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Code Words: SPJ’s Ethics Committee Blog
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Ethics Committee
This committee's purpose is to encourage the use of the Society's Code of Ethics, which promotes the highest professional standards for journalists of all disciplines. Public concerns are often answered by this committee. It also acts as a spotter for reporting trends in the nation, accumulating case studies of jobs well done under trying circumstances.

Ethics Committee chair

Kevin Z. Smith
Deputy Director
Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) Kevin Z. Smith has been a member of the SPJ ethics committee for 20 years. He is a contributing author to two of SPJ's Doing Ethics in Journalism case study books. He is the co-author of SPJ's 1993 Ethics Manual, a guide for developing better ethical discussions and practices in newsrooms. He served as chairman of the ethics committee from 1995-97 when the Code was revised by the committee. He is serving his fifth year as committee chairman. He is a former president of SPJ (09-10) and a former member of the national and executive boards (06-11). He has been a member of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation since 2007. He has been a regular speaker, panelist and lecturer on journalism ethics and delivered talks around the United States and abroad since 1990.

Smith currently serves as a journalism lecturer at the University of Dayton (Ohio). He worked in community newspapers in West Virginia for 15 years before becoming a college professor. He has taught at West Virginia University, Miami Univeristy (Ohio), Fairmont State University (W.Va.) and James Madison University (Va.). In 2009 he was named a Distinguished Mountaineer by the governor of West Virginia, the highest honor bestow upon a citizen of the state. The award came largely from his work with SPJ and journalism ethics.


Fred Brown, vice chair
2862 S. Oakland Ct.
Aurora, Colo., 80014
303/829-4647
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Fred Brown is a former national president of SPJ (1997-98) and is very active on its ethics committee. He writes a column on ethics for Quill magazine and served on the committee that wrote the Society’s 1996 code of ethics.

Brown officially retired from The Denver Post in early 2002, but continues to write a Sunday editorial page column for the newspaper. He also does analysis for Denver’s NBC television station, teaches communication ethics at the University of Denver, and is a principal in Hartman & Brown, LLP, a media training and consulting firm. He has won several awards for writing and community service, including a Sigma Delta Chi Award for editorial writing in 1988. He is an Honor Alumnus of Colorado State University, a member of the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame, and serves on the boards of directors of Colorado Public Radio, the Colorado Freedom of Information Council and the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.



SPJ Ethics
Committee Members


Lauren Bartlett
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Lauren Bartlett is currently a Director at Large for the Society of Professional Journalists, chairs the national Communications Committee and is a member of the Ethics Committee and the Finance Committee.
Lauren was a three-time president of SPJ’s Greater Los Angeles chapter. Lauren works in media relations at Southern California Edison and previously worked in media relations at UCLA, her alma mater.

Before joining UCLA in 2000, Lauren was a reporter in Los Angeles for 12 years, the last 10 of which were at the Los Angeles Daily Journal, the country’s largest daily legal affairs newspaper.

Lauren’s professional career began when she was a junior in high school and wrote a weekly column for the Contra Costa Sun. In her senior year of high school she reported for the Contra Costa Times. While attending UCLA she interned at the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Copley News Service.

Upon graduation Lauren worked at the Los Angeles bureau of The Associated Press and City News Service, a regional wire service, before joining the Daily Journal.

Lauren was honored in 2011 with a President’s Award for distinguished service to the Society. In 2001, she was honored with the Howard S. Dubin Outstanding Pro Member Award for her contributions to the SPJ Greater Los Angeles chapter and Region 11. She has been a member of the SPJ/LA Board of Directors since 1996.


Elizabeth Donald
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Elizabeth Donald has been a reporter with the News-Democrat for over a decade. She is a mobile reporter covering Madison County, with an emphasis on city government, education and the environment. She is the News-Democrat's liaison to the Latino Roundtable of Southwestern Illinois, author of several fiction novels and writes CultureGeek, the News-Democrat's pop-culture blog.

A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Donald is a frequent guest lecturer at local universities on the practical applications of journalism ethics and the changing nature of newspapers in the 21st century. She has won multiple awards and currently serves as vice president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists.


Mike Farrell
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Mike Farrell serves as director of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center at the University of Kentucky and as an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications. He began teaching as an adjunct in 1980 at Northern Kentucky University, continued as a graduate teaching assistant at UK in 1996, and has been a full-time faculty member there since 2000. He won the college teaching award in 2006.

He teaches reporting, media ethics, media law, journalism history, editing, media law, covering religion news and column writing.

He was a reporter, city editor and managing editor during a 20-year career at The Kentucky Post.

A native of Northern Kentucky, he earned his undergraduate degree at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago. He earned his master's and doctoral degrees at UK, where he focused on media law. He is a member of the Bluegrass Chapter and co-adviser of the UK student chapter of SPJ.


