Doing Ethics in Media

Companion to "Doing Ethics in Media: Theories and Practical Applications"

Doing Ethics in Media - Companion to "Doing Ethics in Media: Theories and Practical Applications"

Is there an ethical difference in reporting the ‘chemical-related’ deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman and another person?

Had it not been Super Bowl Sunday, the world might have taken even more notice about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, found dead on Feb. 2 wit

h a needle in his arm and 70 bags of heroin in his apartment. A quick Google News search this morning showed more than 5,300 articles about him — but little suggesting that the story shouldn’t be covered because of the harm it could cause his family.

Contrast that with Jan. 30 death of Danielle Downey, a former LPGA player and

This Feb. 3 update led to a number of people unhappy that the news was covered.

This Feb. 3 update led to a number of readers unhappy that details of the crash were reported.

head of operations for Auburn University’s women’s golf team. Three days after her death, The Birmingham News / Alabama Media Group reported that alcohol was likely a factor in her death.  Other media

covered it, too.

Underneath Carol Robinson’s Feb. 3 story and in her Facebook feed, many people were critical of her decision to report that Downey had consumed multiple beers and would not give her car keys to friends.

Some examples of reader comments:

***

***

Others came to Carol’s defense, citing the fact that it’s public record. And one commenter tied reporting of Downey’s death to the reporting of Hoffman’s death:

Reporting on tragedy is a difficult job, and it’s easy to forget that every story can potentially cause harm. And it’s also easy for reporters who cover tragedy for a living to start thinking like surgeons, forgetting that their job is as much about bedside manner as it is about dealing with flesh. (Of course, doctors bury their mistakes; journalist print theirs for all to see.)

It goes against the fundamental practice of truth-telling to leave unanswered the question of how a person died, or of waiting until after the funeral to report unflattering news that the family is likely to know. This is even more true in the case of Downey, who was a public-enough figure that Auburn released a statement announcing her death.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for decisions about what to report and what to leave out, but the Aristotelian mean lies somewhere between ignoring anything that might cause harm and the notion of New York Sun editor Charles A. Dana, who wrote: “I have always felt that whatever Divine Providence permitted to occur I was not too proud to report.” Finding that mean requires journalists to balance the public’s right to know, the “publicness” of the death and the person who died, what to do about special cases such as suicide, and other factors that must be considered in the harshness of deadline.

And readers ought to consider their own ethics, too. People who complain about how media cover the death of someone they know simply because accurate-but-unflattering news is revealed should steer clear of coverage of the Hoffmans, Presleys, Paul Walkers, and others of the world.

Bad journalism, bad ethics, or both? Poynter’s list of biggest news mistakes and Gallup’s “ethics in professions” poll may or may not be related

Poynter_Error_Report_2014Two disparate pieces of annual news–Poynter’s list of the year’s media errors, and Gallup’s “honesty in professions” report–come together this week for a journalism ethics lesson, on a Poynter page with links to both stories but no connection.

Poynter’s Craig Silverman released his yearly list of funny, scary, awful and goofy media errors for 2013, with two huge mistakes atop the list.
The biggest was 60 Minutes’ report on the Benghazi attacks, for its unblinking belief in a liar who was the star of the report, for not telling viewers that the liar was peddling a book published by a CBS subsidiary, and for its ham-handed response (including a “we-stand-by-the-story” defense) to the news that its report was thoroughly wrong. Second was the New York Post’s screaming “BAG MEN” headline, which pretty much everyone but The Post understood to mean that the guys in the picture were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing and not the innocent guys now suing the paper.

Meanwhile, the Gallup Poll released its yearly Ethics in Professions poll, in which the public is asked to rate the honesty and ethical standards of a couple dozen professions. Gallup’s key finding was that, for the first time, fewer than half of respondents say clergy have high or very high standards. (Health professionals tend to rank tops; lobbyists, Congress and car salesmen tend to rank butt-naked last.)

For Poynter, the news is that ratings for “high or very high” ethical standards remain low for folks in the news media. A PDF of trend data show:

  1. Newspaper reporters rated 21 percent, actually a percentage point higher than the 1998 study and just a percentage point lower than the all-time high.
  2. TV reporters were at 20 percent, down from an all-time high of 23%.
  3. The high-falutin’ term “journalist” leads to higher trust ratings–24% in 2012, always a few percentage points higher than TV or newspaper “reporter.”

