During the Vietnam War, a rift between government officials and journalists emerged. The American government felt the need, for various reasons, to censor many war developments. In an attempt to act ethically, the press fought the censors, trying their hardest to report the truth to the general public. Despite claims of bias and distortion by several prominent government officials, these journalists acted completely ethically, allowing the general public to obtain a fair, informed opinion.
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) provides a very clear and thorough Code of Ethics, which serves as a good definition of ethical journalism. According to this code, an ethical journalist must try to minimize any potential harm done to people directly involved with the event being reported. Such a journalist should also act independently of any personal biases, and be responsive to any criticism of their work. Finally, a truly ethical journalist must seek to find and report the truth (Society). Common sense reaffirms these guidelines. When one thinks of ethical behavior, one usually thinks along terms of being truthful, appreciative of others, acting responsively and using fair judgement. All of these concepts are explicitly stated in the SPJ's Code of Ethics.
Minimizing harm done by journalism in times of war is a difficult task. Naturally, there are bits of information that the government needs to keep secret for one reason or another. There is also the danger of victims' stories being exploited and sensationalized. The SPJ's Code of Ethics recommends that journalists should "treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings worthy of respect" (Society). During the extreme...
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Hallin, Daniel C. The Uncensored War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Janson, Donald. "Police Assault on 21 Newsmen in Chicago Are Denounced by Officials and Papers." New York Times August 28, 1968: 36.
Kenworthy, E W. "Agnew Says TV Networks are Distorting the News." New York Times November 14, 1969: 1-2.
Kifner, John. "On the Road to Chicago With Some Protestors." New York Times August 23, 1968: 22.
Mitchell, Michael C. "Television and The Vietnam War." Naval War College Review 37.3 (1989): 42-52.
Nixon, Richard. No More Vietnams. New York: Arbor House, 1985.
Roberts, Steven V. "McCarthy Group Seeks to Put Antiwar Candidate on Ballot." New York Times August 22, 1968: 1.
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