Friday, 9 July 2010

‘Hippocratic’ journalism and modern war zones

Like doctors, one presumes that most journalists have an ethical obligation to report the truth. Reality is expected to pass untainted from the journalist's eyes to her pen.
I guess most of us know that is not always the case, either with doctors or journalists.
Some doctors refuse to treat patients unless evidence of payment is made or, more likely, doctors make patients undergo superfluous tests in order to increase their own earnings. Both actions directly violate the Hippocratic Oath which doctors adhere to as medical professionals. (The ancient Greek version of the oath was updated in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Dean of the Tufts University School of Medicine.)

Journalists, as far as I know, make no similar pledges. Scribes are only answerable to their own conscience.  Among other practices, journalists have been known to be on the payroll of intelligence agencies, politicians or simply to obtain money from special interest groups for espousing certain causes.
In this sense, journalists walk an ethical 'grey area.' Is it wrong for a journalist committed to, say, green causes to receive funds from environmental groups for writing about her passion? It's a debatable subject.
However, sometimes journalists just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Take Michael Hastings, the Rolling Stone journalist largely responsible for US general McChrystal's fall from grace. Sure, Hastings' article was the result of his own journalistic endeavours. He engineered the opportunity by cultivating a relationship with McChrystal's staff such that the staff made uncharacteristically blunt and politically incorrect statements.
Based on Hastings' 'breaking' story about McChrystal, he has signed a book publishing deal on the Afghan War. According to the publishers, the book "will offer an unfiltered look at the war, and the soldiers, diplomats and politicians who are waging it."
One cannot and should not begrudge a man his due, so it is with Hastings' book on Afghanistan. Hastings has capitalized on similar fortunes in the past.
In April 2007, Hastings was the Iraq correspondent for Newsweek magazine. Three weeks after his girlfriend was killed in an ambush in Baghdad, Hastings rushed off a book proposal which "focuses on the author's relationship with 28-year-old Andrea "Andi" Parhamovich, a civilian consulting with NGO National Democratic Institute in Baghdad who was killed January 2717, 2007 in an ambush there."
Hastings received USD 500,000 for the book from Scribner. (I have not read the book.)
Maybe the book was a cathartic experience for Hastings but sending the pitch three weeks following her death. It sounds more like he had to cash a check before it expired. Or maybe Hastings simply wished to reveal the truth about his experiences in a war zone.
Content is dictated by consumers. Most readers are more interested in intimate relationships forged in war zones than the finer points of my personal religious philosophy!

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