Impartial Reporting

28 Apr

As a professional journalist, there is no escaping the many various ethical dilemmas that often arise in the business. I spoke with a journalist from my hometown, Ethan Rothstein, a writer for ARLnow.com, which is a news site that provides up to the minute local coverage of breaking news in Arlington, Virginia and the surrounding area. Rothstein had experienced an ethical dillemma that hit very close to home.

About two years ago, Rothstein’s editor told him to write a story from a police report that had just come out about a local young man who had supposedly beat up his pregnant girlfriend. However when Rothstein did his research on the story, he found that he actually went to high school with the couple.

Although he was not great friends with the pair, he told me he did know a few things about them and their tumultuous  relationship. They tended to fight a lot, but stayed together out of love. His opinion of the man was that he was a smart and kind guy, and everyone seemed to think that she was very pretty and funny, but could also be very crazy and dramatic.

Rothstein has heard sometime after high school that the girl had unfortunately fallen into a pattern of partying and drugs, and was struggling with heroin addiction. He then heard that she got her boyfriend to try shooting up heroin through a needle with her, but he was apparently not addicted to it like she was, or so he had heard.

“It was a hard thing to hear, someone you knew with so much promise and charisma going down that road, it just seemed like such a waste. he was one of those people you always assumed would accomplish big things.”

When Rothstein realized who the couple was, he immediately tried to pass the story off to one of his co-workers, saying that his account might be too biased since he used to know the couple. But his editor said there was no one else to write the story at that time and he was on a deadline, since it is a breaking news site, and he had to write the story now.

“I really wanted to pass the story off, since not only was it sad to hear about their addiction problem, but I also had a hard time believing the girlfriends account of what she said happened in the police report. It was a just really hard story for me to write.”

Apparently after the couple had a bad fight and temporarily broke up, the girlfriend showed up at his parents house late at night, and the yelling and fighting started. He said she apparently slapped him and he struggled to shove her out of the house and shut the door. She said she had slapped him, and then he grabbed her an hit her multiple times, showing bruises.

So what was Rothstein to do? In his head, he did not fully believe the girlfriends account of the story. He remembered in high school when they would fight, and the dramatic lengths she would go to to get him to talk to her again. He never would have thought the guy would ever hit a woman, but then again sometimes arguments can get out of hand.

He decided that he was going to do what all ethically sound journalist must do. If he had to write the story, he was going to report only the facts and write a brief account of what was put in the police report, and let a co-worker update the story once new details arose. He obviously had to leave his opinion out of it, and report the girls account who called the police -although he was not sure he believed it.

Rothstein later saw a friend of the boyfriends while he was out one night, a guy they both went to high school with. When he asked what had happened, he was told that the man did some jail time and that all the reports that came out on him got him fired from his job, and he was still unsuccessful in finding another.

He also found out that he got back together with his girlfriend and reconciled in hopes that she would not still press charges, although the state picked up the case anyway. She still struggled with heroin, but had finally gone to rehab for it. He also found out that the girlfriend was never pregnant, as she claimed to be in her police report.

After doing some fact-checking, he made sure one of his co-workers wrote an accurate update on the story.

 

 

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