Journalism Ethics During the 2016 Presidential Election

By: Isabella Bordonaro

Managing and Online Editor

Each year Penn State New Kensington holds a Research and Creative Expo where students have the opportunity to do research on things they find interesting, and share them with faculty, students, and members of the community.

As an honors student, I am required to submit a project based on one of my classes, and share it at the Expo.

This year, I am taking a media ethics class with Abhinav Aima, Instructor of Communications at PSNK. In the class, we talked about how elections are covered, and how sometimes the practices that journalists use are not what would be considered ethical, according to the SPJ codes, which is basically the 10 Commandments for journalists.

This discussion prompted my interest in the most recent election which was, in a way, a media circus. I decided to do my research project on the journalism ethics for this past election, because I figured there were a lot of examples I could pull upon.

Not only did I find a plethora of examples I could use for my research, each one I found was more surprising than the last. What was most surprising was that when I shared my research at the Expo on Tuesday April 11th, everyone who stopped to read my poster and learn about my finding was as surprised as I was.

This, I decided, is exactly why I felt I needed to share my findings also through The Nittany Pride, because information like this shouldn’t be news to people like it was to me. The election was decided in November, and many of the examples I gave people had not heard of or realized, and months have past since we cast our votes. I know if I had known the things I know now, I may have voted differently. 

So, I decided I should try to spread my newfound knowledge a little more, in the hopes that I make others realize we can’t always trust what the news corporations are giving us.

My first example of unethical journalism has to do with CNN, and how they covered candidate Hillary Clinton.

Right before she announced her decision to run for President, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo stated, on live air, “we couldn’t help her any more than we already have, we’re the biggest ones promoting her campaign.” This is considered unethical because a news corporation should not be favoring one candidate over another. Journalists are supposed to be the fourth estate, and should be covering the candidates based on their policies and actual plans for the country. They shouldn’t be blatantly supporting one candidate, even before she announced she was running.

It also turns out that, according to OpenSecrets, Time Warner which owns CNN donated the most money to the Clinton Campaign over any other candidate. So now they not only had an anchor blatantly state that CNN favors Clinton, but they created their own conflict of interest by giving her over half a million dollars.

Another example of unethical journalism deals with Senator Bernie Sanders and the Washington Post.

The Post, according to Democracy Now!, published a whopping 16 stories in just 16 hours painting Senator Sanders in a negative light after the Democratic Debate in Flint, Michigan on March 6th, 2016.

The stories are clearly attacking Sanders, which would be ok in a sense if the Washington Post was critical on a reasonable scale, but when you take it to the level of 16 stories in just 16 hours, it is considered unfair coverage. No news corporation should be able sleep at night knowing they are being that unfair to one candidate.

Lastly, I researched examples of unethical journalism when it came to covering the now elected President, Donald Trump.

I was led to one example by  Aima, which was the fact that CNN’s CEO Jeff Zucker made a deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev, who makes Budweiser and Bud Light, to show a Budweiser ad every time Trump was covered on CNN, according to an article by NPR.

This means that CNN obviously had a huge incentive to cover Trump as much as they could, because they’d make millions of dollars off of him. In those 10 Commandments they call the SPJ codes, it’s made abundantly clear that journalists should not be taking special favors. While Jeff Zucker is not a journalist, he is basically forcing all of the journalists that work for CNN to cover Trump more, if they want to bring in the bucks.

Zucker is not the only CEO who covered Trump for reasons other than his policy and plans. Les Moonves was quoted by Politico, saying, “it may not be good for America, but it’s Damn good for CBS.” What is unethical about this statement is the fact that it makes it seem like CBS is covering Trump just to get the views, since he does such “entertaining” things. Again, candidates should not be covered just because they are entertaining. In order to inform the public, candidates should be covered based on how they are going to help/hurt the country, not on who they made fun of during an interview.

Hopefully, these examples shed some light on how news corporations are conducting themselves when it comes to elections, and will make you think twice before you take their coverage at face value.




One response to “Journalism Ethics During the 2016 Presidential Election

  1. Pingback: Through the eyes of an undergraduate journalism student – Journalism Ethics

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