Ethical Questions Raised About Murder Stories p.13

By: Randy Dotinga Should a reporter be writing about someone she has formally accused of crimes?
Should a reporter cover a murder case involving a man she accused of two crimes, testified against in court, and thinks may have tried to kill her twice?
When St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Carolyn Tuft put fingers to keyboard and started writing about the Audrey Cardenas case, she created plenty of ethical questions for herself and editors of her newspaper.
One media authority ? Lee Wilkins, a professor at the University of Missouri's School of Journalism and former police reporter ? thinks it will be difficult for Tuft to be objective. "It would be practically inhuman to say, 'I can be completely objective about this when this guy was waving a gun at me.' Who's kidding who here?" she said.
But Post-Dispatch metro editor Jim Mosley said several editors brought up the conflict-of-interest issue when Tuft began the project seven months ago. "We were keenly aware of it," he said.
Mosley said Tuft has always been "upfront" about her involvement. "I don't believe she should be aced out of doing this because she once had an experience with Dale Anderson," he said.
To ensure objectivity, Hernon said, the newspaper assigned reporter Bill Smith to assist Tuft.
One controversy that has arisen involves Tuft's first-person story about Anderson published in March. It failed to tell readers that its author had appeared in court and testified against Anderson in 1988.
Assistant city editor Peter Hernon said the omission of those details was an inadvertent mistake. "That was strictly an oversight. If we didn't do it, we should have," he said.
Another potential conflict for Tuft arose in June when she covered court filings by prosecutors who reject her contention that Anderson killed Cardenas. Her story failed to mention that her name was mentioned in the prosecutors' documents.
But Hernon vowed Tuft will continue with the Cardenas story. "I'm not going to give in to the prosecutors over there who would love to see her taken off. They're trying to attack her credibility. We took a pass on it."
He acknowledged the newspaper might have to look at conflict-of-interest issues in the future. "When that moment comes, I will argue that we do not change the reporting team. If there's an appearance of conflict of interest, that's too damn bad. I want to push this with the best reporter we have."Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyrigh: Editor & Publisher July 18, 1998) [Caption]
?( Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyrigh: Editor & Publisher July 18, 1998) [Caption]


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