positive or negative headlines bring in readers. A quick scroll down Radar Online will show which they think works best. Today’s titles consist of: ‘MOMAGER MELTDOWN’ ‘HOUSE FROM HELL’ and ‘BLOODY CRIME SCENE PHOTOS’.

The emotions that these magazines are looking for are shock, anger, disbelief and intrigue. These overdramatic headlines certainly achieve their goal: they grab people’s attention. It is not certain whether or not this area of journalism is crossing an ethical line.

Gossip news has always brought forward ethical questions: what is the reasonable expectation for a celebrity’s privacy, are the ‘facts’ are actually checked, are these headlines appropriate for journalism, etc. The issue at this point is that everyone has come to expect this from gossip journalists.

Nobody cares as much when gossip magazines get their facts wrong because they are expected to be wrong. We expect paparazzi to be hated by all, but they are technically photojournalists. Cliché headlines are expected from gossip magazines, but in other areas of media they are unprofessional.

So how and why does “celebrity” journalism still exist? My theory is that their use of Aristotle’s advice about persuasion has worked in their advantage. Now it is too late, the public is hooked on this information and they do not care about ethics, professionalism or even the truth. They just want more of it.

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Charleston Post and Courier vs. Battery: Reporter does the right thing and a soccer team owner overreacts

UPDATE: That didn’t take long. The United Soccer League stepped in a few hours after this happened (on April 8, 2016), and the Post & Courier has its credentials again. League president Jake Edwards’ statement spanked the club owner:  “We will be taking the appropriate steps to prevent instances like this from happening again.”


A Charleston Post & Courier reporter this week did exactly what quality journalists do: He sought comment from a party in a lawsuit before publication.

The subject is Eric Bowman, the multimillionaire owner of the Charleston Battery, a minor-league soccer team. His response was even more minor league: He removed the press credentials of the P&C’s sports staff.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning paper responded by announcing that it will not cover the the team, with editor Mitch Pugh saying “our news coverage cannot and will not be swayed by the withholding of media credentials.”

Some quick thoughts on why banning journalists for doing their job is foolish:

* If the paper had published the story without seeking comment, Bowman would rightfully howl. It’s right there in the SPJ code of ethics, under the “Seek Truth and Report it” section that says journalists should “diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

Trying to punish someone for doing right is a rarely good strategy in business, PR or life.

* It’s a legitimate news story, because the team owner was part of a major Charleston business. And in civil lawsuits – where a plaintiff can pretty much claim anything against a defendant – it’s particularly important to seek a defendant’s response to allegations.

* The sports section has nothing to do with the business section. (If you’re mad at a spouse, do you kick the dog?) Grownups who deal with media know that business, sports, news and opinion are separate parts of a news organization, and the advertising side is separate from the news operation.

* It doesn’t help the United Soccer League, of which the Battery is a member. SB Nation explained a few reasons why, but it missed one: Often, news organizations make deals with each other to swap stories so they don’t have to travel to away games, particularly for smaller-time sports such as soccer.

* It doesn’t work. Florida International University learned this the hard way in 2014, when it tried to ban a Miami Herald reporter who was writing tough stories about the hapless program. It led to lots of stories nationwide about FIU’s shenanigans, and FIU quickly backed down.

* The business story doesn’t go away.

* Major league sports don’t do this. While reporter access (at least to those working outside of the networks that pay billions of dollars for rights) is tightening, major leaguers know that scrutiny and criticism is part of the definition of being a major leaguer.

* If other media in Charleston do the right thing, they will ask the same question about the lawsuit so they can be banned, too. Or they may simply choose not to cover the team out of solidarity. While news organizations revel in their independence, a fact that PR practitioners use to their advantage, media occasionally join together when one is slighted. This seems like a good time for that.


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U.S. newsrooms mirror larger hierarchies of power

By Kendall Worman

Newsrooms in the U.S. are not exactly the most diverse places when it comes to race. Is it possible for journalists to report objectively and holistically on race and minority issues when the journalists telling those stories don’t represent even a significant fraction of that demographic?

