Tag Archives: ethics

Should this photo be published?

How should the media portray violent acts?

When South Africa’s largest Sunday paper, the Sunday Times, on its April 19 front page published a photograph of a man in the act of being stabbed and killed, readers took to the social media and aired their views.

Some commentators supported the move; others furiously condemned the decision claiming that the paper was only interested in sales.

It is common for photojournalists to be condemned for the job they do. Some in the industry are accused of taking photographs and walking away with Pulitzer prizes unconcerned about what became of the people in the images that earned them recognition. But that’s not the case in this instance.

Although the reporter and the photographer followed Emmanuel Sithole, the man under attack taking one bloody picture after another, they also rushed him to hospital where he later died from his wounds. Also, the newspaper established a fund to help Sithole’s family with funeral arrangements in Mozambique, the victim’s home country.

The front-page photograph helped police to identify and to capture the killers. It also humanized the horror of xenophobia. Sithole had been killed in a series of violent acts instigated against a non-South African. Also, the image, together with the story’s headline, “Kill thy Neighbor: Alex attack brings home SAs shame,” placed a mirror in the faces of South Africans to examine themselves and to recognize the brute force of their hatred for African nationals.

(The online version of the story together with the images can be found at http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2015/04/19/kill-thy-neighbour-alex-attack-brings-home-sa-s-shame1. Readers can click on the main photograph below the headline to see all the other images. Alex, where the stabbing occurred, is a poor residential area on the north side of Johannesburg.)

For most of this century, xenophobia has been a common feature dotting the South African landscape, with regular incidents of viscous violence. For instance, in 2008, a man, also from Mozambique, was burned alive at an informal settlement on the east side of Johannesburg. The graphic photographs as the members of the South Africa police force struggled to extinguish the flames can be found at http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2015/02/19/sa-s-xenophobia-shame-burning-man-case-shut

The hatred of Africans by South Africans has continued, in part because of a lack of strong leadership by the government. The government and other leaders in society have sent mixed messages about xenophobia and the accompanying violent attacks.

In a recorded interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation in February following a spate of xenophobic attacks, President Jacob Zuma defended South Africans. He said, “South Africans are not as xenophobic as people say. It’s an exaggeration…it’s not xenophobia.”

Also, in March, during a public address, King Goodwill Zwelithini, the leader of the Zulu’s a South African ethnic group, also said “We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and go back to their countries.” On social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, the King’s words were greeted with a mixture of excitement and shame.

Consistent with general anti-immigration sentiment and views, some South Africans think African nationals steal jobs and are a burden on the country. Also, African nationals are stereotyped in the media as dirty and as criminals who over populate residential homes.

But, when the media cover violence by publishing a foreign national in the act of being killed, people can reflect on their ideologies, help the police with arrests and organize for social change.

St. Louis’ forgotten espionage case

Suppose you are an investigative journalist and you have a confidential source who divulges state secrets that you print. The government hunts down the leaker, arrests this person and charges him with a crime. You, the journalist, are the only person who can verify if the leak was actually this person or not. You are subpoenaed, but you won’t give up the name of your confidential source.

Eventually, the government gives up trying to make you speak and tries the leaker without your testimony. The government convicts the person on circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors claim this a victory for the government. Since you never surrendered your source, journalists claim it as a victory as well.

Except for one thing: The person convicted wasn’t your source.

As a journalist, do you have a responsibility to exonerate an innocent man, even if by doing so you expose the true source you are protecting? Or do you remain silent, knowing that you did your job.

Now consider this: The hypothetical may be true.

Former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, a Missourian who graduated from Millikin University and Washington University Law School,  recently was sentenced to 42 months for violating multiple counts of the Espionage Act (story).

The conviction was obtained without the testimony of James Risen, a New York Times reporter. Sterling was convicted as Risen’s source in a chapter of the book State Of War, which described a botched CIA attempt to hinder Iran’s nuclear program.  The plot involved a Russian scientist, code named Merlin, giving fake nuclear plans to the Iranians.

