Op-Ed: Posturing or reporting: Reporter attitude shapes public views

Posted Jul 29, 2013 by Carol Forsloff
Recently many people have become outraged about Edward Snowden and the George Zimmerman trial, but how much of the public’s reaction to news has to do with reporting and how much with reporter posturing?
March 19  2012 protest in Sanford  Florida.
March 19, 2012 protest in Sanford, Florida.
Werth Media/Flickr Creative Commons
The attraction, and posturing as opposed to reporting, begins with a catchy title, to bring people in and to help people form opinions, often without some of the valuable details needed to help people decide how they feel about events or ideas they may know little or know nothing about. In fact, many reporters decide to write a story simply because of a subject's inherent attraction to preconceived beliefs.
Edward Snowden got a job in order to assess the government’s programs, make decisions about the rightness or wrongness of those programs in his view of records at Booz Allen, the company where he was hired to work as a computer security expert. The British press, The Guardian, was the first to report Snowden’s announcement about US government surveillance programs, with the headline referencing Snowden as a whistleblower. At the outset, however, the title makes a judgment — an opinion.
A whistleblower is usually thought of as that person or persons who finds something irregular, and potentially wrong, within a company, organization, idea or event and takes risks to report it. The assumption is that the information was found as a consequence of involvement in an activity, where the information being revealed becomes virtually a surprise, not an intended finding. It is not the usual to consider the whistleblower someone who takes the job specifically in order to reveal government and company secrets. But that preplanning and the notion of the end justifies the means is not explored in most news articles.
Most mainstream press and blogs around the world have fallen in line with The Guardian's articles as they examine the government response to Snowden’s activities since revealing secrets, and his efforts to escape prosecution. Few have explored the government’s interests at the same time and the notion of Snowden's intention to steal the records at the time those secrets were obtained.
Furthermore there is little mention of the very act of stealing property and how that is applauded as a reasonable way to offer evidence about the government’s activities. Who questions Snowden’s declaration that those who initially harbored him, China and Russia, are more open societies, where folks are less likely to have widespread surveillance of ordinary citizens as well as other governments? That’s even after it has been found that China is hacking American systems and has been for some time.
George Zimmerman’s case brought an outcry from many people that the jury had been inept and the system unjust in not convicting him of killing Trayvon Martin. How many newspapers gave an in-depth review of the character of the Martin family, how Trayvon was raised, and how any of his behavior at the time of the incident when he was killed might be perceived in a trial? The need to be appropriate, as opposed to responsible to provide serious facts on both sides, led to an emotion-ridden type of news both from Florida and the press worldwide. This then creates a bandwagon effect. Who could counter the people’s wrath and refute the notion that the jury may have had more
George Zimmerman Medical Report Sheds Light on Injuries
George Zimmerman Medical Report Sheds Light on Injuries
screenshot from video
evidence in greater detail and an opportunity to review that evidence in close concert with others that might have been the reasonable way to sort the facts? In the rush to be popular and to be liked, however, it was the posturing as opposed to the reporting that helped to stimulate the public wrath toward Zimmerman and the jurors, leading to some of them being threatened.
Sensitive issues are to be treated sensitively, according to journalism ethics. But the potential to put ethics aside becomes the significant problem when posturing replaces reporting.