News Channel 8 has a policy that its reporters not wear ribbons of any kind on air.
During the past few weeks, that policy has been questioned.
Viewers had been calling the station?s news director asking why anchors and reporters weren?t wearing the patriotic red, white and blue ribbon that most other news program anchors wore. Viewers demanded their news providers show their love for America the way they did ? by wearing a ribbon made of the colors of the country?s flag.
But dealing with the complaints wasn?t as simple as changing the rules.
The more important question, at least to the news director, was this: Can journalists be perceived as fair and unbiased during this time of American conflict, while displaying across their hearts a clear sign of support for the United States?
This question has been posed on several news radio programs in the past week.
And Wednesday, during a discussion about ethics, it was brought up in an Oracle staff meeting.
“You are an American before you?re a journalist,” said one staffer.
And he isn?t alone in his opinion.
There are those who believe wearing a patriotic ribbon or an American flag pin is a personal statement of celebrating the freedom that comes with being in this country.
It?s the press alone that has explicit protection from the government as stated in the U.S. Constitution. So journalists undoubtedly know it?s a privilege to be a member of the American media.
We also know it?s important to remove ourselves as much as possible from a situation to ask the unpopular questions. The public depends on journalists to be their watchdogs.
During one of President George W. Bush?s speeches about searching out the “evil doers,” he said the United States was prepared to use any military means necessary to bring them to justice as part of an effort to end terrorism.
Any means necessary? Nuclear war is an “any means necessary” tactic. Yet, there were few if any in the American media that questioned the consequences of such an extreme and deadly measure.
Does the ribbon or American flag pin put journalists too close to the story?
One Oracle staffer used a simple analogy about covering the war. He said wearing symbols of support could be viewed the same way as when a sports writer wears a team?s jersey or cap while reporting on a game in which that team plays. An elementary comparison, but the ideals hold true.
It has a lot to do with perception.
Journalists must be careful not to allow their actions to jeopardize their reputation to fairly report the news.
It?s true that everything written is influenced. Journalists choose which quotes to use, which pictures to take and what headlines to write. But the mere decision to be a journalist means we practice refraining from allowing our personal feelings to interfere with our reports.
Does today?s unique situation warrant complicating the matter by drawing attention to one of the biggest ethical decisions a journalist may face in this lifetime?
I don?t have an answer. But I scrutinize more often those stations that do wear the ribbons.
Channel 8?s news director?s opinion wasn?t swayed about the ribbons. But his reporters, however, now wear the American flag pins.
One of the next big questions will be this: Who will decide when it?s time to take off the American flag pin?