Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Journalism needs ethics

The profession is in danger of losing its ethics
Judith Gibson-Okunieff / Daily Collegian (2016).

The world of journalism has been abuzz with news about itself, with the firings of Don Lemon and Tucker Carlson taking center stage over the last few weeks. This is odd for a profession that, in Walter Cronkite’s words, must simply “hold up the mirror” to society. Holding up a mirror obviously implies impartiality, but it also implies not making oneself the story.

So, why were Lemon and Carlson let go by CNN and Fox, their respective networks? We are given official explanations – CNN fired Lemon due to his remarks on women and aging, as well as his general off-screen behavior with colleagues, especially female ones. Fox, on the other hand, did not offer a statement, though the interpretation they’d likely prefer us to accept is that they fired Carlson because his comments crossed the line and such racism is not tolerated at their network (and if you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you).

There’s the official explanation, and there’s reality. In reality, while Lemon’s behavior and Carlson’s racism probably did irk higher-ups at CNN and Fox (yes, even Fox), they were definitely not the cause of the firings. We know this because such behavior was not indicative of a change in either’s character. Lemon’s incidents date back to the late 2000s; his behavior has been like this for a long time.

Similarly, anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past half decade and has been exposed to Carlson’s viral monologues knows that blatant racism was not an oddity but an intended feature.

If Lemon’s personality and Carlson’s bigotry were the reasons for their terminations, why now? What changed?

Nothing at all — at least not as far as their character traits. However, the bottom line for both networks started to change. CNN started to have trouble booking guests to work with Lemon since his on-air comments about women and aging rubbed Twitter the wrong way, which started to hurt the outlet financially. Fox, embroiled in its Dominion voting machines lawsuit, was petrified that Carlson’s racist text messages would come to light during the trial, leading to a PR nightmare and financial loss (and a negative verdict, which the outlet was clearly afraid of regardless, given the hefty settlement it agreed to).

Both terminations had nothing to do with the ethics of our profession; they were instead self-interested financial decisions. These outlets happened to fire people who conducted themselves poorly, but not because they conducted themselves poorly.

I accept that these companies are ultimately corporate entities, and that they’re ultimately going to make decisions based on the profit motive. It should trouble all current and aspiring journalists, however, that the largest journalistic entities of our time, the major media corporations of CNN and Fox (and others like CBS; Charlie Rose’s termination was only five years ago), seem to have lost their ethical grounding and only come to the right decision if and when monetary incentives command it.

It’s perfectly fine to argue that we should all maintain our ethics as individual journalists, but what good does that do when nearly all current or aspiring journalists (for the time being, at least) will work for one of the major media houses at some point in their career? Independent, non-establishment media outlets are starting to emerge, but most of our profession still occurs in the mainstream media. Individual dedication to ethical considerations is well and good, but when we’re employed in organizations that seem to not care about them until they coincide with the profit motive, our chances to act upon and realize those ethical ideas are pretty slim.

Sadly, it seems like the only current solution is to try to slowly peel off the numbers of the major media institutions by heading to work at independent outlets. This will require personal sacrifices on the part of individuals in the form of lower pay, less job stability and more unsafe work environments. However, to eventually break the monopoly that the corporate media has on the profession, and to practice journalism in an ethical manner, it seems this will be necessary. All that remains to be seen is whether we will follow through on it.

Manas Pandit can be reached at [email protected].

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • A

    Alison SattlerMay 11, 2023 at 12:08 am

    I agree with this article completely! CNN is now giving Trump air time to promote himself while he drowns out the moderator’s voice. Fox “News” was really the t.v. version of the Enquirer “news” magazine (if it still exists). I’m afraid for this country’s future with so many people being willing to support an obvious liar and criminal. Even our Supreme Court Justice is now corrupt. No one should be above the law and we need laws that ensure that ordinary (i.e. working class) people can bring wealthy and powerful people to justice. I don’t think people believe the courts are fair either.