The government pinned its investigation on Sterling, who had previously brought a race discrimination claim against the CIA.   Sterling is black and the CIA overwhelmingly white. Sterling also talked to a Senate intelligence hearing about his concerns about the Iranian project.

Sterling fits a mold – disgruntled employee out to get revenge on the organization he thinks mistreated him. One of his lawyers even suggested he’d go public with his concerns. And Sterling had multiple opportunities to talk with Risen. Risen wrote a story about Sterling’s EEOC case in the New York Times.

Sterling has steadfastly denied he was the source for Risen’s chapter. He did not take the stand to defend himself in the trial because his lawyer thought the government had not made its case. But Sterling’s case was tried in Alexandria, Virginia, where many of the people have connections to government or government contracts.

Also, on a case that started as a racial discrimination case, no African Americans served on the jury. In fact, throughout the trial, the only blacks in the courtroom were Sterling and two employees.  The venue was perfect for the government, which secured a sentence of guilty on circumstantial evidence.

Sterling has always denied being the source. In 2012 he went on record speaking to students at Millikin University.  He said he was not a fan of Risen’s silence – even though that silence was viewed in most of the media as intended to protect Sterling.

“I am innocent,” he said. Not only that, but Sterling was quick to point out that his wife was not a fan of Risen’s either.

“I wouldn’t want to put those two in a room together,” Sterling said. “She’s not happy with him.”

Sterling didn’t realize how desperately the CIA would pursue this case and how much the deck would be stacked against him. And the only person who could clear him – Risen – couldn’t.

“One thing that the trial showed me that I really didn’t realize, was that the moment I started complaining about discrimination, a sort of machine came together at the CIA and kept me in its sights from beginning to end,” Sterling wrote after the trial. “Funny how only through the trial I learned that every step of the way I took to legally stand up for myself, there was an Agency person there (the House Committee, the Senate Committee, etc.). “I could go on, but I shouldn’t…just makes my frustration grow. Particularly with regard to a certain gentleman (Risen) who I assume either is mutedly troubled or doesn’t give a damn.”

Sterling was convicted on metadata. There was no hard evidence that convicted him, only circumstantial evidence, made stronger by the theatrics of CIA officials testifying behind screens and an appearance by Condoleeza Rice. Many doubted the government’s ability to prosecute Sterling without Risen. Not only did the government manage to prosecute the case, it got a guilty verdict without Risen.

Sterling was sentenced to Federal prison, claiming to be an innocent man. He felt persecuted by the CIA and abandoned by those who could help but didn’t, especially many in the black community who failed to step up and help in the early days of the case.

“I talked with a lot of people,” he said in 2014. “I talked to the NAACP, the Rainbow Push Coalition, congressmen, senators, you name it. No one wanted to get involved in this.”

In fact, one person, with considerable political influence, a staffer for Missouri’s Lacy Clay actually advised Sterling to move to Canada. Sterling refused.

“I couldn’t do that,” Sterling said. “I couldn’t run.”

Sterling is justifiably angry with is the press, especially mainstream Washington press. For the press, the story was strictly about Risen’s battle with the government and First Amendment issues. The media never questioned Sterling’s guilt or innocence.

“At the trial, you could count the number of media outlets there on two hands and have fingers left over,” said Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute of Public Accuracy. “Once the Risen case was over, the media lost interest.”

Press members assumed Sterling was Risen’s source. They didn’t look at staff members of the Senate Intelligence committee (where the FBI was looking until the CIA changed its focus to Sterling) to see what they had to say. They didn’t follow up on Risen’s original story about Operation Merlin. And even though Risen said multiple times on the record that he had multiple sources for the story, some of whom couldn’t have been Sterling, the press never followed these leads. Rather, their actions were more in line with Randal Eliason, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and an American University faculty member.

I have no idea where the truth lies concerning Operation Merlin and Im certainly no apologist for the excesses of the CIA during the war on terror. But given the choice between believing Sterlings account (as reflected in Risens book) and that of the career CIA people who testified at his trial, I see no particular reason to believe Sterling. (Eliason story)

Eliason is an attorney who could easily think a reporter such as Risen would rely on one source for a story as big as Operation Merlin. The press should know that Risen wouldn’t take a story like that to press without multiple sources. The press should not have assumed Sterling was Risen’s main source for the story.

