Investigative journalism sheds light on Boeing MAX 8 crashes

Over-reliance on technology and questionable FAA oversight were linked to two crashes that killed more than 300 people. The second crash occurred 11 days after the Seattle Times questioned Boeing about safety flaws.

Technology was not only suspect in the failure of two Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft; it also played a role in pilot training.

In the “Today” video above, pilots reportedly received training in a 56-minute online iPad lesson about an aircraft whose faulty software also was suspected in causing the crashes of the Lion Air in October and Ethiopian Airlines earlier this month.

Worse, some pilots were not informed about certain safety software systems installed on their planes. According to Politico, U.S. pilots had complained at least five times about controlling the aircraft during critical stages of flight.

Eleven days before the second crash, Seattle Times reporter Dominic Gates had informed Boeing about questions concerning the power of the flight control system, designed to push the nose of the aircraft down to avert a stall. He had also learned a system reset function that could override a pilot’s response, causing the plane’s nose to keep pushing downward.

His investigative report also disclosed failed oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration:

The FAA, citing lack of funding and resources, has over the years delegated increasing authority to Boeing to take on more of the work of certifying the safety of its own airplanes.

His report illustrates the importance of fact-based journalism in a case where common sense–a distinctly human trait–was overridden by machines. This applies not only to inadequate online training, especially on tablets with insistent pinging and notifications, but also to the FAA that allowed the MAX 8 to fly after the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

One aircraft falling from the skies might have gotten the FAA’s attention; a second similar craft doing the exact same thing–pilots struggling to aright their jet–should have set off alarms.

Nevertheless, the FAA initially didn’t act after countries around the globe had grounded the MAX 8 after the second crash. This might have occurred because the Administration is “data-driven” and data from the black box of the Ethiopian Airlines crash was not immediately available.

In an interview with NPR, Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, said “the FAA has really prided itself on being a data-driven organization, that they don’t make ad hoc decisions” on “anecdotal evidence.” He added, the FAA has “a close working and regulatory relationship with Boeing.”

That relationship may be too close. Last week the FBI opened a criminal investigation into the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX 8.

Living Media Ethics (Routledge 2019) has sections on the influence of technology on perception as well as the importance of investigative journalism in holding government and business accountable.

That’s precisely what the Seattle Times did in its Boeing investigation.

 

Smollett Case: How should media cover hoaxes and hate?

Here are 10 tips for newsrooms to deal ethically with hoaxes and hate crimes, balancing their reports.

On March 8, a grand jury delivered 16 felony indictments against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett in an alleged hate-crime hoax involving two men who purportedly beat the actor while making homophobic and racial slurs.

Smollett, an African-American gay man, told police in late January that two men put a noose on his neck and doused him with liquid, claiming he was in “MAGA country,” a reference to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, according to the New York Times.

For weeks now, the media have covered this case, emphasizing the hoax rather than the harm of hate crimes, which have risen 17 percent in the past year.

To balance coverage in the aftermath of the Smollett case, journalists should:

  1. Add content in hoax reports about the damage such lies do to legitimate causes involving diversity, identity, inclusion and equity.
  2. Document wasted resources on hoaxes and where those funds might have gone to deal with legitimate community concerns.
  3. Report safety concerns sparked by hate crimes and hoaxes, following up on any related incidents or protests. 
  4. Provide updates on hate crime statistics, including localized stories about any uptick or downturn.
  5. Craft human-interest and multimedia stories to highlight the harm of hate and courage of hate’s survivors and families.
  6. Investigate organizations, affiliations and people perpetuating hate as well as efforts to confront such groups and individuals.
  7. Cover court cases in which offenders have been charged with such crimes, following up on indictments, appeals and verdicts.
  8. Do service journalism about resources for and legal rights of survivors of hate crimes.
  9. Cover schools and universities that support or neglect issues associated with diversity, identity, inclusion and equity along with publicizing resources and pertinent policies.
  10. Continue efforts to diversify newsrooms as well as access coverage for and service to under-represented groups.

These tips will become more important in weeks to come as the Smollett saga intensifies with court appearances.

