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The Most Important Ethical Issues in Journalism Are the Human Ones
Carl Bernstein is a veteran journalist who shared a Pulitzer Prize with Bob Woodward in 1973 for their investigative coverage of the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post. He has authored or co-authored six books, including the acclaimed "All the President's Men," which he wrote with Woodward. He has written for a variety of publications, including Vanity fair, Time, USA Today, Rolling Stone and The New Republic, and he was a Washington bureau chief and correspondent for ABC News.
Question: What are some of the most difficult ethical issues you've faced as a journalist?
Carl Bernstein: The most important ethical issues and the most difficult ones are the human ones because a reporter has enormous power to hurt people. And the best example I can give of it is not in Watergate, but one of the favorite stories that I have ever done that I really enjoyed doing was a huge takeout about a group of people who are part white, part black, part Indian. They are known as Tri-Racial Isolates. And there are a couple hundred thousand people organized in tri-racial isolate communities in America. And the particular group I wrote about were called the We Sorts. And they lived in Southern Maryland. And they had never been able, like most tri-racial isolate groups, to integrate with either the society at large, with blacks, or with whites. So they had evolved. And there are many of these communities, the Melungeons in Tennessee, the Jackson Whites in New Jersey, that We Sorts in Maryland which comes from an expression that "We sorts of people are different than you sorts of people." And I wrote about this amazing community. And little did I think that the children would be ostracized in school because they share their six core last names... there’s a lot of inter-marriage. And children of these six core families were really ostracized in school.
And it really made me think. As a number of other... I think more than anything, I always has a consciousness of how you have the power to hurt someone. And therefore you’re obligation to be fair, to give people an opportunity to say, “Hey, is this really what happened?” And to look at the consequences of what now. Could I have avoided? I don’t know what I could have done to avoid that hurt, but it was one of those things that made me very conscious.
Recorded July 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman
A reporter has enormous power to hurt people, says the veteran journalist. Therefore you’ve got an obligation to be fair, to find out the other side of the story, and to consider the consequences of what your writing.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Times of crisis tend to increase self-centered acts.