The DailyMail.com‘s effort to ditch ethics for clicks is fueling racial hatred toward a black family.
Not wanting to be left out of the media frenzy erupting over the death of Harambe, the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo over the weekend, The DailyMail.com shows other journalists how not to cover the controversy.
Despite not having anything to do with the tragic killing of the endangered silver-back gorilla, or the subsequent rescue of a three-year-old boy, the Mail reported on the supposed criminal history of the boy’s father, Deonne Dickerson.
The story leads off with:
“These are the parents of the four-year-old boy whose 15-feet fall into the gorilla exhibit moat in Cincinnati Zoo resulted in the death of 17-year-old silverback gorilla, Harambe.
Seen here for the first time is mother Michelle Gregg, 32, who has four children by father Deonne Dickerson, 36, a man who, Daily Mail Online can disclose, has a lengthy criminal history.
Criminal filings against Dickerson stretch over a decade and include burglary, firearms offences, drug trafficking, criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and kidnap.
In 2006 he was sentenced to one year behind bars for a drug trafficking conviction.”
Dickerson, it seems, is currently a productive member of society and has been for the last several years. But the Mail doesn’t give readers that information until five paragraphs deep into its story. The story also fails to mention whether Dickerson was found guilty of any of the initial charges that are listed. That fact, perhaps, got in the way of the narrative the news organization wanted to put forth. But I digress.
There are no valid or ethical reasons for the Mail to have brought up the father’s – real or alleged – past criminal transgressions. Such coverage criminalizes Dickerson when he, in fact, faces no criminal charges stemming from events that took place at the zoo.
While it may be a fact that Dickerson has a criminal record, that record bears no relevancy to the story about his son’s rescue or Harambe’s death. The story, instead, plays into a growing narrative that Dickerson and his wife are negligent parents who should be arrested. It’s not the job of the press to take sides. But by reporting on Dickerson’s past, it gives the appearance that The Daily Mail is doing exactly that, and agreeing with those on social media who are now calling for the parents’ arrests. In a news story, the Mail’s job is to stick with the facts of what happened during the news event, not use extraneous information to pass judgment.
Furthermore, the inclusion of Dickerson’s criminal past is unfair, perpetuates hatred toward he and his wife, and in no way serves the public interest.
The Mail fails both the Society of Professional Journalists ethical code and the UK’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Code of Conduct in its reporting.
The NUJ statest a journalist should:
- Strive to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair.
- Does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest.
- Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.
As for the SPJ code, journalists should:
- Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.
- Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
- Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.
- Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.
- Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.
It’s not clear whether Harambe had to die in order to save a three-year-old, but it is apparent that the British-based tabloid, which began heavily investing in covering U.S. celebrities in 2011, and opened New York office a year later to cover other American news, is attempting to capitalize on a story that went viral over an otherwise slow news cycle due to the holiday. The tabloid is known for its coverage of celebrity and the sensational. But in this case, its coverage is also notable because it is fueling stereotypical racial hatred directed at a traumatized family. And that kind of harm, whether the Mail intended it or not, is not okay.