Journalistic Ethics: Written by Meghan Harrington

Earlier this month, I was interviewed by Meghan Harrington, a Journalism student at The College of New Jersey. She wrote a paper on Media Ethics and cited me as a resource. Check out the full article below:

For a TV station to be respected, most people would agree that the anchors should maintain objectivity and professionalism while on air and remain unbiased. Cable News Network, better known as CNN, is one of the most widely watched cable and satellite news sources in the world. According to an article for Variety by Joe Otterson, it is currently the third most watched news stations in the country. The channel has dozens of news anchors, many having their own daily show. One of CNN’s most well-known anchors is Wolf Blitzer.

Wolf Blitzer has been with CNN for 27 years. According to his biography on the CNN website, he started at CNN as the military affairs reporter, after graduating from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a degree in art history and Johns Hopkin’s University with a degree in International Journalism. He has since been a White House Correspondent, has hosted the Sunday morning show, and has been selected to anchor all of the U.S. presidential elections since 2004. He has had his own daily show on CNN since 2004 called The Situation Room.

For an anchor to become as successful and respected as Blitzer is, they need to be incredibly professional while on air. Kimberly Kravitz is a graduate of Monmouth University and works for WJLP-Me TV, a New Jersey based news station, as the Senior Producer and News Reporter. In an interview over e-mail, she spoke about the importance of maintaining professionalism while she is on air and how to do it. She said, “You always have to be respectful, dress professionally and speak articulately– but you don’t want to sound robotic or monotone on the air either.” She also said that it is a must to “find a balance between being conversational and being too regimented” or people will stop watching.

She went on to list a few tips, such as: “do not chew gum, or curse, or behave immaturely.” After watching several episodes of The Situation Room, it is clear that Blitzer follows all of these tips. In addition to this, he also reports in a serious manner and is rarely joking. Since it is clear that he takes what he is reporting seriously, it is easy for viewers to respect him and trust his reporting.

Kravitz also said, “Try to be the best possible version of yourself while representing your station. If you slip up, that is what will be remembered unfortunately.” One of the reasons why Blitzer has been so successful and has maintained his success may be because he has not had any major controversies or slip ups.

When it came to any responsibilities she believes she has to her viewers, Kravitz said, “I work with many seasoned anchors and reporters, who have years and years of experience. They have taught me the importance of journalistic ethics.” She cited telling her audience where she is when she is on location for a story as an example of what she has been taught. She continued with saying, “It can be a simple brick wall background and your viewers would never know the difference, but it is illegal and wrong to say you are in a different location from where you really are.” She finished with that she thinks that for a journalist to be “factual, unbiased, unfabricated and present” is what viewers deserve.

It is very important for journalists to be truthful to their viewers on where they are reporting from and what is actually happening, as seen in the case of former NBC journalist Brian Williams. According to an article by Andrew Hart for The Huffington Post, Williams “had repeatedly claimed that he was in a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire during his time embedded with U.S. troops”; in addition to other cases of lying about his whereabouts. When these claims were disproven, he was suspended for six months without pay from NBC and was forced to resign from anchoring the nightly news show. Blitzer has not had any controversies like this, putting his credibility into question.

Many people look to TV news to get an unbiased and fairly reported news report. Bob Lund is a 1980 graduate from Kutztown University with a degree in Television Production. In addition to being the current President and General Manager for Philadelphia based TV station WMCN, he has also worked as a producer and photographer for NBC.

When asked about the importance of staying neutral while reporting through an interview over e-mail, Lund said, “I believe that both sides of every story/issue should be presented evenly. A good journalist is neutral and willing to explore all sides and sources. A good journalist ignores personal opinions, prejudices, etc. to cover a story fairly.” He finished by saying that someone who is advocating one position, opinion, or issue over the other is not a journalist.

Although Blitzer tries to report unbiasedly, it is clear that he is not a fan of President Trump or his administration. To help present more than one side of the story, on The Situation Room, many political experts are featured on the show to give a more well-rounded outlook on the topic. Several other CNN shows, like CNN Outfront with Erin Burnett and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon also use this method of discussing the news. These experts can include White House correspondents and political analysts. Often times, they have opposing views so that more than one opinion on the topic is heard.

