Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Blog as a Scapegoat in the Mark Foley Investigation

Ethics never strays too far in the newsroom. After all, when ethics comes into play on the front page, there's no hiding. Not long after the editorial flareup behind the Muhammed cartoons, the Mark Foley debacle opened up a new dialogue: should we pursue a story based on incriminating digital messages in a high-profile child predator case? And should we publish them?

The essential Poynter.org posted a wonderful analysis of the press' coverage of the Foley investigation - which paper posted the converstions, who slept at the wheel, and how everyone covered their bases.

What's interesting is the back-and-forth dialogue of the editors discussing the possibilities of a story at the onset of curiosity. But what's MOST interesting is that, at the end of the day, ABC News pushed it into consciousness - via a blog.

Did ABC use the blog due to the risk of the unknown? Accusing someone of being a child predator without substantial evidence would never come to light on the evening news, especially after Dan Rather's fall from grace. The true question Poynter's own dissection didn't answer for me is: why a blog? So if it was an incorrect statement, it could be retracted without significant publicity? Is the blogs identity as a less-than-truthful entity, despite its use by a mainstream news organization, an excuse for not delving into reporting the story?

Or worse, if the story had turned out to be false, would the perceived nature of a blog be the reason for why it's acceptable to have posted it in the first place - and effectively accusing a Congressman of being a child predator?

Are true news blogs, like ABC's, less than true when faced with pressure? Had the Foley investigation ended in innocence, would the blame rest on one blogger and his blog instead of an entire news team and the network?

ABC clearly used their blog as a finger to the wind to substantiate a lack of news judgement. But should they really have gotten the scoop on a story without really knowing what the story is?

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