The world is full of lies. In fact, we experience them on an everyday basis. In every film we watch we are fooled into believing that the pictures on the screen are moving, but in actuallity they are just still shots placed together at 24 frames per second. Television and the media (news) seem to be the biggest carries of the lying virus. ABC was one of the unlucky few to have been caught. Their name was dragged through the mudd along with Food Lion, in a case which poses many ethical questions.
Because of commercial advertisements, television news has been forced to resort to lie tactics in order create stories that shock viewers into watching. News has become nothing more than factual ENTERTAINMENT. For example, ABCs news program Primetime Live did a feature story on the South Carolina based Food Lion, which stated that the grocery chain was selling tainted meat, cheese that had been nawed upon by rats, produce which was taken from the dumpster, and fish which had been bleached in order to return the natural white color; however, ABC used trickery in order to obtain the package.
The lead was originally developed from a friend of segment producer Lynne Dale. The friend was the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers Union) spokesman Neal Lattimore. The information was supplied through a group who served as a middle man. ABC went to a Food Lion armed with hidden cameras in order to obtain some initial evidence. Second, ABC sent three employees Lynne Dale, Susan Barnett, and an Photographer to apply for jobs using forged references, supplied by UFCW. Here is the err with ABC. Their use of false information directly infringes upon a companies trust with employees, furthermore, many applications require a signature that bonds all information to the employee. Their second mistake was using information supplied by a union who according to Marc Gunther and Henry Goldblatt was already at arms with Food Lion, because of their persistance to remain NON union. The question that arises, does this justify ABC to lie in order to prove someone elses lie? Sissela Bok would suggest that such practices would be correct if in the interest of the public.
To Bok lies can be justified by the cognitive awareness of truth but in order to achieve such aware ness one must seek truthful alternatives (31). She writes:
If lies and truthful statements appear to achieve the same result or appear to be as desirable to t
he person contemplating lying the lies should be ruled out. And only where a lie is a
last resort can one even begin to consider whether or not it is morally justified. (31).
She also infers that lying in regards to moral justification can not be exclusive. Such information has to be capable of being made public. We should always balance the consequences with the truth as our parents once taught us too. She describes paternal/maternal lying as justifyable if it someway helps to prevent the child from being injured. Such lies are created in order to PROTECT the innocent. Her stand becomes redundantly clear in Lying. Lies CAN be justified if the need, outweighs the consequences, but by no means however, does she agree with lying, in fact she appauls it.
I hope to have shown how often the justifications they invoke are insubstantial,
and how they can disguise and fuel all other wrongs. Trust and integrity
are precious resourses, easily squandered, hard to regain (248).
As aforementioned, Bok would suggest that such lying is justifiable in order to save a life; however, I find that ABC was surely more interested with ratings as opposed to public care, although their image would suggest it. Modern news is a huge publicity battle. Whomever produces the better LIFE SAVING snippit wins the advertising. ABCs approach by no means justifies there actions. They chose not to sample the foods and run quality control checks on them, nor did they research the health boards recent ratings. Instead they entered into the situation lie first. Bok states that moral justification cannot be exclusive, it has to be made public, none of which ABC did. The information and package were filmed in Spring of 1992; however, the information was not made public until NOVEMBER 2, SWEEPS WEEK!!!. According to Bok, their lying was not justifiable. Had ABC published the information as soon as they could I belive she would have found them completely justified. In chapter 12 she writes:
three circumstances have seemed to liars to provide the strongest excuse for their
behavior- a crisis where overwhelming harm can be averted only through deceit;
complete harmlessness and triviality to the point where it seems absurd to quibble
about whether a lie has been told; and the duty to particular individuals to protect
Of the aforementioned circumstances, ABC contradicted each and everyone. Bok would definitely have found ABC guilty of lying. Frankly, I find that Boks essay critiques the television media directly. She basically guidelines appropriate times to lie in order to get a story, and there is simply only one excusable circumstance.
This acceptance would be inclusive only to a report/package which was to air shortly after its creation. And thus a lie could only be applied if the consequences outweighed the need. She says that public justification of deceptive practices should have more depth than our conscience, and should be more important than the critical audience. She continues by expressing that if such a choice is of importance to others and the deceipt is needed into to protect or guide, then the greater accountabilty falls into play. Meaning reporters can lie in order to help the helpless. To teach the known, to the unknown. Tactics ABC used were weak- ultimately costly.
There are two (of several) actions Primetime Live could have used instead of lying and still obtained an edutaining/gripping/sweeps worthy story.
Producers could have simply built a package including a random test of all aforementioned products (meat, cheese, fish, ect.), a hidden camera interview questioning the current handling of products, and interviews with former employees. Secondly, all information gathered should have been presented to Food Lion executives via impromptu interview or other means of approach.
The problems with these two solutions arise in that Food Lion could simply disavow any knowledge of such practices and dispose of all tainted products. But, that opens ABC to an entirely new spin on the story, cover up, especially if the random test had proved positive. The only other problem which could occur is negative results from both the test and the interviews thus eliminating the story, leaving many in the dark about Food Lions inappropriate food handling.But as we know, ABC handled things differently.
Had the story aired shortly after its conception, and not held until sweeps week ABC as far as I am concerned would have been semi justified. This would have eliminated all chance of Food Lions victory in court and would have furthermore radically changed their practices. This develops the problem with modern news, its all about money. When The Jungle was written earlier in the 20th century, money was not the drive, safety was. We must now question our society. Has greed taken control of our lives? Does our very existence rely upon falty storytelling? Sissela Bok was accurate in saying that Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain (249).