Ethics Quiz: Al Roker’s Unethical Selfie And Malfunctioning Ethics Alarm


The question here is a simple one.

On the scene of the devastating flooding in South Carolina, Today Show weather man Al Roker tweeted a selfie of him and  NBC colleagues beaming happily in front of a collapsed highway and a trapped car, with the caption “My crew and I getting ready to report on East Coast flooding from S. Carolina on @NBCNightlyNews with Kate Snow.”

Yes, after many complained on social media about the discordant juxtaposition of cheerful self-promotion and tragedy, Roker apologized, but not before.  The basic question is “What the hell is the matter with these people?“, or as today’s Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz asks,

Is Roker’s insensitivity signature significance of a malfunctioning ethics alarm, or just an excusable one-time mistake?

My view is that it is a little bit of both. No, I don’t think this proves that Al is an irredeemable sociopath, but I do believe he’s getting there. First, the culture of broadcast journalism is getting him there. Remember this, when in the middle of the ebola scare CNN’s morning crew posed for a Halloween photo that mocked the crisis?

Ebola joke

I wrote,

“The day the photo was tweeted, CNN’s reporters were solemnly revealing to their audience the frightening, dangerous, ominous breaches in protocol, official ineptitude and negligence that has marked the U.S. handling of this public health emergency. People are dying, the public is worried, and CNN is doing its part to seed the panic. If we are to trust its gathering, analysis and reporting of the news, we must trust that the broadcast media takes its role very, very seriously, and takes the stories it reports to us seriously as well. To hold that trust, they are bound to do nothing for public consumption that suggests that their seriousness and concern for our lives and welfare is an act, or insincere. Can they indulge in rueful black humor among colleagues? Sure they can. Can they communicate to the world that the Ebola crisis is just one big lark to them, and still hold our trust, or continue to deserve it? No.”

The second source of ethics alarms breakdown is selfies themselves, which stand for the proposition that self-love is everything, and that any vista is enhanced by the presence of one’s face and form in it. This is not an ethics nurturing world view.

I admit it: I am hypersensitive to this. My father would not allow himself to be posed against the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, unless it was with his back to the photo, saluting. He felt the same about the Alamo, and the Gettysburg battlefield. Those photos were about human sacrifice and tragedy, not him, he explained. The particular ethics alarm that didn’t sound for Al Roker—I won’t say it doesn’t exist, but it needs some serious repair work—is very strong in me, and always will be. Remember this…?


This is the fickish Sabrina Cogatelli, smirking and posing with her victim. Al hasn’t killed anything, but like most corrupted journalists, a sensational story is becoming just a story to him, and better yet, an AL ROKER story. The humans involved, the pain, the death and tragedy?

That’s just background to Al’s smiling face.

No, I don’t think this single incident proves that Al Roker is beyond redemption. It should serve as an urgent wake up call for him, however, that his values are being compromised and corrupted. Sometimes the ethics alarm that doesn’t sound can be a warning too.

8 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Al Roker’s Unethical Selfie And Malfunctioning Ethics Alarm

  1. Yeah, happy, smiling people beaming at the totalled car and likely condemned is colossally insensitive. The owner may not have flood insurance or an unknown loophole. No selfie is worth that level of narcissism.

    • How so?

      If I’m at the Grand Canyon with my wife and there’s another couple where we are and we ask for a picture together taken by that couple, how is that in any ways different than that couple NOT being there and my wife and I being forced to take a “selfie”.

      I don’t think they are *necessarily* unethical, I do think the nature and quantity of particular selfies taken can be an indicator of severe psychological issues.

      • Got a cousin, retired Army, who got a new smart phone. Took a selfie with it, decided it made him look old, so he deleted it. Sent him an e-mail and pointed out that he was seventy…he IS old.

  2. Edward R. Murrow is turning over in his grave. And has been… for years. Why should we trust “journalists,” anyway? Most are news readers, not journalists or analysts, and the networks decide what is news and what is not. We are _not_ informed by our mass media… We are misled and treated like the morons most of us are.

    Guess I have to just keep sifting through what I get/find on the Net, and deciding for myself what is news, fabulism, or just plain rot.

  3. Such selfies only exacerbate the popular concept (true to a large part) that professional journalists are out for their image and career, first and foremost. There is a time and a place for humor on camera, but tragedies and disasters aren’t one. What so many of these people seem to lack is a sense of respect for the people whose stories they’re supposed to be telling.

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