Instead, the press concentrated on Risen’s struggle against the government and his First Amendment stand. The press turned Risen into a hero. The press concentrated on the so called war between Obama and Whistleblowers (without paying any attention to the whistleblower in Sterling’s case) and the press concentrated on David Petraeus’s sentence compared to those of other leakers, including Sterling. But the press never did its job.

“Sterling could be innocent,” said Marcy Wheeler, who blogs at emptywheel.net, had a seminal story about Sterling in the Nation before the trial (story here) and was present through most of the trial. “He could very easily have steered clear of any confidential sources and pointed Risen in the direction of the story without giving away any details at all.”

During its closing arguments, the defense made just that claim, pointing the finger at defense intelligence staffers Vicki Divoll and Bill Duhnke. Divoll was used by Risen in another chapter of Risen’s book but testified she wasn’t the source. Duhnke never testified.

The defense painted a picture of a journalist doing his job, getting a piece of information and using multiple sources to nail down the (story). It makes more sense than Jeffrey Sterling as the sole source of Risen’s chapter. But the national press never picked up on this story. As a group, the press stayed on the Risen as hero narrative, leaving Sterling alone.

“I’m just a pawn,” Sterling said multiple times. “To the press, I’m nothing. This is all about James Risen to them.

“I’m still in shock that I may go to prison for something that I didn’t do.”

Sterling goes to jail and looks to Risen for the words that would at least make him feel better. Risen is hailed as a First Amendment hero, standing up for reporter’s privilege.  Ethically, Risen can’t say anything about Sterling without jeopardizing his true source, if it isn’t Sterling. But the press, the people who could have truly covered the Sterling case, avoided it. They took the easy way out while lauding a reporter who told an important story and made a stand against the government.  Sterling, who actually did the right things as a government employee by going through proper channels to tell of a mistake, heads to prison.

Risen didn’t fail Sterling – the rest of the press did.

Sterling goes to prison for 42 months, the longest term of any person charged under the Espionage Act during Barack Obama’s presidency. If he was guilty, it’s a fair term. If he was innocent…

Scott Lambert is a journalism/English professor at Millikin University. 

Parties and the press

JEFFERSON CITY – The Jefferson City press corps has voted to give the Missouri Times until the end of March to clean up the news organization’s ethics mess or face the possibility of losing credentials to cover events in Missouri’s state capital.

Ten representatives of wire service, print and broadcast news organizations met Monday to discuss the lobbyist-sponsored parties that Times’ publisher Scott Faughn had held for lawmakers at the newspaper’s office in Jefferson City. While some press corps members appeared ready to vote to take away the Times’ allocation of capital office and parking spaces, the group approved a motion giving it the chance to draft a newsroom policy of editorial independence as well as time to demonstrate that the lobbyist-sponsored parties were no longer taking place.

Collin Reischman, the Times’ managing editor, told the group Faughn was not a journalist and was unschooled in ethics policies. And Reischman said Faughn was trying to hire a consultant to give advice on the development of a mission statement, an employee handbook and “best practices” that would prevent problems in the future.

“I do take issue with the way Scott does things,” Reischman said. “I told him fifty different times that he shouldn’t do them again. If it were up to me, there wouldn’t be any parties.”

While capital city reporters and lawmakers had been aware of the Times’ parties for months, the issue became public Jan. 4 when Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune reported details of as many as six events, including the fact they “went largely unreported to the state Ethics Commission.”

James Klahr, the executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, said Tuesday that “it would be a good idea” for lobbyists who spend money on lawmakers, either individually or in a group settings like the Times’ parties, to report it to the commission.

The reporting requirements aside, several reporters present for Monday’s meeting said the parties violated journalistic ethical standards by creating an apparent, if not a real, conflict of interest.

“This has raised credibility questions for us,” said Phill Brooks, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri and the KMOX radio reporter covering the capital. “We uphold standards of editorial independence and the avoidance of a conflict of interest.”

