Ethics 2012: Case Study #1

 Case Study #1: Cooperating with the Government

WHAT: Describe the situation. Assemble all relevant facts, list all the angles. In other words, do the reporting. Put the ethical dilemma in the form of a question. Write it down to be sure it makes sense.

It began on Jan. 18, 2005, and ended two weeks later after the longest prison standoff in recent U.S. history. Two inmates at the Arizona prison complex near Buckeye armed themselves with homemade weapons and took over a prison guard tower. They held two correctional officers hostage, releasing one of them, a male, a week into the standoff and the second, a female, before surrendering two weeks later, on Feb. 1.

The governor’s office telephoned news executives around the state and urged them not to reveal certain basic information. The governor explained that the state feared for the safety of the two prison guards and didn’t want further trouble at the prison. The state would not release the names of the hostages or the names, criminal histories or disciplinary records of their captors until after the siege ended.

As the standoff and blackout continued, authorities said they were worried that publicity would reach the inmates and foil negotiations.

The question: Should your media outlet go along with the state’s request not to release the information?

WHO: The principals (people) who will make the decision and those who will be affected by it. First, decide who is responsible for the decision. The managing editor? News director? Does this go all the way to the top? Then list the major stakeholders, ranging from the subjects of the story to the general public. Remember that not everyone will be affected to the same degree by what you decide to do.

In the Arizona prison standoff, it could be argued that there’s not one “decider,” but rather a collective decision to be made. Each individual broadcast station and newspaper, and the executives charged with deciding at each, would want to know what the others are going to do.

As for the stakeholders, they include those with the most to lose — the guards held in captivity — and the prisoners who took them hostage. Working down the list in terms of their stake in the outcome of your decision are other prisoners at Buckeye, the families of the guards and prisoners, prison officials, other state officials, your media outlet (and its reputation) and then members of the public. Maybe you can think of others. And consider the range — from the guards (who could be killed) to the public (who might just shrug off the story).

WHY: These are principles (standards) you will use in deciding what to do. In most cases, it comes down to a balance between telling the truth and minimizing possible harms. Identify these and other moral responsibilities. The best moral decision is the one that does the greatest good for the greatest number of stakeholders.

In the Arizona case, there are some key principles you need to question: Does our primary obligation to tell the truth outweigh the potential harm of dead guards and renewed prison unrest? How does keeping this information from the public stop this from happening? Should we be cooperating with officials whose shortcomings may have led to this situation? There are other questions to be asked. Ask them.

One newspaper editor warned that a blackout “creates an atmosphere that feeds off of suspicion and rumor” but also said “We trust that the state is taking the safe road…” A radio news director said, “To me the lives of those two guards are more important than getting any story on the air.” Many news executives were not happy with the state’s request, and their reporters were more than upset.

HOW: This is your decision — how do you achieve the outcome you’ve identified as the best? How do you answer the question you raised in the first step? Again, if you write it down, you will have a better idea of whether it makes sense. Also, write down your rationale, and consider making it part of your coverage. Articulating your reasoning will help you answer the questions you’re bound to get.

Posted in News
10 comments on “Ethics 2012: Case Study #1
  1. I believe it would have been best not to report on the prison story. The Editor of the paper should have made the decision to report on it or not. It would have been better if the news didn’t run the story because people might panic and it could have hurt more people. But, when you don’t report on something the rumor mill starts and the general public doesn’t know whats happening. It would be scary to be someone living close to the prison and trying to figure out what’s happening, but they won’t tell you anything. You would be scared for your families life because you wouldn’t know if there was a prisoner on the run or what was going on. That’s why I think they should report on at least what’s happening, so people wouldn’t freak out. Maybe they could say there is a drill going on at the prison so it wouldn’t scare people and the inmates and guards in the tower wouldn’t get hurt. If a guard died before you reported the drill, then you could report their death because it would only hurt the guard inside and their families. It wouldn’t put other peoples lives in jeopardy, and it would save your news company from seeming untruthful.

