Archive - Apr 20, 2009
A common misconception about bloggers is that they write whatever they want, without concern to the veracity of what they write, or the ethical implications of their words. This may be true for some bloggers, but is not an accurate representation of most of the bloggers I know. Recently, there was a great discussion on a mailing list of progressive political bloggers about whether or not one of the bloggers should pursue a particular story.
Early on the morning of March 28th, North Dakota State Representative Dave Weiler was arrested on a misdemeanor charge that he assaulted his wife after he allegedly pushed her to the ground twice. He spent eight hours in the county jail before being released on a $250 bond and was ordered to have no contact with his wife. Weiler reportedly described the incident as an unfortunate private matter and said that he and his wife were working things out. He expressed the hope that the charges would be dropped.
On April 9th, the Associated Press reported that Rep. Weiler had pleaded not guilty to a charge that he assaulted his wife. His trial was set for May 14th. On April 17th, the Associated Press reported that Rep. Weiler pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal. In the deal, Rep. Weiler agreed to get a psychological examination and domestic violence treatment. The judge deferred Weiler’s sentence for one year. If Rep. Weiler meets the terms of the agreement, the changes will not become part of his record.
A blogger from North Dakota sent an email asking about the ethics of blogging about this and a lively discussion ensued. I suggested that a good starting point to explore the ethical issues is to look at the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. Most bloggers are not members of the Society of Professional Journalists, but their code of ethics is a great document that every blogger should read and seek to adhere to. The key points are to Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, and Be Accountable.
These goals raise some interesting issues. With a domestic violence issue, a reporter, or a blogger, may have to make a difficult judgment call about whether or not reporting about domestic violence might make the situation better or worse. Many people argued that part of reason domestic violence continues to the extent that it does, is because people don’t talk about it. They don’t shine the light of truth on it. This enables abusers to continue their patterns of abuse.
Beyond the ethical issues, there are also legal issues that bloggers need to be aware of. The course, Online Media Law: The Basics for Bloggers and Other Online Publishers, provides a good basis for understanding the many of the legal issues, and I encourage all bloggers to take this course.
Beyond the journalistic issues of reporting what happened, was the issue of whether or not the blog should express the opinion that the State Representative should resign, be recalled or expelled. Many different views were expressed here, reflecting people’s views about how serious domestic abuse charges are, whether or not both sides of the story are really being presented, whether it is an appropriate role for the blog to call for expulsion, whether they would do it for a representative they agreed with politically and so on.
I brought up the National Organization for Marriage, which has been robocalling in our state against marriage equality. It seems as if the National Organization for Marriage is all too willing to comment on whether or not two people who love one another should be allowed to marry, if their organization thinks the couple shouldn’t love one another, but the organization seems unwilling to address real threats to marriage, like domestic violence.
One person noted that the wife of Rep. Weiler works in the North Dakota Governor’s office and there were concerns about how the order for Rep. Weiler to have no contact with his wife, it that order still stands, would affect his ability to work within the legislature.
In the end, the North Decoder blog wrote, “He should resign immediately” and went on to describe options to have Rep. Weiler removed if he doesn’t resign.
Was this the right choice? What will happen next? What can we all learn from this? It is good to see bloggers struggle with ethical and legal issues of what they write. We need to see more bloggers struggle with these sorts of decisions and I look forward to following the discussions.