Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Blogger Code of Ethics? How about a Journalist Code of Ethics first?

APRIL 13 UPDATE: See follow-up post here.


Yes, I know one already exists, though one would think otherwise given recent stories by supposedly legitimate media outlets. But how about actually enforcing journalist ethics in the news media before trying to force similar tenets on the blogosphere?

I have avoided blogging about the topic of media bias, largely because people would (rightly) question my own objectivity on that issue, given recent events. Though there is nothing more frustrating in the world than to see something in the newspaper that you are 100 percent certain is an absolute fabrication, it is almost as frustrating to see those same newspapers and other old media outlets attempt to sell themselves as objective and factually accurate while dismissing blogs and other new media as biased and full of errors.

Today, the New York Daily News ran a front page article about a third year Brooklyn Law School student who appeared nude on an episode of a Playboy Channel TV series that aired in January with little to no fanfare but attracted attention when a 45 second clip of the broadcast appeared on the internet three weeks ago and quickly "spread... among students and some faculty at almost every New York law school."

Before I comment any further I should make one thing clear: this law student certainly put herself in the public eye by voluntarily appearing on this television show. It is difficult to predict how the public will react to attention-seeking behavior--even people who engage in virtually identical attention-seeking acts may end up with widely divergent outcomes. Thus, it is difficult for me to sympathize with this law student when she says that she "did not expect it to become so widespread." While it may be unfortunate that the media chose to cover this story in such a way, the media (as well as anonymous internet users) certainly had the right to do so.

That said, certain aspects of the Daily News's coverage of this story do not sit well with me, and deserve further attention and discussion:


1) The Daily News did not report the news--it created it.

Did a law student appear nude on the Playboy Channel? Yes.

Did law students at her school see a video of her appearance? Yes.

Was her career ever in jeopardy? No.

Well, at least not until the Daily News got involved.

The Daily News reporter writes, among other things, that "potential employers are sure to discover Dominguez's striptease with a quick Internet search." But this is simply not true. Although Dominguez's video spread through email and was discussed on a few isolated message board threads, as of this writing none of those discussions appear in any Google searches for Adriana Dominguez (see for yourself). Given that she shares her name with a Spanish actress, a University of Texas lecturer, and an executive editor at HarperCollins, it is highly improbable that an employer googling her name would ever stumble upon this video. Similarly, it is unlikely that the New York bar's character and fitness examiners would have become aware of this incident through Google.

Until now. Though this law student had completely G-rated Google results prior to the story, in less than 12 hours the Daily News article has already shown up in Google as the 21st result for her name, and is likely to enter the top 10 relatively soon. In other words, the Daily News did not report on an existing controversy--it actually created a controversy when none existed prior to its involvement.

2) The Daily News ignores the OTHER third year Brooklyn Law School student who appeared on the Playboy Channel

But perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the Daily News's coverage of this "story" is its application of double standards. While the Daily News plasters Ms. Dominguez's photo on the front page of the newspaper and makes repeated references to her career as a lawyer being in jeopardy (including the possibility of not making it through character and fitness), the article fails to mention that, according to several sources, the male performer in the video is also a third year student at Brooklyn Law School. This individual is not a mere bystander--he has dialogue, and participates in the much-written about spanking scene (see here--note that while the link contains censored pictures and commentary, it is not safe for work).

Don't get me wrong: I do not believe that either of these students should be subject to increased scrutiny by the character and fitness committee, let alone have their law licenses denied as a basis of their participation in this video. But if the Daily News and other media outlets are going to place her photo on the front page, identify her by name, and speculate that the video "could have dire consequences for the would-be lawyer," result in "tough questions from the Committee on Character and Fitness," and potentially "wreck her future," should they not subject her male law student co-star to comparable scrutiny? Or do the Daily News and Brooklyn Law School believe that it is perfectly acceptable to appear in a pornographic video as long as you are a man?

3) What's the Daily News's agenda?

Make no mistake about it: there was an agenda here. Everything from the front page placement to the failure to mention the male law student indicates that we are not looking at an unbiased and neutral piece of journalism. Someone--whether the reporter or whoever contacted the reporter--wanted this article to run in the form it did, and unfortunately we have no way of knowing who that someone is or what that someone's motives are. I wish I could say this is an isolated incident, but having been the victim of similar hit pieces, as well as having friends who work at traditional media outlets, I suspect stories like this are the rule rather than the exception.


