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The Therapy Sessions
Tuesday, June 01, 2004

An interesting problem

When should a reporter refuse to get involved?

Via Steven Den Beste: Why We Hate the Media. My synopsis:

A philosophical debate is hosted at a small college. Peter Jennings (ABC) and Mike Wallace (CBS' 60 Minutes) are questioned about journalistic ethics. Jennings is presented with a hypothetical situation: he is given exclusive access to accompany enemy soldiers as they ambush and slaughter American soldiers in war. Given prior knowledge of the attack plans, what would Jennings do? He answers that he would try in some way to tell the Americans that an attack was coming to save American lives. Wallace is appalled and he talks about the importance of not interfering in the story. Jennings recants, saying that Wallace is right: a reporter should just stand aside and let the attack happen.

Den Beste is very fair. In a way, he says, the situation is analogous to a defense attorney giving the best representation he can to a murderer who is clearly guilty.

Den Beste turns this around: suppose the client - now free - tells the defense attorney of his plans to kill again? Should the defense attorney do anything to prevent the crime ? Of course, the defense attorney should tell the authorities and recuse himself from the future defense of the murderer. I suspect that many lawyers would not do this, though.

I feel that Wallace and Jennings should have been pressed further.

Suppose they had been invited to ride with the Germans during the surprise assault that began the Battle Of The Bulge, where the Nazis slaughtered thousands of Americans and nearly blunted the Allied advance through Europe? A successful counter-attack could have completely changed the war - a high price to pay for not getting involved in the story.

I suppose they would say that World War II was different: Nazis were barbaric while Baathists and jihadis are....are what?

We don't need to even bring war into it: Suppose a serial killer gives a reporter "access" as he murders a child?

At what point does a journalist put being an American citizen in front of his craft?

I think that the idea of journalistic fairness has been taken too far. It reminds me of the excessive legalism of world court types who want Saddam Hussein to have every opportunity to prove his innocence, despite the fact that he is guilty as sin. Every legal motion delays the justice that his case so clearly requires.

Delaying justice while we go through the legal dance. It takes a certain depravity to think in such terms.

In rooting for America to lose in Iraq, depraved is what the American media is becoming.

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