A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Ethics In-Brief

By Quill


CBS and NBC’s news divisions accused ABC’s “Good Morning America” of unseemly behavior in February over the program’s handling of the first TV interviews with Mariane Pearl following confirmation of the killing of her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

The Journal had arranged for Mariane Pearl to speak to CNN and the BBC with the understanding that the interviews would air on those outlets first because both are seen in Pakistan. After that, the footage was to be made available to any network in the world that wanted it, the Los Angeles Times reported.

However, “Good Morning America” aired the BBC interview immediately and labeled it “exclusive.”

“The first interview with Danny Pearl’s wife wasn’t theirs (ABC’s), and it wasn’t an exclusive,” said Steve Friedman, executive producer of CBS’ “The Early Show.” “They are perpetrating a fraud on the audience.”

In defending its decision, “Good Morning America” cited a long-standing relationship with the BBC that enabled ABC to record the feed in London as it came in to the BBC and immediately feed it to New York, according to the L.A. Times.

A BBC spokesman characterized the incident as a “misunderstanding.”

Journal spokesman Steve Goldstein said the paper did not intend for ABC to have a jump on running the interview, adding that the BBC assured him it was an inadvertent error.

CNN labeled its own interview as “exclusive” before distributing it to other networks. Both the CNN and ABC interviews ran at the same time.


Free-lancer Michael Finkel has admitted that his Youssouf Male character – featured in a Nov. 18, 2001 New York Times Magazine article –was a composite of several boys, including one by that name.

The story focused on the experience of an adolescent West African boy in Mali who left his home village and sold himself into service on a cocoa plantation in Ivory Coast.

“Though the account was drawn from his reporting on the scene and from interviews with human rights workers, Mr. Finkel acknowledges many facts were extrapolated from what he learned was typical of boys on such journeys, and did not apply specifically to any single individual,” The New York Times reported in February.

Finkel said that he wrote the article without consulting his notes.

“In order to tell a very complex story in a way that is compelling to read, I made the wrong decision to put together several accounts that were told to me by these young workers and I combined them into one representative voice,” Finkel told The Associated Press.

Although fact checkers examine articles in The Times Magazine, the magazine relies heavily on the author’s account when principal sources cannot be reached by telephone or e-mail, as was the case with Finkel’s story.

The New York Times’s policies prohibit falsifying a news account or using fictional devices in factual material.

Finkel, who has been under contract to the magazine as a contributing writer, will not receive further assignments, editors said.


The Philadelphia Daily News sponsored a lie-detector test for Philadelphia Councilman Frank DiCicco, who wanted to prove he told the truth when he said a rival had insulted Irish-Americans in a closed-door meeting over redistricting.

The test administrator said the results of the first test were inconclusive, but that a test taken later in the day showed DiCicco was telling the truth.

Nathan Gordon, a private investigator who conducted the 90-minute interview on Feb. 19, told the newspaper that inconclusive results occur only about 8 percent of the time, said Kurt Heine, the paper’s city editor. The Daily News paid the $600 fee for the test.

Richard Mariano, who allegedly referred to Irish-Americans living in the city’s low-income Kensington section as “trailer trash,” denied making such a comment, The Associated Press reported.

“It never happened,” said Mariano, pointing out that he’s half-Irish himself. “I got my way on redistricting, and he didn’t.”

The fighting words between the fellow Democrats and former friends – Mariano, a union electrician and DiCicco, a licensed real estate agent – came as city leaders debated how to redraw the city’s council districts.

DiCicco said that Mariano made the remark about Irish-Americans during a Dec. 20 meeting with Mayor John F. Street and Councilman Darrell Clarke. Both Street and Clarke have said they didn’t hear the remark, according to published reports.

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