Sunday, September 02, 2007

Publishing photo of 2 men on ferry: A question of right vs. right

By Michael R. Fancher
Seattle Times editor-at-large

Journalists and readers could find more respectful common ground on ethical dilemmas if we all read the same book.

It's called "How Good People Make Tough Choices" by Rushworth Kidder. I learned about it from a reader of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, ironically, because the P-I and The Seattle Times made opposite decisions on one of those tough ethical choices. About two weeks ago, the Seattle FBI asked the press to publish a photo of two men so that the public might help in identifying them. It was a rare request, and the newspapers didn't have much to go on at first.

An FBI news release said only, "These men have been seen aboard Washington State Ferries on several occasions and have exhibited unusual behavior, which was reported by passengers. While this behavior may have been innocuous, the FBI and WAJAC [Washington Joint Analytical Center] would like to resolve these reports."

...That is the way journalism should be practiced, and it is how thoughtful readers should critique the work of the media. Seeing ethical dilemmas in terms of right vs. right doesn't make them go away, but it could lead to more civil discourse about them.

Much of what is posted on Internet forums or sent in e-mail commentaries these days is shrill, mean-spirited and absolutist. Tough choices come easy for some in cyberspace.

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