Case 1
How much information should you report?

Present the following scenario to the class:
You are a reporter for a local newspaper. You come back to the office one day to find several staff members discussing this story:

Two teenagers have been killed in an automobile accident. The driver, who survived, had been drinking prior to the accident. The two girls in the back seat, both of whom were killed, were nude at the time of the accident.

Your colleague, another reporter, is pushing for all the known facts to be reported. But the editor argues that the fact of the girls’ nudity should not be revealed; he claims that such information will just be an additional insult to their parents, who already are suffering from the girls’ deaths.

Ask: Do you have a right to publish:

The fact that the driver was drinking?

The fact that the girls were nude at the time of the accident?
(Yes, the First Amendment protects the right to publish this information.)

Would it be responsible to publish these facts in reporting the accident?

Ask students to brainstorm about things to consider in deciding whether to report this information.
Students may come up with ideas such as these:

Do we have all the facts? Has anyone interviewed the survivor?

Is there evidence of sexual assault?

Does the newspaper have a policy on printing names of sexual-assault victims?

Will publishing the information help anyone else?

Take a class poll:

How many would publish the fact of the driver’s intoxication?

How many would publish the fact of the girls’ nudity, based on the information given?

Ask students to explain or defend their decisions.

Now update the initial information with “breaking news”:

Additional information has emerged about the circumstances of the two girls killed in the car accident. Earlier in the evening, the two high school girls worked on the school’s homecoming float. When they left the school premises and went to a nearby restaurant for dinner, their car was carjacked in the restaurant’s parking lot. The thieves drove the two girls to a remote location, took their clothing and left them to fend for themselves.

The terrified girls flagged down a passing car. Although he had been drinking earlier in the evening, the driver offered to take them to the police. While they were en route to the police station, an animal darted out in front of the car. In an effort to avoid hitting it, the driver swerved, lost control of the car, and hit a tree, killing the two girls in the back seat.

How does this change the story? If you had known all this information at the time you made the decision to publish, would you have decided differently? If you uncovered this information after you published the initial story, how would you report the follow-up information?

 Discuss the ethics of reporting all the facts, based on the new information.


Reprinted, with permission from Jean Otto, founder of the First Amendment Congress. This hypothetical was first published in the First Amendment Congress Newsletter.

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