Wednesday, March 7, 2007

More on Eichenwald

In a comment below, Tom Mangan raises some good points on my post. This is what he had to say:

Clay, have you seriously asked yourself what you'd have done?

Which comes first, your " journalistic ethics" (a concept widely ridiculed as an oxymoron) or the perfectly normal human urge to protect a child from exploitation?

High ideals sound fine in theory but in reality I'm thinking I'd have done something like what Eichenwald did. He should've told his bosses and should've handed off the story and, yeah, he shouldn't have written the story w/out revealing the money issue.

But if he'd have stood aside and said he was a journalist first and the kid was just going to have to hope somebody else helps him out, he might've been an "ethical journalist" but what kind of person would he be?

Sorry, but I flat reject the notion that if you want to help people you should find another line of work. That's why most of us get into this biz.

I replied to this below, but I'll post the reply here, too. I want to make clear, for the record, that I went into journalism to help people. The issue, perhaps, is how we offer that help.

I wrote "help someone in that way." And by that, I mean a direct payment to someone you're writing about.

Most journalists, including myself, do what we do because of its public service function. I don't think that's wrong -- that's the basis of our craft.

But I do think there's a line in what we do -- the line that keeps journalists removed from the public arena as actors. And I think Eichenwald crossed it. He was doing good work as a person -- but perhaps not as a journalist.

Let's put it this way. If all he did was help the teen find a lawyer, loan him some money and otherwise help him out of the situation, that would be fine. I would applaud him. He was being a good person.

But Eichenwald then decided to write a story about it. He didn't give it to someone else on the Times to write about. He didn't tell his editors he felt too personally compromised to write about the boy. No -- he wrote the story and accepted the plaudits that went along with it.

In some ways, that was a selfish act.

This also isn't getting into some of the problems with the story itself and the associated trials and publicity around it.

I could write an entirely different post about that, but perhaps the article ran too long ago.

Folks will look at this issue in different ways. Journalism often forces us to make moral choices -- and the judgment we have to live with, ultimately, is our own.