Below, iMediaEthics selected ten stories from around the globe this year that prompted serious ethical concerns and issues.
10. Nancy Snyderman Breaks Ebola Quarantine
In October, NBC News’ chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman violated a voluntary quarantine after a member of her crew reporting on Ebola in Liberia contracted the disease.
Snyderman was seen in a car outside a restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey. After local news site Planet Princeton reported on the violation, the New Jersey Department of Health issued a mandatory quarantine for Snyderman.
Snyderman released an apology statement trough NBC News.
After her mandatory quarantine was over, NBC News said she would return to air in November, but she didn’t end up back on TV until December, prompting speculation she may be penalized for the breach of voluntary quarantine especially given her role as a medical professional.
When she did return to NBC News on Dec. 3, she confessed “I stepped outside the boundaries of what I promised to do and what the public expected of me, and for that I’m sorry.” She also argued that “good people can make mistakes.”
9. Analysis of International News Reporting on Egypt
This year iMediaEthics’ editor-in-chief and publisher Rhonda Roland Shearer spent considerable time reporting from both Cairo and New York examining how the international media reports on Egypt.
So far, three of her investigations are published on iMediaEthics.
First, in October, she reported on Farag Fathy Farag, the former lawyer for the Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt, who says the Qatar-owned network tried to launder money through him and stage protests which the network then covered.
Later that month, Shearer revealed that the New York Times apparently based an editorial on a press release from the Carter Center which claimed the center shut down its Egypt office because Egypt’s “political environment is deeply polarized.”
However, in contrast with that press release reason cited by the Times, Shearer uncovered a letter from the Carter Center to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry explaining that the real reason the center was leaving was so it could be “redirecting its resources to observe electoral events in other countries.” In that letter, unreported by the Times, the center said it was “grateful to the Egyptian authorities.”
This month, Shearer published an analysis of the New York Times’ Cairo bureau chief David Kirkpatrick’s coverage of Egypt from late October to early December. In those 12 stories, Shearer found Kirkpatrick used twice as many anonymous sources as named sources, had corrections on a quarter of his stories, and had more complaints against others. Most concerning, subjects of stories like the Grand Mufti, Coptic pope, university officials and Egyptian government officials said they were never contacted by the Times.
8. Ray Rice Coverage
Reporting on Ray Rice, the NFL player who was suspended after TMZ published a video of him assaulting his then-fiance, now wife Janay Palmer earlier this year, proved troublesome for the media as it attempted to appropriately cover domestic violence.
In July, ESPN suspended Stephen A. Smith for suggesting that women “provoke” assault when discussing the TMZ tape.
The next month, ESPN suspended Max Kellerman who, while talking about Rice, admitted he once slapped his girlfriend after she slapped him while they were drinking.
In September, Fox News’ Fox & Friends joked about the Rice assault with co-host Brian Kilmeade commenting, “I think the message is, take the stairs.” In response, co-host Steve Doocy said “The message is, when you’re in an elevator, there’s a camera.” The hosts never apologized but the next day claimed “domestic abuse is a very serious issue to us.”
Also that month, ESPN suspended Bill Simmons for saying it was “such f**king bulls**t” that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t know what the video of the assault looked like.
Simmons added that Goodell was a “liar” and invited ESPN to penalize him for his comments, which ESPN then did.
ESPN’s ombudsman agreed with the punishment, explaining that Simmons was insubordinate and crossed the line between “commentary and reporting.”
Then, a technical error on ESPN’s website made it so the column by ombudsman, Robert Lipsyte, wasn’t available due to problems with links but it was available through search. Two sites — the Big Lead and Mediaite — reported wrongly that ESPN unpublished the ombudsman report.
7. Ferguson Coverage
The fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson has dominated many news headlines the second half of this year. And with it came ethical issues in reporting on the shooting.
The month of the shooting, August, St. Louis TV news KSDK showed a video of Wilson’s home. The station later apologized saying it was a “mistake” to broadcast his home, even though the station didn’t name the address.
Then in November, the New York Times published the name of Wilson’s street but defended the publication given that many outlets had previously named Wilson’s street.
In August, the Times drew criticism for characterizing Brown as “no angel.”
The Times also erred in reporting on Wilson’s police history in August.
The next month, the Times corrected after reporting that the hacking group Anonymous held a protest because the Church of Scientology killed Brown.
And in October, the Charleston, West Virginia Daily Mail fired editorial writer Don Surber for labeling Brown “an animal” and “a gigantic thug who was higher than a kite” in a personal blog post.
Then this month, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch decided to axe comments on opinion comments because of bad comments posted in reporting on Ferguson.
6. Gaza Coverage
The media’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict earns iMediaEthics’s No. 6 spot this year for several reasons.
In the summer, the Sydney Morning Herald retracted a cartoon accused of racism that depicted a man watching explosions in Gaza. The man was wearing a kippah, sitting in a chair with the Star of David on it, and was holding a remote.
Around the same time, NBC News’ Meet The Press, then hosted by David Gregory, aired an unverified video from the Israeli government and asked a UN Relief and Works Agency spokesperson, Chris Gunness, to comment on the spot about the video, which he hadn’t seen. Beyond the unfairness of asking someone to comment on something they can’t see, Gunness pointed out the video hadn’t been authenticated.
Later on Meet the Press, Gregory walked back the video, noting that, after the segment with Gunness, the UN reviewed the video and said it wasn’t Hamas firing on a UN school.
Also this summer, the Times of Israel and a New York website, Five Towns Jewish Times, unpublished a blogpost titled “When Genocide is Permissable.”
And in July, CNN re-assigned reporter Diana Magnay after she called a group of Israelis “scum” in a tweet.
