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WIS-TV Senior Reporter from Columbia, South Carolina Heather Hoopes received a call about a news worthy videotape. Directions were given to her that the tape could not be mailed or dropped off. The tape needed to be picked up from the source’s home. With these distinct orders, the source also asked to remain anonymous. Hoopes agreed, but still felt uncertain about retrieving the tape alone. Hoopes brought her husband, Jim Matthews the local DEA head, to the caller’s home. Hoopes and Matthews are not aware of the tape’s footage when they go to receive it. After reviewing the tape, she realizes it is a conversation between a murder suspect and his defense attorney. In an effort to protect the arrested man’s rights, she only shows the video and cuts the audio. After all of this occurs, the FBI began to investigate and attempt to get the name of the video’s confidential source. This cannot be obtained because Hoopes and the WIS-TV team are protected by the first Amendment. The FBI found a loophole, through her husband Matthews who was with her upon the retrieval of the tape. FBI officials subpoenaed Matthews in efforts that he will reveal the source’s identity. They were able to do this since the First Amendment did not protect him. Matthew’s lawyer, along with the WIS-TV legal team, filed motions with the United State’s District Court asking that he not testify against his will. Added to these motions were written pleas to Attorney General
Janet Reno, FBI director Louis Freeh and Justice Department official Beneva Weintraub. These motions and letters did not help, Matthews was to testify in court. Ultimately, he had to admit the source. The source lied on the stand and received several months in jail. The deputy was also ordered to pay two hundred and fifty dollars for filming the conversation. Various principles and values were present in this case and they are intertwined by ancient theories. The ones that stand out to me the most are honesty, credibility and integrity. Honesty was shown of Hoopes since it is her job to show the news. As a reporter, it is her duty to report the truth for the better of her community. This value relates to the Utility principle of John Stuart Mill. This theory states that consequences of an ethical decision should be taken into account. With this being said, harming one person causes less damage than harming a larger group. What Hoopes has done has put the arrested man in jeopardy, but it lets the truth be known to the community. The next value shown is credibility. She kept her promise to the source that she would keep him disclosed. This showed her credibility to the profession of journalism and her relationship with sources. Credibility is very much in line with the Pluralistic Theory of Value by philosopher William David Ross. Ross stated that there is often more than one ethical principle competing for the top spot in an ethical decision making process. With this theory come many duties. The most prominent duties shown here are fidelity and gratitude. For fidelity, Hoopes made a promise to keep the source anonymous and she did so through the entire legal process. As for gratitude, she was expressing her thanks to the caller for his video. He could have never let this become public, but for
the good of the people he did. The final value is integrity, and it is shown in two ways. She protects the arrested man’s rights by withholding the audio from the tape. She also is honoring the source’s rights of the First Amendment. Aristotle’s Golden Mean is closely aligned with this principle. Aristotle’s Golden Mean states that happiness is the ultimate human good and came through setting high standards. With these setting of high standards came the exercising of them, which was called “practical reasoning”. Aristotle believed that individuals who exercised practical reasoning made them virtuous. I believe Hoopes was being virtuous, according to Aristotle’s standards, because she was practicing his highest value of citizenship. She not only was looking out for the arrested man’s rights but the disclosed source as well. The ethical issues questioned in this case study are not limited to just one. The first question that must be asked is, was it ethical to retrieve the tape? This question must take into account the fact she brought her husband and that the caller wanted to be anonymous. The next is, was it ethical to even show the tape? External factors like who will see this aired must be considered. Was it ethical of Hoopes to not reveal the source? This takes into question honesty and credibility of the reporter. Finally, was it ethical of the justice system to demand for the source’s identity? As far is reporter’s go, they are protected by the first amendment and so should the sources. In analyzing this case, you must weight the competing principles and values. This means the other side of the values found in the case. As stated previously, Hoopes showed the value of honesty. Even though it is her duty to report the news,
can she ethically show an illegally obtained video? As it later let out in court, this video was in fact obtained illegally from a deputy. There was no knowledge this meeting was being filmed by the arrestee or the defense attorney. Looking at these facts, is it really hurting less people than a big group? As reporters, they are supposed to cover true news in an ethical way. Is showing a video that is true, but obtained illegally ethical? This value is related to Mill’s theory that is focused on the outcome. People could argue that this outcome was not in any one’s best interest. This would include the jail, disclosed source, Hoopes, Matthews, WIS-TV, arrestee, the defense attorney or the arrestee’s family. The next value practiced by Hoopes is credibility. Aside from the ways she seemed credible to her profession and her relationship with sources, it can also be shown how she was un-credible. Since this value is linked to Ross’s Pluarlistic theory, Hoopes has failed to reach the duties of justice and not injuring others. For justice, she has not allowed the arrested man his full opportunity to defend himself or have a full trial. With this tape being shown there will automatically be a bias in the courtroom depending upon his verdict. It also doesn’t sit well with the duty to not injure others because she is injuring many others. This includes her own husband, who is not protected by the First Amendment. This whole ordeal has risked his job as well. The jail and deputy that made the recording is being hurt as well. This fully shows their illegal act of filming the conversation with no authority. This duty, or lack thereof, puts station WIV-TV at risk as well for legal and public scrutiny. The last value is integrity, which brings up a lot of question. It is true that her intentions were to protect the arrested man’s rights by cutting the audio, but did it really make that much of a difference?
