Thursday, September 04, 2008

Motives of Journalists on Trial in Andy Griffith Episode

I used the Andy Griffith episode #61, "Andy on Trial," which aired in April 1962, as a learning tool in the “Introduction to Community Journalism” class I taught this summer.

The show taught some very important lessons about journalism ethics.

Here is a short recap of the Andy Griffith episode:

Andy travels to Raleigh to locate noted newspaper publisher J. Howard Jackson and bring him back to Mayberry. Two weeks earlier, Andy ticketed the businessman for speeding. Mr. Jackson was issued a summons to appear before the Mayberry justice of the peace (Andy) within a few days. He chose to ignore the summons. Now, a very irritated Mr. Jackson, accompanied by his lawyer, reluctantly returns to the small town to stand before Andy. He pleads guilty and is fined $15. Upset by having to travel that far to pay such a small fine, the irate publisher leaves the courthouse vowing revenge. When he returns to Raleigh, he orders one of his reporters, Jean Boswell, to go to Mayberry and dig up all the "dirt" she can find on Andy, and then twist it into a scathing article against the sheriff. He wants Andy’s reputation destroyed. Being very discreet, the reporter taps Barney for anything that could be used against Andy. Barney, caught up in all the attention, proceeds to tell the reporter that if he were in charge he would run the sheriff's department differently. Barney continues to complain about crimes going unpunished (Emma Watson's jaywalking) and the blatant unofficial use of the squad car (delivering groceries to a shut-in). As you can imagine, Mr. Jackson uses Barney's words to write a scathing article about Andy's administration which leads to a hearing that could cost Andy his job.

I asked my students to write about what journalism ethics they saw violated in this episode and here is some of what they wrote about:

“The accuracy of the information this reporter used was never adequate. She used an overall biased style in the content of her story. She distorted Barney’s quotes and the overall conversation. She never took precise notes. And worst of all, her method of information retrieval was totally unprofessional and a clear violation of the code of ethics.” – Sam Cunningham

“The reporter asked Barney questions about Andy but she never went to the source for comments or confirmation. She also lied about who she was and what she was doing, another clear violation of the Code of Ethics.” – Tyler Bueno

“The point that struck me in this episode was that Andy was actually doing his job as Sherriff according to the law when he brought in the newspaper publisher but the publisher actually does not do his job, under the code of ethics, when he knowingly printed lies, or at least did a sloppy job of editing.” – Jessica Light

“Undercover reporting, using deception to get a story, flirting with a source, distorting of information, not testing the information she was given, were all violations of the journalists code. Ironically, she wrote about what she said were unethical practices in the Sheriff’s office but she actually used unethical journalism practices to come up with the information for her story.” -- Darla Vance

What do you think?