According to The Atlantic a 2012 diversity study by the Radio Television Digital News Association, 86 percent of television news directors and 91.3 percent of radio news directors are Caucasian.

These numbers are important, because they represent the lenses of reporters who cannot attest to the experiences of people of color and minorities, who comprise 37 percent of the U.S. population. These large percentages also represent a hegemonic microsystem that calls the shots on what content gets reported and how much of that content gets reported.

As a white journalist, I am in no way attempting to speak for black reporters or black people. I am white; I am a woman; I am a journalist. I am expressing my sentiment to institutions of power in hopes of dismantling hegemonic powers from controlling the bodies, experiences and livelihood of the oppressed. This control is a detriment of newsrooms and substantive reporting.

Slavery, Jim Crow Laws, mass incarceration and systemic racism are planted in the roots of America’s existence. Therefore, those occurrences cannot be accurately understood and reported solely by those who literally cannot experience certain things because of the color of their skin. Despite your stances on race relations in the U.S., that statement cannot be refuted.

I don’t have to relay a history lesson about racism in the U.S. for someone to understand that white people have been at the summit of its very perpetuation. In order to grasp the concept of how white-heavy newsrooms are detrimental to accurate reporting, we must recognize the stark resemblances of those newsrooms to the U.S. government and other hegemonic structures of power.

The Washington Post reported that the 114th United States Congress is 80 percent white and 80 percent male. While the homogeneous trend is apparently diversifying according to these statistics compared to recent years, this makeup of decision-makers cannot accurately represent the needs and experiences of an increasingly diversifying society.

American newsrooms are demographically worse when it comes to minorities. It is crucial in not only the business aspect of journalistic distribution, but also in the ethical realm for newsrooms to have an equal amount of minorities reporting on issues that other minority readers can relate to. That is democratic common sense.

Society will prioritize the importance of people based on what they see and consume; If they see whiteness put on a pedestal and minority issues barely at all, that will shape their perceptions and treatment of the people around them. This mirrors a hierarchy of concern where white is at the top, and non-white is consistently at the bottom.

In The Atlantic’s story, the late Dori Maynard who was president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, said,

“African-Americans are in stories about crime, sports, entertainment. Latinos in immigration. Native Americans and Asian Americans apparently don’t contribute to the fabrics of our lives.”

The deep complexities of racism and social injustices go unnoticed far too often in newsrooms. Diversifying these spaces is not enough. The colliding implications of being a black reporter in America can cause levels of influence to come in conflict with one another. We must understand that perceptions based off of experiences and socially created obstacles, affect reporters reporting on sensitive topics. Reporting on gut-wrenching acts of violence against people of color can not and should not be avoided; it should however, be understood by executive voices that these occurrences are a result of a hegemonic system of power that has made life unlivable for those who have brown skin.

It is not logical for this racial disparity to exist in American newsrooms when news stories surrounding issues of racially motivated attacks by law enforcement against people of color have been so prevalent over the last several years.

An NPR story honed in on the experiences of featured black reporters who have weathered through assignments of Ferguson and the numerous tragedies following. Gene Demby recounts the experiences of Ida B. Wells and her reporting on lynchings of the 19th century. He examines the overwhelming pressure on black journalists to report on issues surrounding people of color due to their underwhelming presence in newsrooms.

Demby said in the story, “It does seem there’s one good way of preventing black journalists who cover black death from burning out, or relegating their own well-being to ‘minor importance’ status, one that was far less inevitable in Well’s time: hire enough of us that no one black reporter or editor in a newsroom has to feel like it’s entirely ‘fallen upon him’ to tell these stories.”

Minority journalists offer new perspectives and perceptions of otherwise alien conditions than white people do on issues of race and prejudice. Therefore, people of color should be the reporters at the helm of this coverage. Just as overwhelmingly white bodies of government exercise their constructed sovereignty and will against those who do not share their same beliefs or experiences, newsroom directors and corporation owners play that same oppressive role. Their decisions tell society who and what is important — often negating those who are not white and male. Representation matters.

When hegemonic powers make all executive decisions for an establishment, politically or journalistically speaking, a significant loss is taken in ethics, integrity and overall humanity.


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