The case against Smolett went viral when Eddie Johnson, Chicago police chief, held a news conference criticizing the actor. Johnson also referenced the news media, wishing families of gun violence received that much attention:

“Why would anyone, especially an African American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile? … I only hope the truth about what happened receives the same amount of attention the hoax did.”

Johnson’s wish was granted. News of the hoax has been intense with Smollett’s attorneys proclaiming his innocence. Now with 16 new indictments for disorderly conduct, coverage will escalate, competing with reports about China tariffs, North Korea negotiations, Mexican border walls and the Mueller investigation about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Even more concerning, the news media may not fully balance the record with reports about hate crimes, especially race-related ones and attacks on the LGBTQ+ community.

Hate crimes continue to rise, according to the FBI’s latest report, with 8,493 offenses, including spikes associated with race and sexual orientation, upon which Smollett based his report to police. Crimes against African-Americans and gay men led both categories.

Living Media Ethics (Routledge 2019) dedicates a chapter to bias and identity. Here’s the abstract:

BIAS: Recognize and Resist It   

This chapter inquires whether you are actually acknowledging diversity in your online and interpersonal activities. Statistics are presented showing that the United States is becoming increasingly diverse. Even so, advertising, journalism and public relations may not be realizing those population trends in news coverage and campaigns. Experts and professionals from across platforms share personal accounts that concern the specter of bias in newsrooms, agencies and organizations. As in other chapters, the history of media bias is recounted, including proactive documents such as the 1947 Hutchins and 1968 Kerner reports. Methods to diversify mass communications and create inclusive content are cited along with challenges of doing so. In that respect, stereotypes are explored extensively, with recommendations to identify and resist them. End-of-chapter personal and communal journal exercises probe lessons and truths that you may have learned—for better or worse about diversity—at home, school and work.

This website will provide updates as occasion arises concerning hoaxes and hate crimes and balanced coverage thereof.

Zuckerberg Resurrects Value of Privacy: Silly Us, We Thought It Was Dead

In 1999, CEO Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems prophesied the future with this quote: “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Facebook CEO has tried to get under and around privacy, earning billions in the process. Now he wants to resurrect it, potentially threatening news media business models.

 

Mark Zuckerberg plans to integrate Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger so that users can text each other across those platforms, creating a “digital living room” whose chief attribute would be privacy.

In a lengthy blog post, Zuckerberg wrote:

As I think about the future of the internet, I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms. Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks.

He laid out this vision:

  • Private interactions. People should have simple, intimate places where they have clear control over who can communicate with them and confidence that no one else can access what they share.
  • Encryption. People’s private communications should be secure. End-to-end encryption prevents anyone — including us — from seeing what people share on our services.
  • Reducing Permanence. People should be comfortable being themselves, and should not have to worry about what they share coming back to hurt them later. So we won’t keep messages or stories around for longer than necessary to deliver the service or longer than people want them.
  • Safety. People should expect that we will do everything we can to keep them safe on our services within the limits of what’s possible in an encrypted service.
  • Interoperability. People should be able to use any of our apps to reach their friends, and they should be able to communicate across networks easily and securely.
  • Secure data storage. People should expect that we won’t store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression in order to protect data from being improperly accessed.

The New York Times analyzed these functions, noting that they were proposed following years of privacy invasion and scandal.

Foreign agents from countries like Russia have used Facebook to publish disinformation, in an attempt to sway elections. Some communities have used Facebook Groups to strengthen ideologies around issues such as anti-vaccination. And firms have harvested the material that people openly shared for all manner of purposes, including targeting advertising and creating voter profiles.

The Columbia Journalism Review speculated on a motive for Zuckerberg resurrecting privacy as a core value, questioning whether “hateful or violent content will soon appear in private rather than public messages,” meaning the company no longer would be liable in any privacy-invasion litigation. “The latter question has already come up in India, where much of the violence driven by WhatsApp has been fueled by messages posted in private groups.”

The magazine also noted that these new steps to secure privacy for users might impact journalism, affecting distribution of news and data-mining through social media, a continuous Facebook surveillance and selling feature. That threatens ad revenue, especially since media business models have been built around Facebook’s algorithms.

Living Media Ethics has long advocated that Facebook pay subsidies to the news industry because its users disseminate content without adequate payment or subscription.