Paul Fletcher
Publisher & Editor-in-Chief
Virginia Lawyers Media
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) Paul Fletcher has been publisher and editor-in-chief at Virginia Lawyers Weekly in Richmond, Va., since 1989.

He joined the newspaper the previous year as news editor, after practicing law in Southwest Virginia for three years.

A graduate of the Washington & Lee University law school, he earned his undergraduate degree at the College of William & Mary and an M.A. in English from Emory University.

Paul has been a member of SPJ for 20 years and currently serves as president of the Virginia Pro chapter, having won reelection to a second term in June 2012.

He has won a number of journalism awards, including honors for editorial and feature writing.

He has been serving as interim publisher of Michigan Lawyers Weekly, based in suburban Detroit, since August 2012.


Irwin Gratz
207/874-6570
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Irwin Gratz has been in radio news for nearly 30 years. He worked as a reporter, anchor and News Director for the number-one rated commercial station in Portland, Maine before going to work for public radio in 1992 as local anchor of “Morning Edition.”

A native of New York City, Irwin holds a Masters Degree in journalism from New York University. He has taught a college course on media ethics and has been a guest lecturer on journalism ethics and broadcast news writing.

Irwin has been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists since 1983 and has held positions as a state chapter president, a member of its national board and was the Society’s national President in 2004 and 2005.

Irwin lives outside of Portland, Maine with his wife and young son.


Hagit Limor
Investigative Reporter
WCPO-TV
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Hagit Limor’s other experience with SPJ includes stints as National President; National President-Elect; National Secretary-Treasurer; National Membership Committee; National Finance Committee Chair; current National Legal Defense Fund Committee chair; National Chair of Executive Director Search Committee; Board Member of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation; and Greater Cincinnati Pro Chapter President, membership chairman and current chapter treasurer.

Outside of SPJ, she serves in dual roles as a professor at the University of Cincinnati's Electronic Media Department and as WXIX-TV's Emmy and national award-winning investigative reporter. Her abilities as a writer and reporter have garnered Hagit more than 100 national, state and local awards, including ten Emmy awards, a National Headliner Award, three national Sigma Delta Chi Awards and as a national finalist with the Investigative Reporters and Editors Association.

Hagit received bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University.


Jim Pumarlo
Director of communications, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Jim Pumarlo spent 27 years working at small daily newspapers in International Falls and Red Wing, Minn. He served as editor of the Red Wing Republican Eagle for 21 years. He resigned in December 2003 and currently is director of communications at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the state’s largest business advocacy organization. He can be contacted at www.pumarlo.com.

He released a book in January 2005, “Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in a Small-Town Newspaper,” which was published by Marion Street Press in Chicago. His second book, Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Campaign Coverage,” was released in May 2007.

He remains active in the newspaper industry through his consulting and speaking. He is involved in the Minnesota Newspaper Association as a member of its Journalism Education and Legislative committees. He is past president of the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation Board of Directors. He also is past chairman of the Premack Board which oversees the Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Award competition, one of Minnesota’s most coveted and celebrated journalism honors in public affairs reporting. He serves on the hearing panel for the Minnesota News Council, which promotes fair, vigorous and trusted journalism by engaging the news media and the public in examining standards of fairness.


Andrew Seaman
Bio (click to expand) Andrew is a medical journalist for Reuters Health in New York. Before coming to Reuters Health, he was a Kaiser Media Fellow at Reuters’s Washington, D.C. bureau, where he covered the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

In 2011, Andrew graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied investigative journalism as a Stabile Fellow and was named “Student of the Year.” Andrew also graduated with his B.A. from Wilkes University in 2011.

He’s won numerous awards throughout his short career, including being named a 2010 Tom Bigler Scholar for ethical standards in journalism, the 2009 Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award, the 2009 and the Arthur H. Barlow National Student Journalist of the Year Award.


Home > Ethics > Ethics Case Studies > Using the ‘Holocaust’ Metaphor

Ethics Case Studies
Using the ‘Holocaust’ Metaphor

WHAT: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, is a nonprofit animal rights organization known for its controversial approach to communications and public relations. In 2003, PETA launched a new campaign, named “Holocaust on Your Plate,” that compares the slaughter of animals for human use to the murder of 6 million Jews in WWII. The campaign centers around the power of emotion, and Lisa Lange, the vice president of PETA communications, stated that “The idea for the effort came from the late Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer, who wrote: ‘In relation to them [animals], all people are Nazis; for them it is an eternal Treblinka’ — a death camp in Poland” (CNN, 2003). A Jewish PETA member funded the campaign, but this has not lessened the backlash from the Jewish community toward the set of images.

