Monday, March 27, 2006

Dialogue with a good professor, IMHO

A journalism ethics class is my favorite course this semester. I like the professor, even though he is a leftist and therefore we disagree on many issues. To his credit, he does not inject his political views into class. He’s first and foremost a good professor. I enjoy the manner in which he leads discussions, and that he allows us to go off into tangents. If the tangents are interesting and provoke discussion, he allows us to flow. It makes class more interesting.

He sent this email to the department today:

Comments All:

Thought this presented some interesting ethical questions.




Should newspapers conceal identities of illegal immigrants?
American Journalism Review

Lucy Hood reports the undocumented are becoming less willing to talk, while interest in immigrant issues is on the rise. "That means reporters and editors often must decide if they are willing to conceal the identity of an illegal immigrant if that's what it takes to get the story," writes the former San Antonio Express-News reporter.

David asks:

"Is it ethical to use a name, even with permission, if it could get someone deported?"



Illegal immigrants, by definition, are law breakers. I don't think a newspaperor magazine has an ethical responsibility to help somebody break US law by concealing their identity.

That said, I don't think I personally would use the name of an illegal immigrant (unless I thought they were a security threat) were I quoting one for a story.


David’s reply:

Zak: I don't understand, I guess. If there is no ethical responsibility to protect the names of people who are in the country illegally, then why not use the names? Isn't it the right thing to do to identify people who are breaking the law? In fact, wouldn't many argue that it's our responsibility as citizens to do so?

Does it really just hinge on how much of a threat they are to society?



And me again:

Hmmm... well, I suppose in my mind there are degrees of breaking the law. The illegal alien who came here just to earn money to send back to his/her impoverished family is a law breaker, but not to the same degree as an illegal immigrant who is breaking additional laws, like owning illegal firearms, commiserating with outlawed organizations, etc.

I don't think most illegal aliens are bad people. Many or most have broken our immigration laws out of desperation. I would feel guilty if I outed a harmless, hardworking fruit picker because I used his/her name in a story. I would prefer not to identify such a person by name, because I wouldn't want this person's deportation to be my fault. I'd feel bad about all the remittance money that would no longer flow back home, for example.

Again, to my mind it all comes down to the degree of breaking the law. Smoking marijuana is illegal, and so is speeding. If I walked down the street and noticed some teenagers smoking a joint on their porch, I would keep walking; it's not my concern and they are not a threat to me or anybody else. However, if I was driving or walking and noticed a car full of teenagers driving like maniacs, speeding down side streets, etc., I would call the police because they would be endangering innocent lives.

Perhaps my views on this are inconsistant. Perhaps I have not thought it through enough. I could be wrong-- it wouldn't be the first or last time.



No, you might be right. Just trying to get you to think a little deeper about why you would do something. For example, is the reason you don't turn in the kid smoking pot because you think it's not worth your time, or is it because you think marijuana should be decriminalized (or some other reason entirely)?

How someone answers those questions says a lot, I believe, about why we act or don't act on matters.

I just think all this is interesting. For example, would we identify the business that hired illegal immigrants? We could make the same argument for not identifying the business: it would cut off the flow of money to the person, who needs it to send it home to help out people. Yet, I bet most journalists would not think twice about identifying a business.

It's my belief that it is always best to try, as best you can, to decide what your values are before hand and follow those values.



I appreciate that he wanted me to think deeper about why I would do something—and that his reply nudged me to do so. I will try to continue to follow my values, but that is not enough: These "values" must be worthy of "value."

Sometimes that's the hardest part to figure out—what is of value? Some things are obvious—your family, friends, education and following basic moral laws like don’t murder, rape, steal, abuse, etc.—but some choices and decisions in life present ethical conundrums; gray areas.


Blogger airforcewife said...

Zak, I've been back and forth on this post for a while, trying to phrase what I thought without taking up a foot and a half of posting space!

But, as succinctly as possible (which isn't very succinct)... Illegal immigration is a shade of grey. A very dark grey when taken as a whole, and a lighter grey when taken on an individual basis.

There are many good and hard working illegal immigrants, doing icky jobs American teens with their new cars and RAZR phones bought with mom and Dad's money won't do. That in itself is a bad thing - are we teaching our kids to be lazy b'ints?

But there are very ugly sides of illegal immigration, and they are not only ugly for America. There is the threat of terrorists being able to sneak themselves and weapons across an unsecured border. There are the sociopathic coyotes who take oodles of money from the impoverished and nearly kill them getting them across. There are those who misuse the altruism of hospitals in treating anyone no matter the money situation, so that our healthcare system can't afford American citizens in some places. Then, there is the ugly fact that after years working for a pittance "under the table" and a body ruined by back-breaking labor, there is no social security or medicare to show for it. No retirement benefits, nothing but grinding poverty.

Turning in illegals one by one is probably not going to stop any of those issues, because those who WANT illegal immigration to end are generally not in a position to find many illegal immigrants.

Changing the laws immediately, and then actually enforcing the laws should be the utmost priority. Guest worker programs that are usable and work would benefit everyone. And the best way to enforce that is to crack down on those hiring illegals who aren't a part of the program to begin with.

If there are no jobs, there will be no market for illegal immigration.

Oh, and build a wall. Israel has it absolutely right.

The same tired arguments about the end of the world surfaced when the US abolished child labor. Gee, didn't seem to happen, now, did it?

Oh - this is just my opinion, but it is the opinion of a 26 year California resident, who lived in a border town, on an island inundated with illegal immigrants, and in the agriculturally inclined Central Valley, where so many of the illegals work.

6:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You both make some good points, but as far as illegal immigration I agree with afw. It's out of control throughout the West. And it encourages laziness among Western citizens who'd rather sit on their welfare-slurping butts than get out and sweat in the noonday sun. Not to mention the terror threat. Also, US prison and crime statistics show that the serious crimes committed by illegals far outweigh their percentage/proportion of the population.


3:07 AM  
Blogger semite1973 said...

I know... I know... both of you make good points. I'll get to them soon. I've been really busy lately. By the time I've been getting home, I'm beat and don't feel like so much as thinking.

But I will re-read both of your posts and then answer with a blog posting.

Thanks for your comments. I love discussing issues; it's how I learn and figure things out.

5:44 PM  

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