Brooks noted that two years ago, when the press corps first accredited the Missouri Times, he requested a written policy that described its editorial independence since both the Times’ founders, Faughn and former House Speaker Rod Jetton, had been involved in politics. Brooks said he never got the policy.

POLITICAL ACTIVITIES

The Times publishes a weekly print product that’s distributed free of charge, and makes stories available on an Internet website: http://themissouritimes.com. Reischman said the press run is usually 1,000 to 2,000 issues, but sometimes has been as large as 5,000. The publication has two full time reporters, Reischman and Rachael Herndon, whose editorial independence was questioned during Monday’s meeting.

Herndon was identified as the president of the Cole County Young Republicans as recently as June of last year. Copies of emails were distributed at Monday’s meeting showing that prior to the November general election, Herndon was going door-to-door campaigning in behalf of Bryan Stumpe, the Republican candidate for Cole County circuit judge. In encouraging others to work for Stumpe, Herndon’s email said, “The current judge is one of the last Democrats holding office in Cole County.” The incumbent judge, Patricia Joyce, retained her seat.

“Standards that we expect are not being met when a company is soliciting lobbyists for parties and a reporter working for a paper is a party operative,” Keller said.

“I’m not denying that that was problem,” Reischman responded, “But we are rectifying that now.”

In an interview, Reischman said he had been aware of Herndon’s prior political work and that he had told her she had to stop it. But he said he apparently hadn’t been emphatic enough on that point. “I should have been more clear,” he said. Since then, Reischman said, he had had a “come to Jesus meeting” with Herndon, and she remains a reporter.

Neither Faughn nor Herndon responded to a Gateway Journalism Review reporter’s requests for comment.

According to the Missouri Times web site, Herndon studied communication and art history at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and previously worked as a campaign staff member. Reischman has a journalism degree from Webster University.

The web site also describes Faughn as the Missouri Times’ publisher and president of SEMO TIMES, a weekly newspaper in Poplar Bluff, Mo. It also describes Faughn as a member of the St. Louis Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The SPJ’s Code of Ethics says journalists should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.” The code also says journalists should “refuse gifts” and shun “political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.”

Faughn is the former mayor of Poplar Bluff. In 2007 he was convicted in Cape Girardeau County of three counts of forgery.

ALLOCATING SPACE

Journalists covering state government are members of the Missouri Capitol News Association. The organization meets infrequently as the need arises, usually to allocate resources for reporters such as office accommodations, parking spaces and a spot at the Senate press table.

The organization’s bylaws require that for an entity to be credentialed, it must distribute news to a broad segment of the public, be independent of any lobbying activity and demonstrate its ability to cover the capital for at least six months. In addition to the Missouri School of Journalism, KMOX and the Columbia Tribune, journalists at Monday’s meeting represented the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, St. Louis Public Radio, the Missourinet, KRCG-TV, and the Jefferson City News Tribune.

After agreeing that Monday’s meeting was open to coverage by the Gateway Journalism Review, the group discussed plans by the Republican-controlled state Senate to remove reporters from a press table on the floor of the chamber and sequester them in a spot in an upper gallery. It also voted to accredit Eli Yokley, who writes for a blog Politicmo and supplies news to the Joplin Globe, KY3-TV in Springfield and the New York Times.

After airing the controversy about the Missouri Times, the group agreed to reassess the news organization’s performance at a meeting that will be scheduled some time around the legislative Spring break, the last week of March.

First Amendment is no refuge for Clippers owner’s remarks

Editor’s note: This is an opinion article from William H. Freivogel, publisher of the Gateway Journalism Review.

Whether viewed from a legal, moral or ethical vantage point, the lifetime ban that NBA commissioner Adam Silver imposed on racist Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was just and correct.

After Silver announced the punishment, the Twittersphere exploded with claims that the NBA had violated Sterling’s First Amendment right to free speech.

The problem with that argument is the first word of the First Amendment: Congress. “Congress shall make no law” means the government can’t punish people for their speech. It doesn’t mean a corporation or private groups can’t fire people for saying something stupid and hateful.

Ethicists, who fancy having a corner on the truth, may disagree. Al Tompkins, from the Poynter Institute, was quoted on NPR this week asking, “When does newsworthiness trump privacy?”