“Holocaust on Your Plate” juxtaposes 60-square-foot visual displays of animals in slaughterhouses with scenes of Nazi concentration camps. Lange, quoted above, explains that the campaign “Is shocking, startling, and very hard to look at. We're attacking the mind-set that condones the slaughter of animals” (CNN, 2003). In 2003, the controversial set of images was released at an exhibit in San Diego, California, and a few months later, a more graphic version was released in Berlin, Germany. The Central Council of Jews in Germany sued PETA in 2004 for the campaign, and in 2009, the German Supreme Court banned the images from the country. In November 2012, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg voted to uphold the previous Supreme Court ruling, which had banned the campaign.

Germany’s PETA group is currently appealing the European Court’s vote to uphold the court ruling, fighting for their right to display their campaign based on the fundamental principles of free speech. The United States Anti-Defamation League and several other American human rights groups continue to condemn the campaign as well.

Question: Is “Holocaust on Your Plate” ethically wrong or a truthful comparison?

WHO: Ingrid Newkirk, the CEO of PETA, ultimately made the decision to release the controversial campaign, and did not address the heated, angry emotions that arose surrounding the images for nearly two years after the campaign’s release in 2003. With her decision to run the PR Campaign, her reputation, as well as the reputation of PETA, is at risk of being negatively affected.

Abraham Foxman, the U.S. Anti-Defamation League national director and a Holocaust survivor, is one of many members of the American Jewish community who were highly offended by PETA’s campaign.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany represents another sector of the international Jewish community that took great offense to the campaign, suing PETA in 2004 with the support of several human rights groups.

Germany’s Supreme Court became involved in the case in 2009, banning the campaign from the country, and the European Court of Human Rights’ decision in 2012 to uphold the ruling is still being fought by PETA.

Consumers of media messages, both in the United States and Germany, also play a role in the case, as their perception of “Holocaust on your Plate” images greatly affect their view towards PETA and the organization’s main goals. As consumers, the decision on how the case is handled will be a deciding factor on whether or not to support the organization.

WHY: A Public Relations representative for PETA, alongside the CEO of the company, justified the campaign by describing it on CNN as “The very same mind-set that made the Holocaust possible — that we can do anything we want to those we decide are 'different or inferior' — is what allows us to commit atrocities against animals every single day.” In these regards, PETA argues that it is making its argument based upon principles of truth. PETA essentially claims that its campaign, although provocative, uses a comparison relating the murder of Jews and animals in a truthful and justified manner.

When examined under a deontological lens, it is arguable that PETA’s PR campaign has done nothing wrong — protected under freedom of speech, PETA’s communications team and CEO claim their campaign is legal and ethically sound, since it is rooted in fact and historical data, both from the Holocaust and slaughter house records. PETA argues that the comparison between the murder of Jews and animals is justified, due to the inherent and quantifiable nature of the slaughtering of innocent lives. However, when considering the case by applying the principles of deontology, the answer could also be argued in simpler, contrasting terms: the mass murder of millions of humans cannot, and should not be compared to a chicken or pig, and is inherently wrong.

This case can also be considered from a teleological perspective, placing the argument on a different plane for ethical discussion. There are two main outcomes that may arise from this case: 1) PETA’s campaign spreads its pathos-driven message on animal rights successfully, limiting the number of animals consumed by humans, or 2) The campaign angers audiences to a degree that PETA loses the respect and trust that is needed for any form of audience support to ensue. Thus far in the case, the second consequence seems more likely, as the overly emotional, insensitive campaign has not motivated people, but for the most part driven them away.

Germany’s High Court stated in 2009 that the “Holocaust on a Plate” made "The fate of the victims of the Holocaust appear banal and trivial.” The consequences of conveying human suffering to a human audience, whether or not they are rooted in truth, may cause more harm than overall good.

HOW: While PETA’s claims may be justified, and the comparison between the murder of humans and animals deemed quantifiable, the harm caused by the campaign overrides the intended message of the PR plan, and should not be used. A mix of legal questioning, high emotional ties, and extremely poor taste make this an ethical case of high stakes and varied opinions, however a decision remains clear: PETA’s “Holocaust on a Plate” is ethically wrong. The mass-murder of millions in a catastrophic historical event should not be utilized as a communication tool to gain support for one’s organization. The comparison, while arguably similar in quantifiable terms, is disgustingly insensitive and takes advantage of others suffering to make a point.

PETA should utilize a different strategy to convey their message. The CEO of PETA will receive better press, and the overall reputation of the already controversial organization will improve. Stated backlash from numerous human rights groups and the Anti-Defamation League, as well the surely unstated unease of many audience sectors, is not worth a strong emotional response that could drive audience support of PETA.

DECISION: The “Holocaust on a Plate” PR campaign is ethically wrong: a mass-murder of millions should not be utilized as a communication tool to gain support for one’s organization. It should not be used to convey PETA’s message, no matter how strong the emotional argument.

— by Jill Hamilton, University of Denver

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