Are some bloggers biased or have a hidden agenda? Most certainly. Are many blogs factually inaccurate? Of course. Do some bloggers lack civility and use their blogs to ruin the reputations of others? You bet.

Does this make blogging worse than the traditional media? No: it's just that many bloggers will acknowledge all of the above, while the traditional media simply refuses to acknowledge that it suffers from these same problems.

As for a blogger code of ethics, I think we should pass for now, in the interests of regulatory parity--we can revisit that subject once the traditional media starts to take ethics seriously.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Wreck said...

So the Daily News has an agenda... could it be that their agenda is simply to sell as many papers as possible and that a news story about an attractive blonde law student appearing in Playboy is going to get more attention than one that talks about a guy in virtually the same situation? What's the big deal here? She made the decision to put herself out there like that... she shouldn't be surprised if her actions have consequences. As for the Daily News, it was purely business... few (if any) of their readers are going to be as interested in some guy's involvement, so it was left out. Don't tell me you're surprised to see a gender-based double standard about sexually acceptable/unacceptable behavior...

4/11/2007 9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ironic thing is that as you're decrying the fact that Ms. Dominguez's story is going to be moving up the Google rankings, you link to the Daily News story. Which, of course, helps it move up the Google Rankings.

4/11/2007 9:24 AM  
Anonymous Half Sigma said...

Yes, the agenda is that the Daily News knows that men use their penis instead of their brain when they decide whether to buy a copy of the Daily news.

"Male student gets naked" doesn't sell any papers (except in the West Village).

4/11/2007 10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I did not expect it to become so widespread," Dominguez told the Daily News in an e-mail yesterday. "I do not know how it was leaked."

Please, forget her character and fitness...if this was indeed what she wrote, then I don't care what academic credentials she brings to the table...her lack of awareness, common sense, and general cluelessness would indicate that she is not fit to be working in the legal field.

Give me a break; you do a video for "Playboy TV," and you assume it is going to stay underwraps? And just how exactly can she argue that a video which has been distributed by a major, publicly traded company was somehow "leaked"?

Yeah, it sucks that the guy in the video is not being taken to task along with her, but unless she has been living under a rock for the twenty or so odd years she has been alive, she has to have known that the legal field is notoriously not an even playing field for men and women. Glass ceilings abound; women still have problems being taken seriously in the field, in terms of making partner, etc.
She needs a reality check sooner rather than later.

4/12/2007 1:05 AM  
Anonymous kalokagathia said...

I agree with this post 100%

I love how the censored photos actually block out the guys face despite the face that he willingly participated in the video... if this is really a character and fitness concern he should be facing the same scrutiny that she is.

She is just another pawn in the neverending quest to sell another paper and make a quick buck.

4/13/2007 11:32 AM  
Blogger Anthony Ciolli said...

anonymous, I'm not "decrying the fact that Ms. Dominguez's story is going to be moving up the Google rankings."

To reiterate: this law student certainly put herself in the public eye by voluntarily appearing on this television show. It is difficult to predict how the public will react to attention-seeking behavior--even people who engage in virtually identical attention-seeking acts may end up with widely divergent outcomes. Thus, it is difficult for me to sympathize with this law student when she says that she "did not expect it to become so widespread." While it may be unfortunate that the media chose to cover this story in such a way, the media (as well as anonymous internet users) certainly had the right to do so.

My criticism is with the NY Daily News creating the news instead of reporting on it. The video clip simply would never have turned up high on an internet search for Ms. Dominguez's name without the newspaper's intervention.

4/14/2007 7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I went through kind of a similar situation myself and it's not so fun. A lot of you have some very unsympathetic things to say about Ms. Dominguez (calling her logical reasoning skills into question, etc).

You see, while I was running for my state senate, I thought it would kind of fun and wild to get naked on camera for a few greenbacks, knowing that it would air on TV once or twice. I mean, politicians can be kind of boring, so I thought, "Why not let my boyfriend spank me with a copy of our State Constitution for the cameras? It's all for fun."

Gosh, was I ever surprised when the clip ended up on the internet. I didn't think it would get so widespread... But hey, I'm not shy, so I wouldn't care whether or not other legislators or my voters had seen the pictures.

Ok, I'm sure you've all figured out that I'm kidding here. Switch the word "lawyer" with "politician" and "gavel" with "State Constitution" (two symbols of each respective profession) and it makes a little bit more sense why some people might see Dominguez's actions as more than a little stupid and disrespectful.

4/22/2007 11:41 AM  

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