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Media's Role in the Public Perception of National Security

Ethical Questions

1.) Hypothetical Scenario: You are a reporter for a major news network covering the state of national security. You will be giving a report that discusses the possibility of a terrorist attack on the United States. Recent findings have revealed that there is cause for concern in terms of terrorist strikes, yet there is no substantial evidence as to when such a strike would occur. Nonetheless, your chief editor has requested that your headline read, "Terrorists Threaten Another Attack on American Soil."

If your story goes to print with a headline such as this, you may be invoking a heightened sense of fear and anxiety in the public. You know that some people may only read the headline and may never get to the bulk of the article, which states that there is a cause for concern, but not a direct threat. Should this be a concern, or should you trust that most people would read your article in its entirety? Understanding that the American public has a right to know about possible attacks, you must question if alerting the public will be beneficial or if it will cause harm to the mental and/or economic health of the country.

If you strongly believe the headline is misleading, is removing your name from the byline sufficient?

2.) You are an embedded journalist with a front-line US infantry division and have been covering the War with Iraq. Your reports focus on the possibility of weapons of mass destruction (WMD's) in Iraq. At the present time, there is no significant evidence of Iraqi WMD's. Nevertheless, the US went to war with Iraq in order to seek out these WMD's and they will be anticipating a report stating that they were found. You are beginning to suspect that there are no WMD's to be found and that the country went to war under illegitimate pretenses. You understand that there still could be WMD's not yet discovered. How do you report on the status of WMD's in Iraq when you do not yet know the final outcome of the search?

If you report that WMD's have not yet been found in Iraq, this could be viewed as a questioning of the government's actions to wage war with Iraq in the first place. Is it appropriate to question the government in a time of political controversy due to the tension it could cause with allied nations? Should this influence your decision? Would it be more effective to save your questions for a later time period? If not, is it possible to report the fact that no significant amounts of WMD's have been found in Iraq, without being accused of reporting with a bias?

On the other side of the issue, if you report that the military should be given more time to search for WMD's, are you being objective? If your contemporaries decide to report on the lack of evidence proving WMD's in Iraq, how will that affect your image? Does their reporting influence your decision?

3.) In George Orwell's 1984, a governmental organization known as "big brother" has effectively taken control of the world. They dominate individuals' free will with constant monitors of their private residences and an authority over the flow of information into their homes.

The recent deregulation of the media allows for companies to own 2 television stations reaching a national audience in midsize markets and 3 in large ones. Realistically, a media company cannot gain the political and authoritative power necessary to tell a nation what it should be doing at each moment of the day. Nonetheless, is it possible to monopolize the flow of information into a person's home? If a company was able to do this, would they be able to control America's thought process indirectly through the homogenized products they advertised on their stations? How might this affect America's state of national security? Is the media becoming a real-life "big brother?"