  2. I believe it would have been best not to report on the prison story. The Editor of the paper should have made the decision to report on it or not. It would have been better if the news didn’t run the story because people might panic and it could have hurt more people. But, when you don’t report on something the rumor mill starts and the general public doesn’t know whats happening. It would be scary to be someone living close to the prison and trying to figure out what’s happening, but they won’t tell you anything. You would be scared for your families life because you wouldn’t know if there was a prisoner on the run or what was going on. That’s why I think they should report on at least what’s happening, so people wouldn’t freak out. Maybe they could say there is a drill going on at the prison so it wouldn’t scare people and the inmates and guards in the tower wouldn’t get hurt. If a guard died before you reported the drill, then you could report their death because it would only hurt the guard inside and their families. It wouldn’t put other peoples lives in jeopardy, and it would save your news company from seeming untruthful.

  3. Saulk says:

    I don't think that what the prisoners did was wrong because they could of just stayed in prison do their time and get out like others. But arming themselves wasn't the smartest thing they did to. Any reporter would do anything to make it seem like if they already killed someone get people worrying and putting images in their head. I think that what goes on in prison good or bad should stay in there because there can be someone making things up and it could be something small and they could make it seem that someone or something is bad and they could be worrying people and making them think something is going on. Some might have a family member in the prison and say even if he wasn't involved a reporter can still make anyone look bad even if they didn't do nothing. Any reporter can make anything look bad and worst. But they fact that they wanted to sacrifice a prison guard isn't the smartest thing either. The fact that they said that or brought that idea up isn't the right thing to do.No one should risk their own life to save others unless they wanted to risk their own life.

    Saul Rivera

  4. katieshow!:) says:

    I agree with the radio news director who said, “To me the lives of those two guards are more important than getting any story on the air.” Even if there was no chance the prisoners would hear of the reporting or it wouldn’t affect their behavior, it is better to be safe than sorry. These prisoners seem to be unstable, added to the fact they don’t seem to worry about the consequences of holding guards hostage. It is also quite likely these prisoners are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in jail anyway, so what is another couple life sentences. The hostages have the most to lose in this situation, their lives.

    There are many journalists and reporters who would say telling everyone about the hostage situation is necessary for public safety. They could argue that a jailbreak could cause harm to more people than just the two guards. While some may honestly believe this, a majority probably just want to report it first, or have the most information to one-up their competitors. A person’s life always comes before monetary gains. The people who live near the prison knew the risks when they moved there. Many prisons require those living near it to learn what to do in a jailbreak situation, and what precautions to take. It is not as if the prison will cover up a jailbreak. That would be reported immediately.

    I also agree with Maci and Saul that telling those in the community could blow the whole thing out of proportion. While it may not be false reporting that causes the worry, some people may fabricate facts to make the story more fantastic.

    It is ultimately up to the editor whether he wants to follow the state's wishes or not, but as long as the problem stays within the prison, it seems to be best for the majority involved to report after the whole thing is over and taken care of.

  5. Kate Hagans says:

    From reading this case study, I think the media did go out and cover the prison stand off. The Governor did ask the media not too, but there was nothing stopping them from doing it. Should have they done it? My opinion is yes, it was completely legal to release information about the stand off. The person who choose to release information into the public should come from the top of whatever media company who is publishing it. The stakeholders are obviously the prison guards that were taken captive and the inmates. The inmates did surrender and were taken back into prison. If there were anyone to have danger it would be the prison guards. I don’t feel they were in great danger for after the incident. I feel the media should know what to share and what not to share to keep the families involve out of danger.The media should also respect the rights of the guards families and not beg them for information.

    Kate Hagans

  6. Ethics #1
    Lauren’s Response:

    There were so many different factors that made this story somewhat complicated, but if read through, could be simplified. Sweet and simple, I do not believe it would be ethical to release the information of the incident to the public. Easy enough to say, right? Now here comes the part most people have difficulty doing, backing up your information.

