A provocative discussion of ethics in the media by former CNN anchor Aaron Brown began a two-day ethics symposium at the Cronkite School

Posted By admin on Friday October 25, 2013


PHOENIX- For journalists, ethical decisions are usually pretty easy, especially compared with the difficult decisions that need to be made “every day, every hour and every minute,” former CNN anchor Aaron Brown said Thursday in Phoenix at SABEW’s Gary Klott Ethics Symposium.

Brown, who was sitting in the anchor chair at CNN on Sept. 11, 2001, said he was faced with one of those decisions early that day when news was confirmed that people were jumping out of the World Trade Center towers to avoid being “incinerated.”

Brown quickly made the decision that CNN would not show video of victims jumping to their deaths.

“We reported people were jumping, but we did not show the pictures,” said Brown.

Yet many newspapers across the country made the decision to run photos of the jumpers in their editions the next day – including a powerful image that Brown displayed on a giant screen at Arizona State University, where he is Walter Cronkite Professor of Journalism.

“Judgment changes — it changes with time,” Brown said. “A photo that is not appropriate on September 11th may be appropriate September 12th, and it’s appropriate now, said Brown.

In a provocative speech drawing on a lifetime of experience in the news business, Brown presented a number of such choices, including the decision on whether to publish a graphic picture of a dead American soldier in Afghanistan.

“I don’t believe in sanitizing — I would run the picture of the dead soldier,” said Brown.

“That picture is a powerful reminder of what many people have chosen to forget,” said Brown, who said many newspaper editors declined to publish the image. “Nothing is more powerful than that frozen moment,” Brown said.

Brown said there is a clear double standard in the refusal of many American news organization to depict Americans killed in war, when there is no such compunction when it comes to showing images of dead soldiers and civilians from elsewhere.

You have to make judgments, said Brown. You cannot be afraid to be wrong, said Brown.

“Good judgments don’t come from people who are afraid — bad judgments do,” said Brown.

Brown said journalism professors need to prepare their students for the decisions they will be faced with every day.

“They cannot be afraid to make the decisions, they have got to be able to take the ball,” said Brown. “Journalism is not for the reckless, but it is also not for the timid.”

( Cherrelle Wade is a journalism student and the University of South Carolina and the 2013 Dave Morrow scholar)

SABEW - Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication,
Arizona State University

555 North Central Ave, Suite 406 E, Phoenix, AZ 85004-1248

E-mail: sabew@sabew.org

©2001 - 2019 Society of American Business Editors and Writers, Inc.