Ethics in the Media: Is There Any?

Thomas Cooper, a professor at Emerson College, is the author of several books about media ethics and criticism. His article Between the Summits, dives deeper into what Americans think about media ethics and how the public in general has become increasingly concerned about ethical practices in the mass media industries.

Through three separate elements; Cooper’s article, a case study on NBC’s firing of employees over the George Zimmerman case and casual interviews, it can be presumed that people are concerned about ethics in the media. Specifically, people are disturbed that they cannot trust news stations, as they can be inaccurate, unbalanced in their coverage and hype specific stories.

In contemporary society, it appears that ethical issues in media or communications are appearing more and more. Whether these issues are Brian Williams lying to the entire nation or reporters exaggerating about the interaction between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, conversations have been sparked.

One scandal that has provoked endless comments about the media was NBC’s coverage of the 911 call that Zimmerman made to police. The network has been under fire for supposedly going out of their way to make it appear that Zimmerman was racially motivated to kill Martin, a black teenager, even though Zimmerman claimed he shot the teen in self-defense. NBC aired numerous misleadingly edited audio clips, leading to backlash from the public and the firing of three reporters.

In Between the Summits, Cooper looked at a Los Angeles Times article that asked what Americans are most disturbed about in the news media. The top reasons that were linked to the perception of unethical practices included that the news was too sensational/hyped news, biased/not balanced in coverage, inaccurate/did not tell the truth and pushing their own agenda (p. 21). In the casual interviews responses about peoples’ perceptions of the media were almost identical.

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A photograph discovered while researching the Travyon Martin controversy

One of the interviewees, before the Zimmerman case was brought up, expressed that she found the media to be biased towards the Democratic Party. She stated, “Network’s views tend to not show both sides of the story, they only show the side of the story that is sensational news you could say.” Another interviewee agreed, articulating that network’s want people to watch, therefore they stir up trouble and do not show both sides. Specifically, this interviewee found that the media loves to play the racial card, in this case as well as bringing up the Ferguson, Missouri case where a black teenager was also shot by a white police officer.

With all of the interviews, each person agreed that they watch the news with a grain of salt. If interested in a case mentioned on the news, then one woman would read up on it online or through other sources rather than watching it on television. Also, four out of five people interviewed primarily watch the news for the weather or sports. All in all, based on Cooper, the case study and the interviews, it appears that people believe the news specifically to be an unethical and untrustworthy source. However, with limited place to receive the news, typically found through the television and Internet, how can society make sure that the news they are receiving is legitimate?


Bond, P. (2012, May 3). NBC news fires third employee over doctored 911 call in Trayvon Martin controversy. The Hollywood Reporter.  Retrieved from

Cooper, T. (2008).  Between the summits: What Americans think about media ethics. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 23, 15-27.  doi: 10.1080/08900520701753106

Mirkinson, J. (2012, May 3). Lilia Luciano fired by NBC News over Zimmerman edit. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

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