Ethics in America II
War Stories: National Security & the News
Four years ago, a coalition led by American forces invaded the Central Asian nation of Khaoistan, where warlords had destroyed the central government and were supporting major terrorist activities. Today, the process of rebuilding the nation and fighting off an insurgency continues, covered by a group of journalists based in the capital city.
One of the events journalists in Khaoistan had a chance to cover was the reopening of Blubek Sewage-Treatment Plant Number One, where coalition forces and American contractors made 22 million dollars in repairs. Unfortunately, two weeks later, the sewage-treatment plant is in the news again—when it blows up. It seems insurgents planted two explosive devices at the plant. How much coverage will the bad news of the explosion get, compared to the good news of the reopening two weeks earlier? Is there any validity to the claim that progress in Khaoistan is underreported?
Soon after the treatment plant explosions, a journalist becomes “embedded” with an army unit in Khaoistan. The unit is going on a raid of a house where an insurgency leader is based. On the way to the operation, the embedded journalist sees another unit that has been in battle. Dead American soldiers are in body bags. Should the journalist photograph this image of war? Why or why not?
At the operation itself, the journalist videotapes a disturbing incident: an inexperienced American soldier shoots and kills a wounded, unarmed Khaoistani prisoner he had been assigned to guard. No one else has this video. What should the journalist and his editors back home do with it?
Meanwhile, back in the United States, a newspaper journalist covering the Electronic Intelligence Agency is approached by someone at that agency who claims to have documents proving that the agency has been acting illegally. But the source will not share the information without a promise of complete confidentiality. Should the journalist make that promise?
After the journalist promises confidentiality, she obtains documents showing that the EIA has been conducting a domestic spying operation, apparently in violation of the agency’s charter. Further research confirms the existence of this operation. Should the newspaper run the story, even if the government says that revealing the operation would hamper the war on terror?
Eventually, the story is published. The government begins an investigation into the leak of classified information, and demands that the journalist reveal her source. Will the journalist go to jail to protect the source’s confidentiality?
SENIOR EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
H. Peet Foster
SENIOR AUDIO ENGINEER
ETHICS CONTENT ADVISOR
Lisa H. Newton, Ph.D.
John D. Mason
Judge Richard Posner
Major Elizabeth L. Robbins
Meet the Participants
Jake Tapper (Moderator)
Steven A. Boylan
Karen DeYoungJohn Donvan
Stephen F. Hayes
James F. Hoge Jr.
View Program and Text Highlights
The video highlight shows our panelists in action. The Discussion Guide frames their debates in contemporary terms, while the Ethics Reader grounds the discussion in the philosophy of the past.
|Four years ago, a coalition led by American forces invaded the Central Asian nation of Khaoistan, where warlords had destroyed the central government and were supporting major terrorist activities. Today, the process of rebuilding the nation and fighting off an insurgency continues, covered by a group of journalists based in the capital city.
A while after his arrival, a journalist becomes “embedded” with an army unit in Khaoistan. The unit is going on a raid of a house where an insurgency leader is based. At the operation itself, the journalist videotapes a disturbing incident: an inexperienced American soldier shoots and kills a wounded, unarmed Khaoistani prisoner he had been assigned to guard. No one else has this video. What should the journalist do? He can decide not to send this video back to his editors or if he does send it back should his editors air it? Why or why not?
Read Text Highlights
Framing This Discussion (from the Discussion Guide)
When we assign journalists to cover a war, and they are embedded among the troops, what do we expect in their reporting?
The duties of patriotism and secrecy that concern us in wartime have to do with military advantage and the need to raise hopes at home and sow despair among the enemy. Many believe that the only stories and images that should emanate from the war zone should show the enemy still ruthless, but helpless and in disarray, while our troops are shown as virtuous, heroic, enormously powerful and winning. Some would say that showing our troops in a bad light should not be reported.
When journalists under fire are asked as a matter of patriotism not to make public what they see, their country may suffer in two distinct and different ways. First, the journalist’s function to tell the truth that is needed for citizens to act rationally for the public good may be lost. Second, the true and good understanding of patriotism, which should be concerned for the “rightness” of the country as well as its identity, may be lost. In asking journalists to self-censor their work in the interests of patriotism, would we lose the unique perspective that the journalist can bring to the country’s understanding of itself?
For a deeper examination of the analysis abridged here, see the Discussion Guide.
Philosophical Grounding of This Discussion (from the Ethics Reader)
Thomas Jefferson once said that there should be a revolution at least every twenty years, and that we would understand the rights and wrongs of it by watching the reaction of the people:
To read selections from philosophical texts relevant to this program, see Ethics Reader.
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Most of the information for mainstream media reports on the war in Iraq comes from the U.S. military. An embedded journalist explains how this system can distort the news.
Confidential Sources: Journalists Under Siege
In most democratic nations, journalists receive a high level of protection for their confidential sources. Why doesn’t the United States give its journalists the same protection, and what should be done about it?
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Reader Reader: Ethics in America II
Selections from the writings of the great ethicists of the Western tradition