Ethics in Journalism: The Kavanaugh Case| Tyler Ronconi

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As digital media continues to foster a focus in journalists being the first and the fastest to report on bombshell breaking news stories, ethical practices still must come into play.  It is the journalist’s job to first and foremost seek the truth and report it – however much truth can be certain at the time of publication. A journalist must be accurate and fair, being sure to thoroughly vet multiple sources to verify information that they will be presenting. Even if a story seems breakthrough and captivating, truth must come first. The New York Times engaged in journalistic ethics when it decided against the publication of the story of Deborah Ramirez, a woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.  

 Deborah Ramirez alleges that Brett Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a college party decades. Ramirez was the second woman to make sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh, and these stories have dominated news headlines for weeks. The New York Times looked into her allegations, but ultimately decided not to publish her story, even though this story surely would have captured the attention of America as the rest of the Kavanaugh saga has.  

 

Ethical journalists understand that they must seek truth and accuracy in all they publish. If the New York Times could not verify her allegations, whether through further research in acquiring detail or even just consulting witnesses or other sources, they did the right thing by passing on the story. Ethical journalists are supposed to minimize harm. This means that the subjects of the stories must be considered. The New York Times decided on not putting Ramirez in the spotlight, perhaps considering the backlash that she may face. Christine Blasey Ford, who also accused Brett Kavanaugh of similar acts, has faced death threats and had to flee her home – and her accusations at least had witnesses. Perhaps the Times considered the possible repercussions that their source Ramirez would have faced, and decided on passing on her story for her own safety. Putting the source’s well-being first – along with considering the overall validity of the story that the people will read – is a respectable ethical action.  

In this day in age, digital media does change the landscape of journalism by being easily accessible and updateable at all times. For national stories like the Kavanaugh scandals, it is understandable that all outlets would like to be first to break a story. But speed should never come in the way of basic journalistic ethical practices. Part of ethical journalism is taking accountability and responsibility for one’s work. If a journalist allows his or her publication to be an outlet for somebody to make possible fraudulent statements, that is a reflection of their publication. They must always seek verification and outside sources to be sure that truth can be attained. 

 The New York Times is still providing plenty of solid coverage on the Brett Kavanaugh situation, even without being the ones to break Ramirez’s story. They aired on the side of caution, and in doing so, ethically practiced their profession to be sure that everyone’s best interests were considered.  

 References 

Griffiths, B. 2018. Attorney for second Kavanaugh accuser: This has to                              be investigated by the FBI. CNN. Retrieved from:                                                     https://www.politico.com/story/2018/09/25/deborah-ramirez-attorney-kavanagh-fbi-841973