There is an easy answer to this naïve rhetorical question: At least since Bill Clinton, and arguably since Justice Louis Brandeis and his law partner Samuel Warren came up with the right to privacy more than a century ago because they were offended by gossip columns about the lavish blue-blood parties thrown by the Warrens.

And all that was long before social media and gossip sites such as TMZ demolished the boundary between private and public. As Silver pointed out, even if Sterling made the comment in a private phone call to his girlfriend, the views are his and are public. And remember, Sterling is a public figure who must realize he sacrifices some of his privacy for his celebrity.

Still, Tompkins asks, “Doesn’t he have the right to say what he believes no matter how reprehensible without fear of someone recording it and putting it online?”

Sure, he has the right to say it. So, too, does the NBA have a right to kick him out for saying it.

Building an ethical argument in favor of protecting Sterling’s privacy is ultimately self-defeating and offensive. In a country tarnished by slavery, segregation and bigotry, can it be possible that ethics requires society to protect a racist behaving like a 21st century plantation owner?

Sterling might be able to assemble some legal arguments challenging the NBA’s attempt to force him to sell the team. But those efforts are likely to be fruitless, because the NBA’s constitution seems to say the league’s decision is final and owners have waived their right to challenge it in court.

The telephone conversation with V. Stiviano may have been recorded illegally if Sterling didn’t consent.

But just as news organizations print documents illegally leaked by Snowden and Assange, they also print newsworthy recordings that may have been illegally taped. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled there is a First Amendment right to broadcast illegally recorded conversations.

But does this gossip qualify as news, especially when Russia is seizing eastern Ukraine and people are dying in Syria?

The question answers itself. The Sterling comments have been the most-commented-upon news story of the week.

The nation’s ugly racial history has determined that America’s is destined to struggle with race – even if the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decisions show it is tired of the struggle.

One encouraging sign is that society exacted the maximum punishment on Sterling as an automatic reflex, just as it had last week when Nevada rancher and Tea Party “hero” Cliven Bundy started talking about blacks being better off when they were slaves picking cotton.

We sometimes forget how little time separates us from our institutionally racist past. Those now retiring went to kindergarten at the time Brown v. Board of Education was just desegregating the schools. We lived through segregation and remember that most white parents then disapproved of interracial dating and marriage.

It was only 50 years ago that the Civil Right Act forced restaurants and pools and employers to admit blacks. It may take another 50 years – or more – before we can escape the ghosts of Sterling and Bundy.

Embattled L.A. Clippers owner has a right to privacy, too

Editor’s note: This is an opinion article from William A. Babcock, editor of Gateway Journalism Review.

For anyone spending the past few days in a cave, the person in the eye of the latest media storm is Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.

Sterling ignited the race card, and the media suddenly have diverted their eyes from the Ukraine, a missing airplane and a South Korean ferry. Race is America’s trump card. It’s the nation’s third rail: touch it and you die.

Sterling’s racist comments recently were recorded by his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, and released by TMZ on Saturday. Three days later, NBA commissioner Adam Silver called for NBA owners to force Sterling to sell the Clippers, banned him for life from any association with the league and fined him $2.5 million.

Now Sterling’s remarks were inappropriate, racist, odious, vulgar and hurtful. But they were made in the privacy of his own home, and recorded without his knowledge or consent. So go ahead and throw the first stone. Everyone who has never said something stupid and hurtful in the privacy of his or her own home – everyone who would be comfortable having any and all of his or her utterances broadcast publically in this new-tech world – please stand up.

A truly strange assortment of voices already has been heard on this subject – many speaking out against sanctions against Sterling – and more likely will hit blogs, tweets, newspapers and radio waves in coming days. Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, Libertarians, members of the American Civil Liberties Union from the Skokie-march days and a number of First Amendment free-speech advocates all have offered their commentaries. What strange bedfellows they are.

The public and members of the media should speak out against, and chastise, a public figure’s insensitive, unethical remarks, even though such remarks were made in private. But do remarks uttered in private justify Silver leveling such a punishment?

As former African-American NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote earlier this week: “Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizens’ privacy in such an un-American way?”

