Cover Ups

Friday, October 17, 2008


Should reporters lie or misrepresent themselves in order to get an important story? Undercover reporting has long been an effective, exciting and, some would argue, necessary journalistic tool. But at a time when the public's trust in the press is waning, can journalists afford to lie? Brooke talks with undercover reporters and their critics.
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Comments [7]

F. Milton Olsen III from 3rd from the sun

Why would we ever need undercover reporting? That would imply the existence of conspiracies, and we know that all conspiracies happened in the past and none can happen now.

These undercover reporters are just crackpot conspiracy theorists and should be drummed out of journalism for engaging in these crackpot fantasies that something might be going on that's hidden.

Media should get back to their rightful job of being scriveners for those with money and power and stop all this nonsense.

Nov. 30 2008 08:43 AM
Mark P from San Mateo, CA

Kevin Maness's idea--having an independent review board (a la medical or university review boards) for journalists considering using deception to get a story--is interesting. As I understand it, university review boards keep their criteria public and have discussions with other university boards to insure that all boards are roughly on the same page in what is considered acceptable and what is not. It seems like editorial review boards should have this type of discussion and then document their policies.

Oct. 22 2008 12:23 PM
Bill Berger from Milwaukee, WI

Your story stimulated a lot of thoughts, from Geraldo to undercover police work. Basically, the how and the why make a lot of difference. Also, "targets" need to be justly targeted. The opportunity for sensationalization is not a justification.

The best example of undercover journalism is, perhaps, John Howard Griffin. The "Taget" in Black Like Me is not an individual or an institution, but an entire society. And, that "Target" was also his audience. Unlike many others, his undercover work required enormous courage and was truly life-changing. It had to be to change society.

As an aside few of my children's generation (in their 20's) have heard of the book and none have read it that I can find. His journey began in New Orleans 1 Nov 1959. It was written in (an edited) journal format. I for one would love to hear this serialized on the radio next (the 50th) year following his journey day by day, as written in his dairy. Added commentary by a journalist 50 yr later who followed in his footsteps would add "color" and contrast.

If you have no use for this idea, please feel free to pass it on or publish it. If you would like to use it, feel free to edit out before posting this comment.

Oct. 21 2008 08:52 PM
Brian Laughlin from NYC

Hi, I'm Brian and I'd like to tell the world about all the crappy things you're doing. So I'm just ask you a couple of questions.....

Yeah right. Covert reporting is moral and ethical.....except for the the Dateline predator guy. I'm not sure that's journalism. It's more like Punked - Ashton Kucher should host.

Oct. 21 2008 12:07 AM
NickB from Seattle

I meant horribly...

Oct. 20 2008 12:43 AM
NickB from Seattle

It is largely irrelevant now whether journalists deceive to get stories: the damage is already done. It is clear that almost all journalists are now incapable of professional detachment, and the degree of personal prejudice, or institutional stance, that is embedded in just about all journalism renders them all horrible partisan.

This leaves us with the tragic situation where the most honest of all of them is AM talk radio, who at least states clearly where it is coming from.

Oct. 20 2008 12:25 AM
Kevin Maness from Wayne, PA

I thought it was funny that this story followed a piece that summarized several studies in which university researched lied to and manipulated test subjects in order to find out how their political opinions could be influenced by the expressions of other opinions! Yet that first piece never once questioned the ethics of deceiving test subjects. Why is it unethical for a journalist to mis-represent his/her identity in order to uncover hidden stories, but not even a question when university researchers do the same thing?

I am a university researcher, so I know that, if I intend to deceive the subjects in my research, I have to explain why that's necessary and how I'll protect my subjects from any harm that might befall them due to my deception. Maybe there should be an independent review board for journalists, where they could be required to apply for permission to use deception in their investigative reporting?

Oct. 18 2008 11:19 AM

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