Fischer: Truth or dare: the media's risky role


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On July, Gawker Media printed an article about a male sex escort hired by David Geithner, the brother of former Obama Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner. When the escort discovered the true identity of his client, he then threatened to “out” the CFO unless he used his connections to help him with a housing-discrimination case he had against his prior landlord.

A lot of people, including me, believe Gawker aided and abetted a blackmailer. Not only did Gawker publish the personal text messages exchanged between the two, the publication went through great lengths to further investigate and confirm Geithner’s identity— all while protecting the identity of the escort.

With the publication of this story — along with many other stories analogous in plot lines — the media’s role and focus are put into question. Why is this news, and why are we even covering things such as this?

Much of the public outrage has focused in on the “professional ethics,” typically regarding stories with sex workers, considering that there is usually some sort of confidentiality to maintain clientele privacy. However, this is another man’s personal life exposed — one with a wife and kids.

With media outlets exposing such stories web-wide, the individual in question’s families are at risk for emotional damage and embarrassment.

Following the controversy, Gawker founder Nick Denton announced that he was pulling the article, writing: “We are proud of running stories that others shy away from, often to preserve relationships or access. But the line has moved. And Gawker has an influence and audience that demands greater editorial restraint.”

Still, many Gawker employees are opposed to the action, and, as a result, Gawker top editors are now beginning to quit. In an announcement madeMonday, Executive Editor Tommy Craggs and Editor-in-Chief Max Read stated that they would resign from the company because of drastically diminished editorial integrity following the controversy.

But why are these editors so up in arms? Calling this Gawker’s “existential crisis,” the New York Times wrote that the media outlet is now valued around $400 million.

Denton’s website, initially created as a medium to mock “Manhattan media elite,” has grown exponentially in popularity and revenue over the past decade, which, of course, raises the stakes.

However, it’s apparent why the publication was made in the first place. Journalism today has become fast-paced and immediate. With a public figure in the foreground, it doesn’t necessarily matter what the subject is— just as long as there is one.

Consequentially, with this mentality come some facets of public shaming and humiliation, which, in this case, was a homophobic shame. Natasha Vargas-Cooper from Gawker’s Jezebel argues: “Stories don’t need an upside. Not everyone has to feel good about the truth. If it’s true, you publish.”

But if every story should have truth (there aren’t necessarily) in conjunction with rules, what happens to our privacy? And what are we really absorbing from these stories?

Figures in the public realm are subject to different applications of the U.S. First Amendment, and with that, some less-than-G-rated news stories will develop.

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