It’s hard to know where ethics fits into this because, in many cases, mistakes are just that. I’ve always sighed at people who believe mass media is a singular entity of organizations who team up to present a world that doesn’t reinforce their confirmation bias. The better explanation is from Robert Heinlein’s The Green Hills of Earth: “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.” Or, in the case of non-mendacious  journalism, conditions that result from bad sources, too little time, bad or no editing, the tug of PR’s spin, etc.

We don’t have insight into the hearts, minds, and thinking of folks who made these mistakes, so we cannot parse the ethical thought went into their decision-making. The result is that journalism ethics are sometimes incorrectly inferred from journalistic performance. Moreover, most duty-based ethicists would tell us that it’s wrong to judge based on a decision’s outcome, as long as we’re thorough in our thinking, our work, and in our willingness to stand behind our decision-making.

On one hand, continuing to make mistakes–big or small, made with full-speed integrity or while tripping ethics mines–will forever leave journalism in a credibility slump.

On the other hand, as students of our textbook are reminded: Credibility is what people think you are. Ethics is what you really are.

 

 

Washington Post column on Redskins name change uses different standards for in-print, online publication

By Caroline Meintzer

Protesters in Green Bay before a September game. Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post

On Oct. 7, 2013, The Washington Post ran an article in their printed newspaper that included an editorial by Dana Milbank. Milbank’s editorial called out the Washington Redskins’ team name for being racist, and he further illustrated his point by asking people to compare the Redskins name to other racial epithets. In print, he wrote:

To see whether it’s right to use ‘Redskins’ as a mascot, NFL owners gathering in Georgetown on Tuesday for their fall meeting should substitute some other common racial epithets for Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and Jews and see how they would sound. That would be enough to send anybody to the shotgun formation.

The online version, however, ran a bit differently:

“To see whether it’s right to use ‘Redskins’ as a mascot, NFL owners gathering in Georgetown on Tuesday for their fall meeting should substitute some other common racial epithets and see how they would sound: The Washington Wetbacks? The Houston Hymies? The Chicago Chinks? Or perhaps the New York Niggers? That would be enough to send anybody to the shotgun formation.”

 

What’s your problem?
Do the same ethical standards apply to the print and online versions of The Washington Post (or any newspaper for that matter)?

 

Why not follow the rules?
Rules and practices seem hazy regarding the consistency between online and printed journalism. Many media organizations in their practices have drawn a difference between the two, and often that decision seems to be made based on getting more web clicks than out of actual ethical decision-making.

Despite actual practices, many organization and journalists have spoken in promotion of a consistency across platforms for journalism. They say what is justified and unjustified in print should find the same rules online. The Poynter Institute has upheld through various articles and conferences that journalistic principles should be constant across the board. In other words, journalists are journalists no matter what they’re writing for.

These guidelines haven’t been the case for major news organizations, though. In the Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics, Chris Roberts’s article, “Fit to post but not fit to print,” explains an inconsistency within the New York Times’ promise, “All the news fit to print.” In 2012, the Times published a photo online of a dying diplomat that it wouldn’t publish in the paper, which goes against the very grain of the promise to keep all news within the ethical margins applied to their print paper. They didn’t even offer a warning online about the graphic photo.

So, the rules generally point to holding the same ethical principles across the board; however, however most media outlets don’t seem to follow them.

 

Who wins, who loses?
By publishing different versions of the story on different mediums, readers are being impacted in different ways. For someone reading the print version, perhaps he or she is winning by not reading a few obscene words at the breakfast table. But then again, maybe he’s losing because the story’s point against the NFL team name, the Redskins, isn’t driven home as strongly without the obscene words. The newspaper, The Washington Post, loses because it lacks consistency across all of its media platforms. It seems to be generalizing its paper and web readers by saying what is and isn’t appropriate for them. It could be argued that it’s stereotyping readers on the web to want obscenity and something extreme and that those reading print are conservative and might have a panic attack about reading an offensive term in the paper.

The Washington Post wins a small battle by not offending readers with its print version of the article, but they lose a larger one by stereotyping their readers and fracturing their ethical standards along lines of different mediums.

