Truth lies at the heart of journalism, but the definition of truth has been fluid throughout history as journalists and other people gained a better understanding of what components are necessary to present information accurately. The conception of what is considered journalistic truth has evolved from presenting “fair and balanced” opinions in articles to presenting an “accurate” story through verification. Thus, thoroughly fact-checking articles to ensure the accuracy of stories is inherently jeopardized through modern society’s emphasis on instantaneous news production, the growing competition for a shrinking readership and editorial pressure to break stories.
For instance, the infamous 2000 election, in which the media incorrectly reported that Al Gore won the election, acts as a prime example of how accuracy can be compromised when news is reported without knowing all the facts and weighing the ethics. The Voter News Service released that Gore had won based off of exit polls in Florida, an important swing state, but voting was still open in Central Time and Pacific Standard Time. Suggs and Stone (2011) said, “Their [the media] rush to get information on air turned out to be a mistake that would cost the media a lot of credibility” (p. 260). The media compromised the validity of the election because many people chose not to go vote after the release of who won the election, according to a study done by Yale University. In this situation, journalists should have taken more time to consider the ethical dilemma before breaking this story because the decision to release this erroneous information about a presidential race that was too close to call influenced the presidential election. Suggs and Stone (2011) said, “Complete accuracy is needed before information is presented to the public. And that’s simply not the case here. News and truth need to be synonymous” (p. 262). Accurate information is useful to the public. Incorrect information is not. The public will always remember who got a story wrong, and the public will rarely remember who broke a story first.
Somewhat similarly in the “Killian Memo Scandal,” Mary Mapes received documents, which alleged that George W. Bush received special treatment during his time at the Texas Air National Guard. She verified the documents to the best of her ability, but she faced editorial pressure to release the story in a matter of days rather than weeks. She conceded, and the documents turned out to be falsified. This ultimately resulted in her getting fired along with many other people who worked with her on this story. Jackson and Coleman said (2008), “Mapes would later write, ‘I was uncomfortable with the script and, in retrospect, I should have done something I’d never done at work before. I should have said ‘No’” (p. 57).
In conclusion, fast-paced information distribution should be secondary to the need to verify the facts of a story and consider any ethical dilemmas that a story may present. The public turns to journalists for vital information about what is happening in the world. The crucial role that journalism plays in democratic societies is jeopardized when stories are released with major fact errors because the inaccurate information that is presented in articles causes the public to doubt the capabilities of journalists to present the truth.
Brown, F. (2011). Case Study 49: And the Winner Is… In Journalism ethics: A Casebook of Professional Conduct for News Media (4th ed., pp. 260-263). Portland, Oregon: Marion Street Press.
Patterson, P. (2008). Rather Reckless: The Killian Memo Scandal. In Media ethics: Issues, cases (6th ed., pp. 56-59). Boston, Massachusetts: McGraw-Hill.