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Journalistic ethics?

 |  NCR Today

The outing of an anti-gay Lutheran pastor in Minnesota by a gay magazine is raising questions of journalistic ethics about undercover reporting.

Why is this a Catholic story? Because the reporter from Lavender Magazine got his scoop by attending meetings of the Catholic group Courage under false pretenses. Courage is dedicated to helping those with same-sex attractions live chaste lives.

A few points:
* Rev. Tom Brock is pretty extreme in his condemnations of anything gay or lesbian. He even once claimed a tornado that hit the convention center where the ELCA was meeting was God's way of punishing the Lutherans for ordaining gays.
* Courage and other groups that claim to "cure" gays of their "disorder" are extremely controversial, to say the least. Many "survivors" of such programs say they cause dangerous self-hatred.
* Even though some 12-steppers say it's not an "authentic" 12-step program, Courage is modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step, and as such, requires anonymity and confidentiality in its meetings.

Now let me put my journalistic ethics hat. It's true that when a public figure like Brock is blatantly hypocritical (asserting that the Lutheran Church should not hire anyone who is gay while being a closeted gay person himself), that is news. However, while going undercover used to be an acceptable way of gathering information, it is discouraged by most reputable journalists today.

The Society for Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics says, "Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story."

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I don't think the ends justified the means here. Outing this admittedly hypocritical person is important (but it is "vital"?), but a good reporter would have worked harder to get the story another way. (Apparently Brock admitted at one meeting that he had engaged in homosexual behavior.) A blogger for the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association agrees, saying it was wrong of the reporter to agree to confidentiality, then breach it.

As juicy as the story is (though certainly one that is increasingly common), I have to agree.

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