 

What’s it worth?
The idea behind changing the article for print is to minimize harm, one of the major tenants of the SPJ codes. By keeping the print article rather tame, the Post is trying to uphold values of compassion and good taste. However, do those values of compassion change when the readership changes? Is that value worth the same online as it is in print?

For me, this is where I make my case. I think those values should be consistent across the board. Whatever we stand for, whether it’s compassion to the readers by avoiding derogatory terms, or if it’s truth and openness, regardless of the potential ability to offend, we must stand for it on every branch of our organization.

I believe The Washington Post should have the same article in print and online because ethics should be consistent, or else they verge on becoming simple moralizing.

Furthermore, I believe that the chosen version of the article shouldn’t be the safe one that the Post used for print. In fact, I would have gone with the racier version. I know it goes against normal ethical standards for what’s printed. The AP style guide specifically states to avoid using derogatory terms except for in quotes and when pertinent to the story.

The whole point of the editorial, though, is to demonstrate the offensive of the team’s name. When you read the edited version of the article, the author’s examples barely resonate. You practically skip past his line to “substitute some other common racial epithets for Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and Jews” without a second thought. The real article hits you smack in the face. You can’t help but stop and consider his point. In its sanitized version, there isn’t any power, and it defeats the purpose of the article.

So I’d publish it the way it was originally written. I’m sure I would certainly garner a lot of flak, but I believe the rules of ethical journalism are meant to sometimes be broken (higher Kohlberg level, perhaps?). In order for this writer to critique an offensive NFL team name, he had to show its name in the context of other offensive words. I believe people are mature enough to be able to handle it, whether they’re reading it online or in print.

But at the very least, I’ll add an offensive language warning at the top of the editorial. That way, the people can decide it for themselves if they want to read it.

Sports Illustrated comes to Calhoun County, Alabama, with lessons in football, race and media ethics

Speedy Canon on SII was a second grader at Jacksonville Elementary School in October 1972, so nobody talked to us 7-year-olds about the helmet-to-helmet hit that killed Jacksonville High’s Anthony “Speedy” Cannon on a Friday night at Wellborn High School. A decade later, as a Jacksonville High senior and sports editor of the weekly Jacksonville News, I didn’t get much traction for my piddling piece of anniversary journalism. Nobody wanted to talk to a teen sportwriter, and I didn’t know enough to try harder.

For years, back in the days when P.E. was a required class, I passed the memorial to Speedy in the gym and wondered what happened. Some said it was racism, against a school whose band played “Dixie.” Others said it was just a hard hit on a guy already hit too many times.

Now, 40 years later, Sports Illustrated’s Thomas Lake has told the story with “The Ghost of Speedy Cannon,” a terrific piece of journalism that does everything right online. In addition to the long story, we can read The Anniston Star’s stories, see Speedy’s stats, and look at photos from musty Ad Annos yearbooks.

And we can see the play that killed Speedy, where Wellborn’s No. 70 delivers the blow a few steps after Speedy was out of bounds.

It’s a masterful piece of reporting that raised multiple ethics questions for Lake, whose decisions are part of the story. Indeed, Lake:

1. Does not decide for us whether it’s murder or an accident, but he allows people on all sides of the question make their case. He provides his own conclusion, but does not try to force it on readers.

2. Did not name Wellborn’s No. 70, essentially saying that his life didn’t need to be burned by SI’s bright spotlight.

What strangers believed about Number 70 did not appear to be true. He showed no sign of being a racist. Nor did he seem consumed by guilt. He had played football for a while longer and then quit because he was tired of it and after a few false starts he had gotten a good job as a welder. He had a nice wife and a son and twin daughters and two grandchildren. He had cried over Cannon’s death and then moved on with his life. It was the only reasonable choice.

(The Star did not name the player, either, but noted that the play drew a 15-yard penalty.)

3. Did not name the Wellborn coach, now an 81-year-old man, saying that allegations that he told players to kill Speedy “him appear to be untrue.”

4. Spelled it “n—–” many times, even as he did not dodge the essence of the racism angle to the story.

As a Jacksonville High graduate born too late to understand what happened in 1972, I am grateful to Lake for telling what I didn’t know about my home.

As a journalism professor, I am grateful to Lake for doing such a terrific job.