Aristotle makes it known that virtuous ethics goes from the act, to the moral character of the person acting. It could be said that her even showing the tape, audio or not, shows her character to be unethical. This is because even showing the video violates his rights since it is illegal. Another take on this could be should she have told the FBI the source. People could counteract that they are the law, and we should help the law. If done so, it probably would not have caused such uproar for herself, just more for the source. Aristotle’s Golden Mean could even show that she was acting as a “coward” about not disclosing the source rather than a “hero”. When analyzing this case, consideration of external factors must be looked at. One must think about the arrested man’s family. Will this be hurtful to them, watching his confession basically on television? Not only for the arrested man’s family, but the victim’s family as well. As a parent, or someone close to the victim, it could be a hard thing to watch unravel on the news. Since this is the town it occurred in, both families are sure to be aware of it. Duties to various parties must be examined in this case. Above all, Hoopes had a duty to her moral judgment. She felt that she was reserving some of the arrested man’s rights, but since he was blatantly guilty he should be exposed. Hoope’s had a duty to her profession, which was to report the truth. This duty links into her duty to the public. Hoope’s believed that they should know of the crime and that a man confessed to murdering one of their own. She also has a duty to her financial supporters. In this case that would be NBC, advertisers, and stockholders. These are key players in her company and must be considered in this case. The final duty is to her institution. The First Amendment protects her when she does not
disclose the source’s identity because of the institution. Aside from her duties; one needs to look at Matthews. He had marital duties to his wife and was upholding them. This could be the reasoning behind why he went with her to the source’s home and why she fought for him to not testify. Duties in this case are important so one can see the relation to the values. My decision on if this case study is ethical or not was based on the values, theories and my personal views. I believe Hoopes was acting in an ethical manner, and did this out of good spirit. I used theories and their outcomes in my analysis to come to this conclusion. I ultimately feel that the good outweighs the bad. I believe that the values of honesty, credibility, and integrity really stood out; this showed the moral character of Hoopes. Out of the three theories compared, I was most impressed with her integrity that followed Aristotle’s Golden Mean theory. I felt that she followed the three main steps in the theory. These steps are: understand, through practical reasoning, what you’re doing, select the act for its own sake so it can flourish, and the act itself must spring from an unchanging character. Hoopes exemplified these three steps by knowing clearly what she did, trying to protect the rights of people, showing a video that the public needed to see and standing firm and never announcing the source’s identity. John Stuart Mill’s Utility theory, which was laced with her honesty, also lead me to my conclusion. Which really stood out to me was that he believed ethical reasoning should be for the common good of society. I can completely see Hoope’s weighing her options, and seeing this was for the good of the people. The final theory that helped mold my decision is Ross’s Pluralistic Theory that coincides with credibility. Of the many duties mentioned in the theory, I
believe she achieved most of them. This includes fidelity, reparation, gratitude, beneficence and self-improvement. What stood out the most in this theory was that of “prima facie” duties. The definition of this is to keep your promises, and Hoopes did just that. Even though the odds may have not ended up in WIS-TV or Matthew’s best interest, I stand firm in my decision that Hoopes acted ethically. If I were in her shoes, I would have acted in the same way.