Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Media Ethics Drown When Reporter Enjoys a “Swim Party” with Source

My wife has been a bit obsessed with the story about missing mother Lisa Stebic. Here are the details you need to know:

Stebic, 38, was last seen the evening of April 30. Her husband, Craig, told police he was in the backyard — and the couple’s two children were not at the house — when he thought someone picked his wife up for an exercise class. Her cell phone and credit cards have not been used since. Lisa and Craig Stebic were living in the same house but were in the midst of a divorce and rarely spoke. Police have not yet named either a suspect or a person of interest in the case.

My wife has been checking online sources everyday for updates on Stebic. On Tuesday night, she yelled at me to come read a story that has moved this “missing person” story in a new direction.

A reporter’s ethical blunder is now overshadowing the news story she had been covering since April 30. Here is a summary from the Fox News website:

A Chicago television reporter’s job could be on the line after videotape surfaced of her at the home of missing mother Lisa Stebic.

WMAQ reporter Amy Jacobson, who has covered Stebic’s story, was caught on tape by the pool at the Stebics' home last week by rival channel WBBM Channel 2. The tape reportedly shows Jacobson “in a swimming suit top” at the pool on Friday with her children and Lisa Stebic’s estranged husband, Craig.

Neighbors told Channel 2 in Chicago that Jacobson has visited the Stebics' home frequently since she started covering the story. …

Jacobson immediately was taken off the Stebic story and was told to hire a lawyer, the Sun-Times reported.

Channel 2 obtained the footage of Jacobson at Stebic's home Friday but held out until Tuesday to air it. They aired the footage and posted a story on their Web site after the Tribune and Sun Times reported the matter.

Jacobson’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, said the tape should not be aired “because unauthorized taping on someone's property is a crime.”

"You can't just go around videotaping and disseminating the tape. ... To me, it begins and ends there.”

Hmm… actually, it probably begins and ends with the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics, which the reporter freely choose to violate. It looks like Jacobson let her media ethics drown while she went for a cozy little dip in Craig’s pool.

The obvious Code of Ethic’s violations that I see by Jacobson include:

-- Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing. (It is hard to question a subject in a crime story if you are getting cozy with them at the same time).

--Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. (Sure looks like a conflict).

-- Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility. (I’d say Jacobson’s credibility on this story is ruined).

-- Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity. (What integrity?)

I think it is even more interesting that her attorney doesn’t see this as a problem but instead is focused on how the video was obtained. He must not watch television news very often. I'd be interesting in knowing the thoughts of other journalists.


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