 

On the ethics of making mistakes while reporting during a chaotic event: Lessons from the Washington Naval Yard

By Kelcey Sexton

On the morning of Sept. 16, 13 people were killed at the Washington Navy Yard, one of the victims being the shooter, Aaron Alexis. In the midst of the chaos that morning, some news organizations were forced to retract reports including misinformation given to them by sources. Two of those organizations, NBC and CBS, put out tweets identifying the Navy Yard shooter as Rollie Chance, a retired Navy Yard chief petty officer. One tweet from Chuck Todd, an NBC News reporter, said, “The confusion over the shooter name had to do with an I.D. card found near dead gunman; What led to bad initial reporting.” This came after the retraction of the earlier tweets naming Chance as the suspect due to law enforcement finding his I.D. at the scene.

According to an interview with The Huffington Post, Rollie said he was being forced to deal with the impact of the circulation of false information. “Not only did it impact me in terms of changing my way of life, it impacted my family, and also I lost friends at the Washington Navy Yard,” he said. In the interview, he said several of the shooting victims were his acquaintances and prior coworkers. He said he received a call around 11 a.m. or noon from ABC News asking whether he knew of a Rollie Chance with that phone number or address. “My first thought was, this must be a joke,” he told The Huffington Post. Chance also told Fox News that neither organization has come forward offering any apology. “I feel upset,” Chance said in the same interview. “I feel that my privacy was violated. I felt like my world was turned upside down. And now I’m left with trying to put it back together. And I’m thinking about my family, how it would impact my family. I’m upset. I feel that I was wronged.”

In my opinion, the fact that other news organizations opted to hold out on reporting the identity of the supposed suspect in the shooting makes this an ethical dilemma. During tragedies like the Navy Yard shooting, careful steps must be taken to ensure that the information being put out to the public is factual. Accurate information during times like that is critical. The aftermath of misidentifying a murder suspect does not only affect the organizations responsible. Due to CBS’s and NBC’s decisions, Rollie Chance faced false accusations of murdering 12 people, some of whom were friends or former colleagues, and was assumed to be dead as well.

During breaking news like this, however, it is also important that the public is kept updated on the situation and the new information arising from the scene. When trusted sources like the police give information to reporters regarding new leads in cases, reporters are of course going take this information and voice it to the masses. Social media platforms like Twitter make it possible to get that information out in seconds. NBC and CBS did what news organizations are expected to do; they reported what information they were given. They were loyal to the public in that it needed to know what progress the police were making. They were also not the only organizations to get facts wrong during the chaos surrounding the Navy Yard shooting, as one online Huffington Post article shows several tweets with inaccurate information, particularly regarding the number of shooters.

            By reporting the suspect identity they were given, NBC and CBS broke no laws, although Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren told Chance “accusing someone of a crime is libel per se” but said she knew “they deeply regret [their mistake].” They also believed the information they obtained to be accurate, as Todd responded to one person’s tweet on the issue with, “we had multiple sources on this; wish a LACK of double sourcing were the reason for the error.” Furthermore, after it was realized the information was false, both organizations, holding themselves accountable, released statements announcing so and immediately deleted the tweets containing the information. Todd tweeted, “we are now NOT reporting name of shooter; retracting that report. deleting those tweets,” and Charlie Kaye, executive producer for CBS News, tweeted, “BREAKING. @johnmillercbs advises the initial reports identifying the suspected shooter as Rollie Chance are wrong.”  Todd also went on in a string of tweets, explaining how NBC was misinformed. “The confusion over the suspect’s name comes from conflicting law enforcement sources. That’s why we pulled back,” he said.

No one wins, in my opinion, in this case aside from the news organizations, like CNN, that waited to report the correct identity of the shooter confirmed by the FBI. CBS and NBC as well as the reporters responsible have been ridiculed for the misinformation and their being forced to retract it soon after. Both organizations are also at fault in the eyes of many for the negative impact the reports had on Chance and those close to him. However, if in the future Chance seeks to take some sort of legal action against the organizations and succeeds, he very well could be considered a winner, but, according to NOLA.com, he would not comment on the possibility.