5. Malaysian Airlines Flight Crashes over Ukraine
In July, Malaysian Airlines flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine.
Shockingly, a few reporters decided to go through the wreckage and dead passengers’ luggage including an ABC Australia reporter, a Dutch reporter who read a diary, and a Sky News reporter who moved around items in a suitcase.
MSNBC aired a prank call and fake interview with someone purporting to have been inside the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine and having been an eyewitness to the crash. The prankster said on air “Well, I was looking out the window and I saw a projectile flying through the sky and it would appear that the plane was shot down from a blast of wind from Howard Stern’s ass.”
Russia Today lost a reporter, Sara Firth, who resigned claiming the state-run news channel is “lying and finding sexier ways to do it” when covering the crash.
Readers also criticized Russia Beyond the Headlines, which is “sponsored” by the Russian government’s newspaper, for its coverage of the crash.
And the New York Times defended its decision to publish a photo of a dead body from the crash on its front page.
4. Ongoing UK inquiry into the media
Despite not getting nearly as much attention as in 2011, 2012, and 2013, the hacking scandal in the UK hasn’t finished playing out.
The long-running phone hacking trial against eight original defendants including Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson wrapped up and Brooks was found not guilty. Coulson, a former News of the World editor and former communications director for Prime Minister David Cameron, however, was found guilty of conspiring to hack phones.
This year, numerous journalists have been charged or sentenced for their roles in hacking. And the UK Mirror, which isn’t owned by News Corp., admitted it also has hacked phones and paid at least 10 settlements to victims.
Other journalists found guilty of phone hacking have finished serving their time.
The UK media regulatory body the Press Complaints Commission was shuttered and replaced in September by a new body, the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
3. Robin Williams’ Death
Robin Williams died by suicide in August. A flurry of ethical issues and bad taste in reporting followed. During the month of WIlliams’ death, it seemed as if every ethical lapse was followed by another, even worse example of bad taste.
Immediately after the news of Williams’ death was reported, ABC News was rightfully slammed for sending a live video helicopter crew to his house so it could broadcast aerials.
CNN apologized for saying Williams had “demons,” which the DART Center for Journalism & Trauma explained to iMediaEthics is “a reductionist cliche, stating the obvious while missing a opportunity to educate news consumers.”
Radar Online hit a new low by publishing a photo it said showed Williams at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
And CBS News interviewed one of its news photographers who said he attended AA with Williams.
In its obit news package, UK Channel 4 included a clip of Williams from his 1987 movie Good Morning Vietnam. Problem was during the clip Williams say “Why don’t they get a rope and hang me?”
Fox News mixed up a real clip of Williams as famed character Mrs. Doubtfire and aired a clip of a random guy dressed as the character for Halloween.
Fox News’ Shep Smith apologized after suggesting Williams was a “coward” for killing himself.
A UK radio host, Alan Brazil, got in trouble for saying he had “no sympathy” for Williams.
LA Weekly‘s column by musician Henry Rollins, “F**k Suicide,” drew hundreds of complaints.
And Williams’ representative and his widow slammed the New York Post for publishing a false story claiming he was drinking while filming CBS’s The Crazy Ones.
2. How to cover ISIS
Covering terrorist group ISIS and its beheadings of journalists and others led to several issues, including the issue of publishing released videos from ISIS, which amount to propaganda.
A video of journalist James Foley’s beheading was released in August by ISIS. The New York Post’s front page image showing a screenshot of Foley just before his death was like death porn, in iMediaEthics’ view.
The Toronto Star avoided airing the most graphic parts of Foley’s beheading by editing the video. Due to a technical error, the video was only published for a day, in which time the Star received four complaints.
See how Australian media covered Foley’s beheading.
The Washington Times retracted a story claiming that a man named Yassin Abdullah Kadi funded ISIS.
The New York Times chose to publish one image from the video of ISIS beheading freelance journalist Steven Sotloff.
The Asian American Journalists Association criticized Fox News for conflating all Muslims with ISIS when reporting on James Foley. Fox News’ Andrea Tantaros claimed “They’ve been doing this for hundreds and hundreds of years if you study the history of Islam.” She went on to call for a “bullet to the head” for “these people.”
The Jakarta Post in Indonesia offended readers with a cartoon about ISIS.
In September, Fox News’ Eric Bolling made a bad joke calling the first female pilot from the United Arab Emirates fighting ISIS “boobs on the ground.”
In October, Univ. of California-Santa Barbara retracted a satire article joking about ISIS taking control of one of its dorms after readers were duped.
Al Jazeera unpublished an article in September claiming that Foley and Sotloff’s beheadings were staged.
There also have been changing standards about whether to refer to the terrorist group as ISIS, ISIL, IS, or Islamic State.
1. Rolling Stone‘s UVA Rape Story
Most recently, Rolling Stone‘s faulty reporting on rape at the University of Virginia has rocked media ethics, as one would have to live under a rock not to know.
The reporting on the 2012 alleged gang rape of student “Jackie” has raised numerous issues with how Rolling Stone vetted, fact checked and reported, as well as general issues in reporting of rape and sexual assault. The accused were never interviewed – a basic of journalism. Friends who picked Jackie up after the alleged rape were never interviewed. The fraternity denies hosting a party the night Jackie said she was raped at its party. E-mails show the university challenged Rolling Stone‘s claims before publication.
Even when Rolling Stone apologized for its lapses, the magazine victim-blamed in its original statement, instead of properly admitting that the problems and missing pieces in the story were Rolling Stone‘s responsibility to figure out before publication.
On Dec. 22, Rolling Stone announced it asked Columbia Journalism School’s dean and dean of academic affairs to check out its “editorial process.”