Monday, December 07, 2009

'Journalistic Ethics' No Oxymoron

December 7, 2009, 10:00 a.m.

Media Watch: "Woman allegedly drove into backyard"
(brought to you by*)

Is the concept of "journalistic ethics" an oxymoron?

Yesterday's Press-Citizen resolved the issue once and for all. Not only does the journalistic profession have ethics, they are sometimes applied to excess.

Consider the paper's headline from yesterday: "Woman Allegedly Drove Into Backyard." Here is the story in its entirety (with the "driver's" name deleted:

An Iowa City woman was arrested early Saturday after she allegedly drove her vehicle drunk into the yard behind a house on Hotz Avenue in Iowa City, according to police.

Iowa City police responded at 3:06 a.m. Saturday and found the car still running with [name], 23, passed out behind the wheel, police said.

Officers woke [her] and found she had vomit on her clothing, a strong odor of alcohol, poor balance and was disoriented, police said.

Officers administered two tests to determine [her] blood-alcohol content. The preliminary breath test showed a blood-alcohol content of .155 and the DataMaster test showed a .146 blood-alcohol content, both above the legal limit of .08 to operate a motor vehicle in Iowa, police said.

[She] faces the charge of drunken driving. A number for [her] could not be found, and she could not be reached for comment.
I couldn't resist putting the following comment on the Press-Citizen's Web site reproduction of this story:

Let us address for a moment the use of the word "allegedly." It is commendable that the media has -- for the most part, and for some time now -- used the qualifier "allegedly" to avoid charging (and possibly defaming) someone with a false assertion of having committed a crime when there are not yet any formal findings or convictions.

However, when a woman is found by the police behind the wheel in a car with vomit on her clothing, and the engine running, in the backyard of her own or someone else's home, what are the possibilities other than that she drove there?

She and the car fell out of the tree. She was brought in by a tow truck, and left as a prank. Someone else drove the car into the back yard, brought the woman from elsewhere, vomited on her clothing, and placed her inside the car. The car simply materialized (though not yet even allegedly) having been beamed down from an alien craft of some sort.

Let it never again be said that "journalistic ethics" is an oxymoron.

12/7/2009 9:39:52 AM
To assert in a headline that someone is guilty of drunk driving when they have not yet been convicted would be one thing. But all that this headline "alleged" was that she "drove" -- albeit into someone's back yard. It seems to me, given the rest of this story, that the paper could have legitimately and ethically asserted as fact that she "drove into backyard."

With this kind of display of ethical caution let no one ever suspect that journalistic ethics is an oxymoron.


For the recent blog entries you may be looking for, go to "There Is No War in Afghanistan," December 4, 2009, and go to the bottom of that blog entry.
* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson
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