    For the most part, what one has to worry about is those in the close area of the prison itself, the hostages, those at the prison, and the criminals themselves. You have to consider the fact of if the hostages lives are worth the advantage of being the first to release the story. I believe those decisions should be made by the big guys. The ones on top, the highest level.

    The most at risk is the hostages, then the criminals, then the family of those involved, the public, and your media outlet. (Reputation wise) The hostages have their lives to lose, the criminals have the same problem, but I believe that the hostages have more to lose, just because of the fact that they will not always be in police custody. If someone wanted to get to them, they could.

    I believe it would be wrong to release the information to the pubic because no matter how much coverage or advantage there is to achieve, one should never value a life over popularity.

    As the blog post stated:

    A radio news director said, “To me the lives of those two guards are more important than getting any story on the air.”

  7. Renee Horton says:

    By putting on the news that two guards are being held captive by prisoners that are upset by the way they have be getting treated. i don’t think that is the best move that the news media should keep it off of the air until the guards are lot go, because say they put it on that air those two guards could or would loss their life. I don’t think that the prisoners well do anything to the guards. I think that the prisoners just want to scare them a little bit to worn them that they should be a bit nicer to them then they were. I think that the media need to keep all of the information that they have to themselves because the two guards would like to keep their life's, but if it does get put on the news maybe the prisoner would think about what they are doing and let them go or they well get mad, and keep them as long as they want. So I think that if they keep it off of the news that the prisoner would get tired of the two guards and let them go sooner or later they”ll be free. People just have to keep to themselves and don’t make the prisoners anger.
    Renee Horton

  8. Darianne (: says:

    I think that they should of never of shared this new with the public. reasons; for the safety of the hostages, and their family, ect. And most of importantly the surrounding people.

    Some journalist don’t respect how people feel towards things. If the editor wanted to report on it or not, its the editors decision. But the editor also has to think about consequences. Possibly to the hostages? the hostages play a major role in situations like these. Its putting the innocent in unnecessary danger.

    This is when some people become selfish, and don’t really care about things. They don’t understand about what is happening. There may be possible negotiations or not. But just for the safety of the people, and the people in the surrounding areas.

    I think that the general public would of freaked out, especially people that live nearby, and also employees.

    If the newspaper would of got false information, it would of made the people not look professional whatsoever. Also the public could of made a bid deal out of something that had an easy solution.

    I personally would of been more concerned about the hostages, not so much of the inmates. I trust our Law Enforcement and I believe that they wouldn’t try to put people in danger. But you never know what is going to happen, especially with their negotiations.

    Darianne Schuckman

  9. Ace Rivera says:

    Should your media outlet go along with the state’s request not to release the information?
    In many cases every newspaper companies and every board-cast would like to the first ones too report about an event taking place through their company. In this particular case about two inmates at Arizona state prison allegedly took over the prison guard tower and held two correction officers hostage, before anyone outside in Arizona state heard that such an event had token place the governor’s office got a hold of every news executive around the state of Arizona and urged them not to reveal certain basic information. weather or not news media agreed with this decision they followed through and did not report much about the situation. i believe the person responsible for this decision goes all the way to the top being the government.

  10. I look at this situation as two different aspects. One of the ways that I look at this kind of situation is that it would be a good idea to include media in this type of situation. It is a big issue and I think everybody needs to be aware of what is happening, especially in a major situation such as this one. I do understand why government wants to keep media out of this, because media often has a way of shifting their information for certain things. My second reason is to continue without media because this sort of situation often can blow out of proportion. People will basically wonder if the prisons aren’t even safe, then how do we expect anything to be safe. It also puts a bad reputation on the officials for the prison itself. If they choose to not include media, I believe it could have an effect on the families who are involved. Including media,I think could just cause stress for the families. If I were put into this situation to make a dominate decision, I would want to include media, but not with out certain standards. I would want only certain amounts of media coverage. That way it is also showing some respect for families.