Media ethics students vs. Tiger Woods

Today will be a bit of departure. In my media ethics class, one of the participation requirements is that students use the class discussion boards to apply class subjects to current topics. Just coming off weeks on privacy, online media, and entertainment, a board discussion on Tiger Woods’ current troubles got fairly lively. Presented here without too much of my blather are some of those comments, all of which should be treated as [sic]’d.

First, there was a broad range of discussion on public figures and what exactly their right to privacy should be:

I truly think once you reach a certain level of notoriety that you lose some of the privacy. You put your life out there for others to see. Tiger took away the curtain. He invited us in, and we saw things that we shouldn’t have. It’s the risk. If you’re a responsible journalist you had absolutely no choice but to delve further into the affair side of the story. Again, he put his life out there for us to see, and he has to live with the consequences. He voluntarily gave up some degree of privacy.

He deserves his right to privacy just as much as any of us. Tiger has every right to keep this a private matter. As much as people and the media wants to know what happened, its not there right. Tiger apologizes for his mistakes and that should be enough.

When people sign contracts to become public figures, they sign away much of their privacy. Unfortunately, it’s not illegal to follow these celebrities everywhere they go (malls, clubs, etc.) pelting them with useless questions, it just shows that there are jobs available for people who want to act like douchebags.

An interesting sub-section of this has to do with the perceived protection of a public figure’s home, with “home” being understood as both an abstract and as a physical place of dwelling:

Its not our right to know the intimate details of what goes on in a family’s home. However, if you become a multi millionaire by performing a skill in front of the whole world and have a whole team of professionals to protect your image and you slip up like Tiger has, you should disclose more information than he has up to this point. He doesn’t have a problem cashing those jumbo checks that we the people accumulate the money for, but when it comes time to be truthful, he shuns us? The whole situation is still behind a foggy curtain and I feel cheated.

Public figures such as Mr. Woods do deserve a degree of privacy. However, I do not believe they should reasonably be able to expect the media to leave them alone. Celebrities often expect to be able to make millions being in the public eye through their work, endorsements and other methods, but have trouble accepting that there is a trade off. […] I believe that anything that happens within his home should be left alone, however when Tiger decided to leave his home he placed himself in the spotlight. By leaving his home he forfeited his privacy in the matter.

Some (god bless ’em) went to the length of applying the ethical paradigms such as the Golden Mean:

At one extreme we would not be given any details about Tiger Wood’s situation. There would be no information about the car accident or his marital struggle. At the other extreme the public would learn every little detail, down to the woman’s name that Tiger Woods is supposedly having an affair with. In the middle of these to extremes is the best course of action. This would involve informing the public of the accident, Tiger Wood’s condition, and any other factual information. If Tiger Woods wanted to disclose any more information to the public it should come straight from him.

Several students described the media in terms of having no choice in the matter, almost like a force of nature:

History has shown us that if they do it to themselves we as journalists really have no major choice but to investigate. It’s in our job descriptions.

[H]e was in a car accident which is news. A lot of details regarding regular citizens in car accidents are reported on, so journalists have a right to report this story.

Finally, an interesting point on coverage of Woods’ wife:

[A] lot of people have been asking – what will his wife do now? And they have responded by saying “she’ll stay with him because what else can she do, she was a nanny before she met him.” This is despicable. So just because she wasn’t wealthy before she met him, she’s suddenly worth nothing?

Discussions like these have been the high point of the class – there was another good one on the ethics of using Kurt Cobain’s likeness to sing Three Doors Down tunes in Guitar Hero. While you can still see some conflating of the legal and the ethical above, I’m pleased to see these future media workers teasing out some distinctions between “wants” and “needs.” More importantly, I’m glad to see them starting to understand that the answers are often complicated, and thus deserving of discussion.

Finally, I find the frequent, and often thoughtful, use of “douchebag” in ethical discussion this year to be compelling. Perhaps douchebag ethics can be an addition to Patterson & Wilkins’ next edition.

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