What slander and an impeachment inquiry can teach us about ethics

Over the past several weeks, journalism ethics have been under fire domestically and internationally.

 Here in the U.S., during a July phone call, President Trump pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, resulting in an impeachment inquiry proposed by the Democrats in the House of Representatives. As expected, when this news became known to the public, journalists from any and all news outlets jumped on the story. 

One of the most prestigious news outlets, the New York Times, was of course one of the first and most viewed publications when the scandal arose. The New York Times made the high-risk decision to reveal who the whistleblower was that called out the Trump-Zelensky phone call. A whistleblower is a person who informs about a person or organization engaged in an illicit activity. 

This ignited the debate whether the New York Times was just in exposing the identity of the whistleblower. The New York Times stated, “The whistle-blower, a C.I.A. officer detailed to the White House at one point, first expressed his concerns anonymously to the agency’s top lawyer.” 

The hashtag #CancelNYT was trending for a whole weekend as the full story began to unfold. Subscribers threatened to cancel subscriptions because of the New York Times’ lack of protection for the individual that jeopardized their livelihood and credibility to expose the truth. 

The New York Times quickly and professionally responded to the backlash. 

“We decided to publish limited information about the whistle-blower — including the fact that he works for a nonpolitical agency and that his complaint is based on an intimate knowledge and understanding of the White House — because we wanted to provide information to readers that allows them to make their own judgements about whether or not he is credible…We welcome your thoughts in the comments. We’ll be reading them,” said the New York Times. 

As a journalist, I tread somewhere in the middle on my thoughts about whether this specific case was ethical or not. I do believe that revealing the occupation of the whistleblower makes it easy for Trump’s administration to weed out who the informant could be. This can also be detrimental for the whistleblower because he 

has a life to live which can be at risk because of the information he knew. But, in the era of fast-traveling news and deceptive sources, I understand why the New York Times wanted to assure the public that their sources were credible in such a crucial story. 

Overseas in London, U.K., tabloids The Sun and the Daily Mirror are being sued by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex for the defamation of character of the new member of the royal family. There have been an array of rumors surrounding the Duchess such as making Kate Middleton cry, that she gave out marijuana at her first wedding or faking her pregnancy. But the couple has had enough, the prince especially, who has seen his mother endure similar treatment. 

“There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behaviour, because it destroys people and destroys lives. Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people. We all know this isn’t acceptable, at any level. We won’t and can’t believe in a world where there is no accountability for this…Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one. Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces,” said Prince Harry in a public statement. 

In this case, I am not so objective. Since Markle became more prominent in the public eye, she has been criticized and put under a microscope by the British media, which seems to be deeply rooted in xenophobia and racism. The royal couple has every right to push back and defend themselves when they are constantly being attacked by mediocre journalists that get paid to gossip and fabricate stories. 

Today, we need credible and objective media more than we ever did. But within the vast dimension of journalism, there are moral codes that should be followed. As journalists, it is our job to tell the truth no matter how ugly — but we cannot forget that there is a right way to do that. 

Qur’an Hansford 

junior journalism major

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