In an early November episode, Blitzer was reporting about sexual misconduct allegations against former Alabama state judge Roy Moore and bribery and kidnapping allegations against the former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Four people were on the panel to discuss it: Sunlen Serfaty, a Congressional Correspondent, Matt Viser, the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief, Philip Mudd, a former CIA Counterterrorism Official, and Mark Preston, a Senior Political Analyst. Some are more of an expert on topics than others and can bring their knowledge and experiences to the discussion.

Although in this case they all had similar views on the topic, they could all bring their own unique perspective that was formed from their specific experiences in their career to the conversation. Before asking Mudd his opinion on the allegations against Flynn and repercussions he may face, Blitzer even said, “You used to work for the FBI and the CIA.” Mudd drew back on his experiences to comment and said, “He will lay a charge of lying. That’s a charge that carries a federal time in prison. So I think the timing of the initial indictments is critical to these conversations…they better tell the truth or else they’re looking at what happened two weeks ago, a lying to a federal official charge and that’s five years or more.” Someone on that panel may be incredibly well-versed when it come to the White House or foreign affairs but would not have been able to offer the perspective that Mudd did on this topic.

There is a responsibility that journalists have to their viewers to do their job, reporting the truthfully and professionally. Lund said, “On-air people are always tempted to be the first to ‘break’ a big story but the truly good ones adhere to criteria that must be met. Such criteria as independent sources, fair reporting, and equal time are often ignored by some, but not the good true journalists.” Through having these panels, staying professional, and doing his best to stop panelists to interrupt or talk over each other, even when he is reporting on a breaking news story, Blitzer meets the criteria set out by Lund.

Steven Stone, a graduate of University of North Texas is a professor of TV production at The College of New Jersey. He has worked for TV stations such as MTV and CBS. He said, “I don't think it's a matter of staying neutral. It's simply about relaying facts. Sometimes an anchor's personal feeling may be exposed, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.” In the case of The Situation Room, it is not a bad thing because more than one opinion is presented and allows the viewer to hear from different sides of the story and make their own opinion.

When it comes to staying neutral for Kravitz, she said that she will not form an opinion on her stories until after she has completed the interviews. She used the controversial taking down of the Christopher Columbus statue in Long Branch, New Jersey as an example. She said, “I haven’t even thought about my own opinion on this story yet, because I am so busy producing the piece. Once it is completed and I have talked to both sides, then I would be able to form an educated opinion.” She said that she believes this is the safest way to do it as a journalist.

A reason why a journalist, or any viewer, will stray away from watching or reading a particular news source is because they feel that the source does not report their news fairly or unbiasedly. Although Kravitz herself does watch CNN regularly, it is not her go-to source of news. She said, “They are an excellent cable news network, but in my personal opinion, I feel other networks are more factual and unbiased.”

Lund is a fan of CNN but has his criticisms of the channel. He said, “I feel CNN’s reporting is fair. My main criticism is that in order to fill 24 hours per day, they need to have a lot of ‘opinion’ segments that are essentially talk shows. The hosting and writing of talk shows is completely different from a formal newscast and softens their journalistic integrity and opens them up to accusations of ‘fake news’.” He said that viewers tuning in are often unsure of if they are watching a newscast or a talk show.

When asked for his opinion of CNN, Stone agreed with Lund. He said that, “CNN doesn't really provide overall news anymore. They're more about point-counterpoint political shows or just opinion shows.” He said that he prefers to watch “a more traditional newscast with lead stories, sports and weather.” After analyzing The Situation Room, it is clear that many of CNN’s shows do not follow the traditional newscast style of reporting

Professionalism and objectivity are two of the most crucial things a journalist, especially an on-air broadcaster, should have in order to have a successful and lasting career in journalism. Wolf Blitzer’s professional and well-rounded way of reporting may be why he is one of CNN’s most notable and experienced reporters.

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