Though the effects of the tweets NBC and CBS reporters played an unfortunate part in Chance’s life, and even the lives of those close to him, I do not see any way around this occurrence. There is just no time to twiddle your thumbs and wait for the FBI to confirm information when reporting on breaking news. If a mistake is made, as it was, media are expected to take responsibility, correct it and report the correct information – that is exactly the way NBC and CBS handled the situation, and they reacted quickly. After coming to the conclusion of supporting the decisions of the NBC and CBS reporters, though I went into writing this thinking I would only disagree, my only criticism is of the failure of the two organizations to reach out to Chance afterward. Were I one of the reporters involved in the chaos on either staff, I believe I would have gone through with reporting the false information, but I would have most certainly contacted Chance in the aftermath to offer an explanation and an apology.

Fox News says GOP politicians say sequestration is just hype, but fails to notice GOP politicians worried about sequestration

sequestration_FoxFoxNews.com’s top story is a think piece that quotes plenty of GOP folks saying that the Obama administration is making too much out of the impending mandatory cuts to federal spending.
sequestration2_Fox
The headline: “Economic Armageddon? Republicans call sequester warnings hype.” (Or, a sexier hed from the site’s front page: Chicken Little Tactics? GOP
Points to Sequester Fear as Hype
.) Note that the headline includes a question mark, the clever way of asking a question that provides its own answer.

The first four paragraphs:

First there was the debt-ceiling crisis. Then the “fiscal cliff.” Now it’s the “sequester.”

While Congress averted the first two crises, it looks like lawmakers do not have a way out of the automatic spending cuts poised to hit Friday — at least not yet.

But are they really as bad as the Obama administration says?

Republican lawmakers, while acknowledging the whole situation is far from ideal, have increasingly come to the conclusion that, no, they’re not.

The story includes:
* A GOP congressman saying it’s no big deal.
*A blind quote from a congressional aide.
*A claim that the Congressional Budget Office saying the cuts will be much less — but no link to the CBO’s math so we can judge for ourselves.
* More quotes from a GOP congressman and senator.

Missing from the story is any response from the issue from any Democrat on this specific question. That’s not surprising, although the story doesn’t say whether anyone asked for Democratic comment.

sequestrationBNews

From the front page of The Birmingham News, Feb. 27

But what is surprising is that, had anyone at Fox done any looking, they would have found lots of Republicans worried about budget cuts. (And you don’t even have to look through regional papers, such as today’s Birmingham News front page.)

Multiple stories from the Republican Governors Association press conference, in which governors blamed Obama even as they worried about the cuts. It’s part of a package about a real or imagined rift between GOP governors and Congress.

In fact, you have to look deep into Fox archives to find any mention from a GOP governor that the cuts will have an effect.

Bad journalism? Or journalism designed to fit a narrative?

How responsible are journalists for catching liars Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o and others?

Political cartoonist Chip Bok, a Pulitzer finalist, pulls together both recent strings of jock lies.

The world’s most famous cyclist, Lance Armstrong, lied and lied and lied, and even sued a news organization who called out his lies. (He may have even lied while backpedaling for Oprah.)

Notre Dame defensive player Manti Te’o, whether he meant to or not, lied about what turned to be an imaginary girlfriend.

The result is another round of hand-wringing about the “diminished role” of investigative journalism and media who, as National Public Radio wrote, “let its guard down.”

It should be “let their guard down,” because media are plural, dangit. But confusing media as a singular entity helps prove the point of this post, which reminds us that even as lots of journalists failed to catch the lies, eventually a journalist caught the lies.

It’s tough to be a journalist, because lots of people and organizations lie to you (and, by definition, to the public), stonewall with “no comment” or piecemeal answers, provide general “statements” on a topic instead of answering specific questions, or bend their answers so far in their own favor that the truth is broken by most ethical standards.

More than once I heard Randy Henderson, my late city editor at The Birmingham News, say to a caller complaining about a story: “We print lies every day, because people lie to us every day.” Journalists cannot look into the hearts of others. Journalists don’t have subpoena power but must be more exacting than prosecutors, because a prosecutor who loses a criminal case won’t face libel charges.

In the case of Te’o, I’m reminded of this scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, in which principal Ed Rooney is right when he doesn’t believe that Sloan Peterson’s grandmother is dead. He calls out Mr. Peterson (that is to say, Ferris) on the phone:

Oh, sure. I’d be happy to release Sloane. You produce a corpse and I’ll release Sloane. I want to see this dead grandmother firsthand. … That’s right. Just roll her old bones all over here and I’ll dig up your daughter. It’s school policy.

