The Warren Jeffs Sex Tapes and the Media’s Ethical Incoherence

Warren Jeffs and his happy, happy wives---caught on tape!

Warren Jeffs, the Texas polygamist recently convicted of raping his child-wives, was sent to his richly-deserved prison sentence with the help of some horrific tape recordings of Jeffs proselytizing his young victims on their God-directed duty to satisfy his sexual needs, and more tapes that recorded his grunts and pants as he had sexual intercourse with them.

The Salt Lake Tribune requested and received copies of the tapes as well as other evidence in the trial. Then, according to an explanation in the paper, it editors had extensive discussions internally regarding the journalistic ethics of making the tapes generally available online. The paper’s decision:

“We opted to post only clips because we did not believe it would be ethical to make recordings of sexual assault, in action or imminent, easily available on the Web. Young girls can be heard in the tapes, and the jury’s decision was clear: These girls are a predator’s victims. In our role as journalists covering difficult stories, we vow to do our jobs while minimizing harm. In choosing not to provide these materials, we acted to minimize harm.

“What you will hear if you listen to the clips is Jeffs explaining and justifying his abuse of young girls in the name of religion. His “teaching” is helpful in understanding the case and the jury’s decision.”

This is hypocrisy of the highest order, and an abuse of a news organization’s function. Continue reading

The Slippery Slopes of Religious Freedom and Female Genital Mutilation

The American Academy of Pediatrics slipped on the slipperiest of ethical slopes when earlier this year it attempted to balance multi-culturalism with pragmatism and traditional medical ethics. The topic was the genital mutilation of young girls in a form of (so-called) “female circumcision” practiced by some Muslims, in which the clitoris is cut and mutilated in order to make future sexual activity less enjoyable, thus ensuring a female’s “virtue.” The AAP argued that its members could ethically agree to inflict a lesser “nick”—a ritual drawing of blood— to fulfill a patient’s parents’ request for the ritual cutting, because to do otherwise might lead to greater harm to a girl’s genitalia if the parents sought a full-fledged mutilation abroad or elsewhere.

This policy effectively repealed the ancient ethical standard of “First, do no harm” by employing the versatile rationalization, “If I don’t do it, someone else will.” Predictably, women’s rights advocates were horrified. Equality Now proclaimed in May… Continue reading