Tampa Bay Times Is Along For The Ride — and Catches Flak
“We spent hours and hours talking about the ethics of this,” said reporter Ben Montgomery, who first encountered Hughes when the postal worker called him at work and told him his plans. “Ultimately, we felt comfortable that he was on the authorities’ radar and that he was not homicidal or suicidal. He had his plan down to a T. Is it our job to call attention to it?” Actually, yes, say media ethicists. “A news organization should be extremely knowledgeable of the potential harm” a stunt like this could cause, said Edward Wasserman, dean of the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. “I really question their judgment. There is no end of the ways this could have gone wrong.”
If a reporter and his newspaper know in advance - months in advance, as it turns out - that a man intended to undertake a stunt that could sow panic in the nation's capital, are they obligated to alert law-enforcement authorities? And should they be faulted for not doing so until the last minute?