Jeff Jacoby, writing recently in the Boston Globe, pointed out it’s illegal in California to secretly record a private conversation. In a free society, he wrote, “private lives and private thoughts aren’t supposed to be everyone’s business.” But, as Jacoby adds, such intrusions, made possible by modern technology, are eroding this value, and the presumption that what people say in their personal lives will stay personal, is all but gone.

In the 1965 U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, William O. Douglas wrote about a “penumbra” right of privacy. Justices Hugo Black and Potter Stewart countered that the Constitution contains no such right.

Today, some notable First Amendment activists who usually side with Douglas on issues of privacy are comfortable supporting the commissioner’s punitive sanctions against Sterling, even though such sanctions would not have been leveled had his privacy not been violated.

Privacy, new technology and the U.S. race card; what a toxic brew. It’s regrettable Silver has drunk so deeply from this draught.

Two wrongs were made: Sterling said something ugly, and these comments were broadcast by the media. But two wrongs don’t mean professional basketball’s commissioner was right in leveling sanctions against the Clippers’ owner. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

When the ends are seen to justify the means, media ethics and media law both suffer. And race once again is able to rear its ugly head.

Journalism’s infatuation with Glenn Greenwald

Editor’s note: This is an opinion column by William H. Freivogel.

The journalism world’s embrace of Glenn Greenwald and his advocacy reporting is now complete with the award of the Pulitzer Prize to the Guardian for Greenwald’s disclosure of Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency secrets.

As with many youthful infatuations, the journalism world has rushed headlong into this relationship without listening to the alarms that surely went off in the heads of veteran journalists. Some journalists may be ambivalent about Greenwald’s ethics, but not ambivalent enough to withhold journalism’s top prize – or even to publicly debate whether it should have been awarded to his former newspaper.

The Pulitzer’s rules are broad. They require adherence to “the highest journalistic principles,” which are explained as “values such as honesty, accuracy and fairness.”

Did Greenwald live up to the highest journalists principles?

The Society for Professional Journalists’ code of ethics requires that journalists “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.” The Association Press Managing Editors state that “the newspaper should strive for impartial treatment of issues and dispassionate handling of controversial subjects.” The American Society of Newspaper Editors demands “impartiality” and states that “every effort must be made to assure that the news content is accurate, free from bias and in context, and that all sides are presently fairly.” National Public Radio demands its reporters adhere to “impartiality as citizens and public figures. … We are not advocates.”

Yet Greenwald is unabashedly and proudly an advocate who ridicules traditional journalistic ethics, as well as those, such as Bill Keller, the former New York Times editor who espouse those ethics.

As Greenwald put it so very elegantly: “If the U.S. government said you shouldn’t publish this, and you shouldn’t publish that, and you shouldn’t publish this other thing, because to do so will endanger national security, Bill Keller proudly said the New York Times didn’t publish it. He was … beaming, like a third-grader that had just gotten a gold star from his teacher.”

In addition to ridiculing Keller, Greenwald said he was fundamentally dishonest and “deceitful” for trying to be impartial. Greenwald calls instead for “a looser, more passionate form of new media reporting.”

He is passionate.

At the time his first stories were published a year ago, Greenwald made overblown claims about what he had found. He maintained that the NSA could “monitor every single conversation and every single form of human behavior anywhere in the world.” He also stated that “the claim that current NSA spying is legal is dubious in the extreme.”

In fact, the NSA program primarily collected metadata, not the content of telephone calls – a distinction many critics missed – and it had been approved by Congress, the president and most courts.

Don’t misunderstand. The Washington Post’s Pulitzer was well-deserved. The Snowden revelations printed in the Washington Post and the Guardian were clearly the biggest news story of the year. And that’s what the Pulitzer is supposed to reward.

The Snowden disclosures are more important than the Pentagon Papers. Disclosure of current abuses of privacy is more significant than a multiple-volume history of the Vietnam War.

The Snowden leaks forced President Obama to admit that the data collection had not been as effective as claimed in stopping terrorist incidents. And it has forced the president to call for reforms – although having phone companies hold onto metadata instead of the government may be insignificant.