The new edition (Routledge, 2019) also blames Facebook for disseminating fake news as avidly as fact-based journalism, threatening democracy because fewer people cipher real from fabricated reports. Here’s an excerpt:

Social media, especially Facebook, has become the primary disseminator of false news reports, prompting the company and FactCheck.org to partner in an attempt to flag fabricated “news.” The initiative was triggered by false news during the 2016 presidential campaign.[1] FactCheck.org recommends that reporters and viewers consider the source of information, read content carefully before jumping to conclusions, and verify the reputation of the author or group disseminating stories.

FactCheck cites these warning signs:

  • Did a reader or viewer send you a tip and social media link based on a bias that you both may share or that your media outlet has supported in the past?
  • Is the headline or title of a report sensationalized with content about what might occur hypothetically if a sequence of events takes place?
  •  Is the content of an alleged news report undated or based on events that might have happened in the past, falsely depicted as happening in the present?

Entertainment v. Celebrity News: Professor and Student Exchange

Media ethics teachers deal with weighty topics from philosophy, history and jurisprudence. Occasionally a student asks a question requiring more research. Here’s an exchange about a Khloé Kardashian love scandal involving an NBA player and model with lessons about entertainment v. gossip journalism.

EDITOR’s NOTE: In case you haven’t kept up with the Kardashians, Khloé, 34, blamed Jordyn Woods, 21, for her split with NBA basketball star Tristan Thompson, 27. She initially blamed Woods; however, upon viewing the video above, changed her mind and blamed Thompson for a scandal that seems to hinge on alcohol and a kiss. You can read the details as reported by People Magazine.


Media Ethics Student:

I don’t know if you keep up with the news of popular culture and celebrity news, but there is a story that has been circulating the media–a scandal of celebrity entrepreneur Jordyn Woods assumed to cheat with Khloé Kardashian’s partner. Sometimes celebrity news can be very dramatic, exaggerated and often irrelevant, but this scandal has piqued my interest with the relation to ethics.

I think the ethics of falsehood, specifically exaggeration, as the headlines of the story seem to position Jordyn Woods as the villain. Though after watching a video on Red Table Talk hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith, there are two sides of the story, and the media is not portraying the assumed side of Woods. Some questions I had are:

How are ethics considered from different media outlets, specifically when covering the topic of celebrity news? 

Should both sides be considered before publishing something with a specific bias?

Also, the media has reported that “supposedly” Woods was all over Khloé’s partner and eventually ended up making out with him, though in the video Woods explained that none of that was true and that it was only a peck on the lips. Before knowledge of what has been circulating in the media, Khloé asked Woods how her night went and Woods said that it went well and did not speak up about the peck on the lips.

Would that also be considered a white lie or even a half-truth, if Woods did not reveal the secret due to not wanting to hurt Khloé’s feelings?

I apologize for this long email as this is something I was processing. Of course I don’t expect you to have a clear answer for my questions, but I just included them as thoughts. I hope to hear back from you in processing topics like this. Also, I know celebrity news is sometimes toxic; this is a case that just seemed to correlate with what we have been learning about. I look forward to your reply, have a great night! Thank you.

Media Ethics Professor:

I’m happy that you are making connections with our class about what you see and hear on media. That’s the goal. The real learning happens outside of class when we apply what we learned.

So I spent part of my Sunday trying to catch up on the Khloe/Jordyn/Tristan situation. I watched the entire video on Red Table Talk. What I liked about the video, including the beginning with Will Smith, is the focus on telling the truth and accepting consequences.

This not only is a situation about falsehood but also betrayal and manipulation. I suspect Jordyn may not be telling the entire truth about that kiss. Perhaps it was more than flirting and an apparent betrayal—both of them on Khloé. Alcohol was involved, and Jordyn doesn’t seem to associate that with her condition in allowing at least emotional if not physical betrayal.

But this is celebrity news, and we always need to take what we view or hear with the proverbial grain of salt.

Now for your questions:

How are ethics considered from different media outlets, specifically when covering the topic of celebrity news?

