Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist Faces Biggest Ethical Dilemma Covering Ugly 2012 Senate Campaign

25 Apr

Finding yourself in the middle of ethical dilemmas can become commonplace for all journalists, even the really successful ones.

Eric Eyre, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the Charleston Gazette Mail, was writing a story about a controversy involving a candidate running for West Virginia state Senate when he found himself in the biggest ethical dilemma in his career.

A former professional wrestler was running for Senate in 2012 when all of a sudden he was faced with answering to some inappropriate messages he had once posted on the message board of the professional wrestling website crowza.com. The messages, many believed, were offensive to teenage girls, the mentally handicapped and women with breast cancer.

Eyre, writing a story about the controversy, set up an interview with the candidate to get all sides of the story. What Eyre was not expecting was for the candidate to give him another controversial quote during that interview.

During the interview, the candidate blurted out that he had struggled with a porn addiction and he and his wife “got off” watching adult films. Eyre now had a decision to make on where the direction of his story was going.

Eyre had to decide whether that quote was newsworthy and needed to be published, as adult films do have a reputation for sexist behaviors, or if the quote was just unnecessary for the public to hear about.

Eyre decided on the latter and that he would publish the story about the controversy, but it would not include the quote from earlier. Most people supported Eyre’s decision however there was still one big critic.┬áSurprisingly, the candidate was very upset with the story that Eyre decided to run.

“He was very upset with me,” said Eyre. “He blamed my story for destroying his life, and costing him the election.”

The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics is very vague in nature, and really leaves it up to the journalists to decide what they can do and not do according to the code. In my opinion, I believe Eyre made the right decision in this case. He had a process he went through and decided that the quote just didn’t need to be published. Some would argue that the quote was newsworthy, but I agree with Eyre that it was not necessary for the story and the public eye.

Eyre also stands by his decision to this day, stating, “Yes I would do the same thing, and publish the same story again.”

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