All of these are strong reasons to justify giving the Public Service Pulitzer to the Post – and possibly the Guardian.

Nor have many Greenwald critics provided good reasons for denying the Pulitzer to the Guardian. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called Snowden a “traitor” and Greenwald an “accomplice,” for example.

Snowden is not a traitor, and Greenwald is not an accomplice. Snowden probably violated the World War I-era Espionage Act by disclosing government secrets he was sworn to protect. But that’s not treason. And Greenwald’s reporting of the government secrets is exactly what the press is supposed to do when it comes upon secret government practices that the American people should know about. In some ways, Greenwald harkens back to such icons as I.F. Stone, the legendary leftist critic of the American military. But Stone never won a Pulitzer for news reporting.

Greenwald, by turning his Rio residence into a repository for Snowden’s documents and parceling them out to news outlets, has skated close to the line of accomplice. But he has taken care to play a journalistic role in connection with the stories based on the documents he was distributing.

Nor have ad hominem attacks on Greenwald been persuasive. Some critics pointed out that he spoke to Socialist groups and took anti-Israeli positions. Tom Hicks, the Pulitzer-Prize winning national security reporter, tweeted recently, “Glenn, any comments from you or Edward Snowden on the recent round of media shutdowns in Russia?” This may be clever, but it has nothing to do with the substance of the disclosures.

What matters is whether the journalism community, in its crush on Greenwald and Snowden, has forgotten first principles.

Greenwald’s call for more transparent, passionate reporting has more emotional appeal than traditional journalism’s call for objectivity, impartiality and disinterested observation. Greenwald’s are hot words; traditional journalists are stuck with cold ones. He and his fellow advocates, such as Jeremy Scahill and Amy Goodman, may be winning the debate.

But Keller had some good advice for Greenwald last year.

“Humility is as dear as passion,” he wrote. “So my advice is: Learn to say, ‘We were wrong.’ ”

Journalists, like everyone else, are in dangerous territory when they believe they have a monopoly on the truth.

St. Louis acts to address wrongful arrests

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated.

The St. Louis Police Department has instituted a new mobile fingerprint identification system in its North, South and Central Area Stations, as well as at the St. Louis City Justice Center, to help avoid wrongful arrests, according to Chief Sam Dotson.

The new fingerprint technology was put into the stations after a series in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year maintaining that about 100 people had been arrested mistakenly over a seven-year period, serving a total of 2,000 days in jail.

Robert Patrick and Jennifer Mann, the Post-Dispatch reporters on the series, wrote that modern fingerprint identification could have prevented some wrongful arrests.

Among the cases cited in the series was one involving a city bus driver who was arrested in front of her crying children and jailed because her name was similar to another woman who had died months before. This was the result of a clerical error, but she lost her home, savings and her job, temporarily.

On March 4, without fanfare, the department launched its new Mobile Automated Fingerprint Identification System at its three area patrol stations and prisoner processing at the city’s downtown jail.  The mobile units allow police to take fingerprints on a small wireless scanning device that returns prompt results from the Missouri Highway Patrol and FBI fingerprint records. Dotson said a few mobile devices are being used by officers on patrol and more will be added so prints could be taken, on a voluntary basis, from persons at crime scenes, disasters and on the street.

Chief Dotson said he had been working on a new electronic fingerprint I.D. system even before the Post articles came out. Planning and pilot stages occurred prior to the stories and the system was fully implemented after publication, he said.

“People lie to us on occasion,” and use aliases,  he said. “We always want to make sure we know who we have,” and that means to check fingerprints “at the very front end of the incarceration process.”

While the Post and city disagree about the accuracy of some of the cases cited by the Post-Dispatch, mayoral aide Eddie Roth says improvements have been made and will continue to be made to reduce risks of error. Roth, a former police board president and Post editorial writer, has criticized the Post stories on Facebook, Twitter and in stories in GJR.

“The mis-identifications are rare. Our goal is to get to zero,” Roth said. “Our system is not perfect, but it is strong.” He said the reporters rightfully pursued an important cultural issue (wrongful arrests) but he didn’t think the stories were fair.  Roth thought the numbers of misidentifications were exaggerated, most of the cases were old and that reporters did not heed warnings that their research methods were flawed because they did not have access to all relevant records.