A journalist wouldn’t do it that way, of course, and even Principal Rooney was snookered by Bueller, a high-quality liar.

I believe it’s tougher than ever for journalists to move beyond the carefully constructed PR façade of athletics, much less catch liars, in this age when top college athletic departments censor their own athletes, restrict journalists’ access, seek to dictate what can be reported, pressure journalists who oppose the PR line, and bypass media gatekeeping with information delivered to a public that may not distinguish the difference or want to kill the messengers who deliver bad news about their favorite teams. (Feel free to replace the references to athletics with “politicians,” “radio morning-show hosts,” “businesses,” or other liars as you wish.)

This does not excuse bad journalism, of course, and there’s plenty of that to go around. Many journalists don’t ask the right questions, don’t want the truth to impede on a good story, are too busy feeding the never-sated digital beast, or want to believe that people are basically good, or lots of other reasons.

The (sort-of) good news: In the cases of Lance and Te’o and others, remember that journalism eventually did its job:

  • Even as Armstrong lied and lied and sued and lied and intimidated and lied, some journalists continued to pursue the truth.
  • It wasn’t until after the Deadspin story that Notre Dame, which knew about the hoax possibility for weeks, hastily called its press conference and (began to) explain the situation. Meanwhile, Te’o admits that he “tailored” accounts of his story, even after Notre Dame says it had begun its investigation.
  • We can go on, with examples of Olympian-turned-felon Marion Jones and plenty of presidents (Nixon, Clinton, etc.), presidential candidates and many more famous people who invested years lying to journalists.

The world’s ability to lie outstrips journalism’s ability to call out the liars. And in this world of more-and-better liars and fewer journalists, it’s not getting easier.

Do journalists work for readers — or their (bosses’) bosses? A CNET and CBS vs. Dish example

Journalists running afoul of the real-or-imagined business interests of their bosses is nothing new.

As a technology columnist for The Birmingham News and Newhouse Newspapers in the 1990s, I remember being told I couldn’t mention AT&T’s debut of its online, searchable Yellow Pages because they competed for ads with the newspaper. (Seems quaint now, doesn’t it?)

The latest example of journalists not thinking of business interests came at the Consumer Electronics Show, after CNET sent a tweet naming Dish Network’s “Hopper with Sling” product was among its finalists for a “Best of CES” award.

As Buzzfeed explains, there’s a problem: CBS owns CNET, and CBS hates “Hopper” because the new digital video recorder makes it easy for viewers to blow, or at least hop, past commercials. CBS hates it so much that it and Fox have sued Dish, because (as Fox says) the Hopper has “the clear goal of violating copyrights and destroying the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem.”

CBS executives made sure the product didn’t make the CNET’s final Best of CES list, which concluded with with this caveat:

The Dish Hopper with Sling was removed from consideration due to active litigation involving our parent company CBS Corp. We will no longer be reviewing products manufactured by companies with which we are in litigation with respect to such product.

Dish, of course, is claiming that CBS is evil for “censoring” CNET. (Others might argue that Dish has been known to censor, too, by dropping desirable channels over contract disputes.)

Ultimately, this seems to be a case of journalists not knowing that — whether they like it or not — their top loyalty was not allowed to be with readers.

Jan. 14, 2013: An update: Greg Sandoval of CNET has quit over CBS’ interference, saying that journalists “are supposed to be truth tellers.”

Discuss…

The Chicago Sun-Times shows “The Mirage” series again

If you’re into media ethics history — or just like to see power-chord journalism with a slice of ethical quandries — then take a look at The Chicago Sun-Times online publication of The Mirage series.

In 1977, The Chicago Sun-Times went undercover with the non-profit Better Government Administration and CBS to show rampant corruption among public officials who regulate businesses. Their bar, aptly named “The Mirage,” was chock-full of cameras and other equipment that allowed reporters to surreptitiously capture the full-on glory of graft, bribes and threats.

The series, published in 1978 and later as a book, led to lots of convictions and calls for reform — and a fight over the ethics of deception that continues to rage. Pulitzer judges in the general reporting category gave the series its nod for a win, but Washington Post editor (and Pulitzer board member) Ben Bradlee persuaded others that such deception was not award-worthy.

Since then, there are plenty of examples of deception and undercover work by journalists. But none seems to have received the attention drawn by that bar.