The celebrity news business is based on gossip, not fact. Everyone wants the gossipy lowdown and that’s why Red Table, TMZ, etc., are so popular. The audience wants to follow their idols and live the celebrity life. Then fan bases that fight for and over their celebrities. It’s a real media circus, but it keeps us hooked.

I almost got hooked, listening with some interest to this 25-minute Red Table video because, well, that’s the appeal … the very slow narrative that keeps us listening. For Pete sake, it shouldn’t have taken Jordyn 20 minutes to get to the kiss. So some of this seems programmed for entertainment value.

Should both sides be considered before publishing something with a specific bias?

Even bad publicity is good publicity when celebrities are concerned. Sympathy for Khloé. Condemnation for Jordyn and Tristan. Thousands of fans tweeting about a celebrity war! In sum, entertainment news differs from celebrity news. The former is more fact-based, the latter more gossip-based. There’s a long history of celebrity news in newspapers, appropriately called “gossip columns.”

Media Ethics Student:

I thoroughly enjoyed your response and even chuckled at some points. I really appreciate you for taking your time to dive into this topic with me. This email has given me a lot to reflect on. Thank you again! See you in class tomorrow.


Lessons

Entertainment Journalism: If you want to keep up with the Kardashians, you should visit this link by the Chicago Tribune, which provides 15 slides on the clan’s various members. The slideshow with descriptions also represents fact-based entertainment journalism, a field that covers celebrities, fashion, music, dance, arts, cinema and other similar cultural venues.

Top Entertainment Media (National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award-Winners):

Gossip Columnists: The most important three, according to “The History of Gossip Columnists,” are Louella Parsons (born in 1881), who wrote for the Chicago Record Herald. Hedda Hopper (born in 1885), who wrote for the Los Angeles Times. And
Sheilah Graham Westbrook: (born 1904 in England), who wrote for The Mirror and The Journal.

Top Gossip Websites:

Living Media Ethics has a section about celebrities whom media treat as idols and icons with information on how audiences adopt their values and covet their lifestyles.

Trump to Universities: Support 1st Amendment or Lose Research Funds

President Trump says he will sign an executive order withholding federal funds for universities that do not support free speech.

President Trump, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, said colleges and universities receiving billions of federal dollars for research must support the First Amendment or lose funding.

An article in Inside Higher Ed stated that the president did not elaborate on how his executive order would function or how institutions would document support for free speech.

The president was accompanied at the podium by Hayden Williams, who was attacked while recruiting for a conservative grassroots organization at the University of California-Berkeley. Trump said that Williams should sue the university and the state of California. “He took a hard punch in the face for all of us. We can never allow that to happen.”

Here is a video of the attack:

Williams and the man who allegedly attacked him–Zachary Greenberg–are not students at Berkeley. IHE noted that Williams had permission to be on campus expressing his views.

CNN reports that Greenberg, arrested and booked in the assault, reportedly was upset by a  sign that stated “Hate Crime Hoaxes Hurt Real Victims,” an apparent reference to “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who has been charged with disorderly conduct.

Inside Higher Ed cited Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, who noted that higher education supports free speech and academic freedom because both are fundamental to the learning environment.

Hartle questioned whether religious institutions would lose funding if they denied speakers challenging their doctrines and also criticized Trump for attacks on others exercising free speech, including former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. 

Living Media Ethics describes the First Amendment in several chapters, including a historical section on how Constitutional framers envisioned its use in free society.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison, who drafted the rights, wanted another check on the balance of power between the government branches and states. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights did that perhaps more than the other nine, clearly stating what legislators can and cannot do: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The people’s “first right” actually was five: freedom of or from religion, free speech, free press, assembly and petition.

From a historical perspective, Madison’s notion of “balance” and “check on powers of government” also are core principles that define news media, in particular, in holding elected officials accountable. That is why journalism is sometimes referred to as “The Fourth Estate,” checking the power of the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government.

At the CPAC rally and in campaign appearances, President Trump has called the news media “the enemy of the people.” He also noted, “Nobody loves the First Amendment more than me,” defending his attacks on the media as his own fundamental free speech right.

Bias Roundup: KKK invoked, lynch-like hoodie pulled

Alabama publisher calls on KKK to “night ride”; Kennesaw State student threatened in post citing KKK; Burberry apologizes for noose on hoodie.