Patrick said the mayor’s office and circuit attorney mounted “a successful PR campaign” to downplay any harm done and “it changed the discussion to – is the story right?’

In one case the Post said a man was jailed when he had not been. A brother used the man’s name and it was the brother who was jailed. The Post corrected the mistake that had been based on city records that were incorrect. Patrick accepted the blame for not having interviewed the man.

The Board of Aldermen, state legislature, civil rights groups and many judges didn’t urge new rules to curb the wrongful arrest problem. The Post editorial page has been silent on it, though the paper’s editor Gilbert Bailon has strongly defended the stories. Lawyers are working on a federal class-action suit, but class certification initially was denied.

BuzzFeed controversy reveals split in ethics of embedding tweets

After reading a news report about a 60-year-old rape victim, Twitter user, Christine Fox (@steenfox), posed a simple question to her 17,000 followers: “What were you wearing when you were assaulted?” Hundreds of Twitter users shared their stories with Fox, and exposed a split in how journalists interpret the ethics of using tweets.

Jessica Testa, a reporter at BuzzFeed, sought permission from several tweeters before using their tweets in a listicle (an article that includes a mixture of commentary and embedded tweets, infographics and other images).

According to Fox, Testa requested permission from tweeters, but didn’t ask her. Christine Fox argued that it’s a violation of journalism ethics to use her image and the conversation she initiated without asking for her permission.

This led to a firestorm of responses from reporters at Poynter, Slate, Gawker and several other media outlets.

Hamilton Nolan, a reporter at Gawker, reminded Twitter users that unlocked accounts are considered fair use. He wrote, “Just because you wish that someone would not quote something that you said in public does not mean that that person does not have the right to quote something that you said in public. When we choose to say something in public, we choose to broadcast it to the world.”

Other journalists agreed with Nolan. Kelly McBride, a media ethicist and senior lecturer at Poynter, wrote an opinion article that echoed Nolan’s argument. She used a question to counter Fox’s claim that using tweets without permission is unethical:  “Permission for what?”

In her response, McBride wrote: “Many on Twitter rose up and pointed out that Twitter is public, which is true. And while there is a widely accepted guideline in journalism that you don’t identify rape victims without their permission, @steenfox didn’t identify herself as a survivor in two tweets that asked others to share their stories. Neither did Testa. She is only identified as the one who posed the question. Because you pose a question that provokes an interesting answer, does that give an ethical claim to control the story that emerges?”

Poynter later issued a correction when they discovered Christine Fox revealed her sexual assault in her Twitter, but did not retract McBride’s story.

Reporters Kate Knibbs of the Daily Dot and Mark Colvin of ABC Radio also argued that tweets should be considered fair use.

Kate Knibbs embedded Fox’s tweets without consulting her. She explained her reasoning as, “She is writing on a public platform that’s deliberately set up to facilitate easy resharing. She could have locked her Twitter account and denied my attempt to follow her so I couldn’t access her tweet. But Twitter is explicit in the way it gives users permission to share other people’s content; this includes users (like me) who choose to share content to their digital publication.”

However, Knibbs also wrote that just because journalists can do something doesn’t mean that they should. She is highlighting the difference between the legal rights journalists have under the First Amendment and their moral commitments.

Journalists follow a strict code of ethics, but the rise of social media will challenge the effectiveness of these ethical guidelines.

More than 1,000 people have signed a Change petition that demands apologies and retractions from Poynter and Gawker. It states in part:

“Due to the increased level of visibility we are demanding that journalists, media companies and social media platforms like Twitter take the steps below to not only protect users but to outline the ethical and moral obligations journalists have to not engage in violence toward marginalized people, survivors of sexual violence and others when engaging in online discussions.”

Kelly McBride is learning from this experience. In a follow-up article at Poynter, she highlights four specific lessons she’s learned during this process.

However, all journalists are on a learning curve. Journalists are navigating new terrain, and the BuzzFeed controversy is simply a growing pain when it comes to media ethics.