Thursday, May 22, 2008

An ethical dilemma: A minor problem with Library Wars Episode Three

Here's an ethical situation for y'all:

You're a reporter standing at an edge of a lake. In the distance, you spot a boy drowning. You have the means and ability to save him and saving him will not have any unintended consequences (he isn't a child Hitler or anything.) There's also no one else around who could save him. What do you do?

Believe it or not, this is really an ethics question I was asked in one of my journalism classes.

Now the ethical thing to do is to save the kid. He IS drowning after all. You can't just let someone drown in the lake. But there's always a follow-up question to this one.

Do you cover the story?

Make no mistake, it is news. If you're lucky it'll be front page, maybe even above the fold. Because as cold and callous as it might be, "If it bleeds, it leads." Now it won't necessarily be the type of story that would make or break a career, but it'd definitely make cutting out the clip a lot easier. And you could probably do a sidebar about water safety. Maybe you could spin it out into a whole week extravaganza.

But ethically, you shouldn't write it because the moment you hit the water you stopped being a reporter and started being part of the story. This means that there isn't any way for you to be fair about it. So while you might get you're fifteen minutes, you aren't getting the byline.

Now the whole reason I brought this up is that there's a moment in episode three of Library Wars where the reporter offered the military the use of the news heliocopter.

Um… yeah.

I know a lot of people think that the media are profiteers off of war. (And make no mistake they are.) That is a line that just shouldn't be crossed. At that point the reporter stopped being an observer of the story and became part of the story.

And trust me, there's no good way to get out of that sticky situation. Once the media actually starts actively funding the war, (which they are. I mean this isn't a humanitarian mission or anything), they can't start funding the other side of the war. So for all intents and purposes the reporter is screwed.

I'm sure there's somebody right now who's saying, "Um… why are you making a big deal about such a small thing?" And in a way that person is right. It's not like I can expect reality out of fiction. But geez. It'd just be more interesting if the media didn't help out.

The thing is that there is an ideological tension in the show between people who believe that a medium should be censored and people who believe that they shouldn't. By having the reporter blithely offer the use of the heliocopter, the show is saying, "Well the news media wants freedom." But if they did the ethical thing (and not gotten involved) that would produce a far more interesting tension between people who want freedom and fight for it. And people who want freedom but don't (or this case shouldn't) fight for it.

But maybe that's just me.

No comments: