More Interview Ethics: Janet Mock Ambushes Piers Morgan

janet_mock_piers_morgan_1_16x9_1600

Piers Morgan, CNN’s imported British tabloid reporter turned Larry King replacement, invited trans author and activist Janet Mock on his show to promote her new memoir, “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.” As I watched the interview (because of Mock and not Morgan, who makes my skin crawl), I was struck by how far such interviews have come since David Susskind would invite transgendered individuals on his PBS show—this was classy, remember—and essentially hold them out as freaks. Morgan was respectful and supportive, though the sensationalist aspect was still there but muted: the text under Mock during her interview read “BORN A BOY,” and “was a boy until age 18,” which are, though accurately describing how most CNN viewers would understand Mock’s journey, over-simplified and counter to how Mock describes herself.

Mock seemed happy, Morgan seemed gracious. Then Mock went on Twitter and Buzzfeed to pronounce Morgan a clueless, ignorant, biased jerk.  He was, shockingly, “trying to do infotainment” Mock said. Morgan’s show is the epitome of infotainment, and everybody knows it. She criticized him for “sensationalizing” transgender people while neglecting a substantive discussion about her book. The sales of Mock’s memoir depend on its sensational aspects, again, as she and her publisher well know. Mock accused Morgan of asking the same kinds of embarrassing questions about body parts and boy friends that non-trans people are inevitably curious about. Well, of course he did…because that’s what his audience is curious about.

None of this was communicated to Morgan either before, during, or after the interview. Morgan, who is no Sam Rubin, was incensed, and struck back via Twitter, since that is the forum where Mock chose to publicly attack him. In various tweets and exchanges he called Mock cowardly, “churlish,” and shameful, and criticized her allies as well, as she successfully brought down the progressive hoards on Morgan’s head. The same week, he invited her back to on the show along with a panel so he could defend himself while assailing her conduct. You can read the transcript of that show here.

What’s going on here? Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Actress Jennifer Lawrence

Walters and Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence is a young break-out movie star. She’s talented and charismatic. Now she need to learn that people pay attention to what celebrities think and say, too much so, in most cases, and she either needs to improve her knowledge base to say, 7th Grade level, exercise judgment by not spouting irresponsible and ignorant opinions as if the national media was a typical blog comment thread, or shut up about anything weightier than what it is like to work with her co-stars and what she eats on location.

I point this out because, in a regrettable instance of the aged fool interviewing a newly-minted one, Barbara Walters—who just told Piers Morgan, on the topic of Barack Obama,  that “We thought that he was going to be – I shouldn’t say this at Christmastime, but – the next Messiah—-interviewed Lawrence for Barbara’s upcoming  “Most Fascinating People of 2013” TV special, and Jennifer opined,

“I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV. If we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?” Continue reading

Cuomo Interviewing Cuomo? Of Course It’s A Conflict!

The interesting question isn’t whether CNN’s Chris Cuomo blithely interviewing the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo—who happens to be his brother–is a conflict of interest and an example of unethical journalism. Of course it is. The interesting question is what it tells us about the state of U.S. journalism that such an interview could even occur.

Here are two prominent provisions of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, requiring that ethical journalists…

  • “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”
  • “Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.”

Is there any question that a CNN anchor man interviewing his brother regarding anything whatsoever violates both of these? Real or perceived? Compromise integrity or damage credibility? Seriously?

Cuomo the Anchorman was interviewing Cuomo the Governor regarding the recent train accident. Conflict? Sure: the journalist is supposed to have only one duty, and that is to his audience. But Cuomo the Anchorman obviously has another, potentially confounding duty of loyalty to his interview subject, and this he must not have. It calls into question his willingness to probe and, if the facts warrant it, to ask uncomfortable questions of his subject. If Chris Cuomo’s duty to his audience unexpectedly requires him to breach his loyalty to his own brother, which will he choose? We don’t know. Perhaps Cuomo himself doesn’t know. He was obligated not to place himself in a situation where the question even needed to be asked.

The various defenses being offered are, I have to say, misguided and disturbing. The usually sensible Joe Concha of Mediaite writes that the controversy is “much ado about nothing.” His reasons are … Continue reading

Why Lawrence O’Donnell’s Interview With Herman Cain Wasn’t Unethical Journalism

Lawrence O’Donnell’s unconscionable roast of GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain —-no fair journalist would call it an “interview”—made me realize that broadcast journalism ethics have fractured to the point where it is unfair to apply the same ethics standards to different networks and programs. My initial reaction to seeing O’Donnell’s over-the-top performance was that it represented a new low in broadcast journalism interview ethics. Now I think that is unrealistic and unfair. O’Donnell’s conduct was what MSNBC’s audiences want to see, and what critics should expect to see. Herman Cain, the target in this case, consented to the abuse. Where’s the unethical journalism? There was no journalism. Continue reading

The Ethics of Interviewing Kids on Camera

 

Art Linkletter was right: "Kids say the darndest things!"

When I initially learned about  Chicago TV station WBBM editing  an interview with a 4-year-old boy last month to make him sound like an aspiring gang-member when he actually said that he wanted to be a policeman, I decided to pass. I try to avoid making obvious observations, and nobody could defend the conduct of the station’s editors, who intentionally truncated the child’s remarks to the interviewer to make them sound chilling. The larger question of whether the child should have been interviewed at all, however, is more challenging. We see kids being interviewed on TV all the time, and it is far from certain that reporters are doing so ethically.

In the wake of  the WBBM incident, journalistic ethics expert Al Thompkins reprinted his guidelines for interviewing juveniles on the Poynter site. I’m an admirer of Thompkins, but I found his guidelines almost as chilling as the distorted interview itself. Here is his guidance on the issue of interviewing kids, with my reactions: Continue reading