The Washington Post reports that the Feb. 14 editorial criticized Democrats and some Republicans for raising taxes, concluding: “Seems like the Klan would be welcome to raid the gated communities up there.”

Two journalism students at Auburn posted the editorial, which wasn’t in the Democrat-Reporter’s online edition.

KKK Oped

At KSU, an African-American student was depicted in a photo while in class with this comment: “Need to call the klan to solve this issue.”

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution,  Elijah John–the 22-year-old student in the photo–stated: “He threatened my life and I’m not OK with that.” The university told the newspaper that the student who posted the photo no longer is enrolled.

Living Media Ethics reported earlier in the month about continuing bias in the fashion industry, with blackface-like shoes, sweater and ornaments pulled from product lines. Now Burberry has apologized for a hoodie with noose.

Fortune reported this apology from Burberry CEO Macro Gobbetti: “We are deeply sorry for the distress caused by one of the products that featured in our A/W 2019 runway collection Tempest.” Gobbetti removed the product as soon as complaints were posted about it. He said the design “was inspired by the marine theme that ran throughout the collection, it was insensitive and we made a mistake. ”

Living Media Ethics has a chapter on bias and also reports about it on this website.  The subtitle of the text–“across platforms”–showcases the blended media environment, from a print editorial in an Alabama newspaper and social media post, invoking the KKK, to a lynch-like sweater ornament. All made the news. The KKK op-ed was associated with journalism; the KSU University News Service (information public relations) had to answer media requests; the noose-sweater advertisements and promotions had to be pulled.

That is what “across platforms” means.

UPDATE: Jussie Smollette Charged With Hoax “Publicity Stunt”

Chicago Police superintendent Eddie Johnson angrily announces charges against Empire actor Jussie Smollette, alleging the actor sent a false letter and later staged a hate crime because he was dissatisfied with his salary and sought publicity.

Jussie Smollett, a star on Empire and LGBTQ+ activist, has been charged with disorderly conduct, a felony that can bring as much as one to three years in prison with a large fine.

Police Chief Eddie Johnson, an African-American, stated:

“Why would anyone, especially an African American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile? … I only hope the truth about what happened receives the same amount of attention the hoax did.”

In an analysis of the news conference, The Washington Post noted that media coverage of the hoax has surpassed Smollett’s claim of a hate crime, focusing now on the ramifications of the act.

Smollett turned himself in to authorities on Feb. 20.

The saga began when Smollett said that two men attacked him in Chicago on Jan. 29, dousing him with bleach and putting a noose around his neck. Because of a series of purported discoveries by police, many in media doubted the crime actually happened.

On Feb. 1, he gave this statement to Essence magazine:

“As my family stated, these types of cowardly attacks are happening to my sisters, brothers and non-gender conforming siblings daily. I am not and should not be looked upon as an isolated incident. We will talk soon and I will address all details of this horrific incident, but I need a moment to process. Most importantly, during times of trauma, grief and pain, there is still a responsibility to lead with love. It’s all I know. And that can’t be kicked out of me.”

Smollett reported to CNN that two men called him racist and homophobic slurs. Chicago police noted that Smollett in his initial report did not say that one of the men shouted, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to Donald Trump’s campaign slogan: Make America Great Again. According to People Magazine, he stated that to police in a subsequent meeting and the record was updated.

He had told police on the night of the attack he had been on the phone with his manager. Doubt began to surface when Smollett did not hand over his phones but instead provided a redacted copy of his phone record.

Then police found surveillance footage of two men.

Smollett told his story and maintained his innocence in a widely disseminated interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts.

In that interview he was shown the surveillance footage of the two men and said he believed them to be his attackers.

The two men, arrested by police, Abel and Ola Osundairo, are brothers, one of whom appeared briefly on Empire and both of whom purportedly know Smollett. The men cooperated with police. Both cooperated with police and were seen in this video, purchasing materials to be used in the purported attack.

The case brings to light a significant 17% increase in hate crimes, according to the FBI. Smollett and his brother Jake also are respected advocates for worthy causes. In 2018, they  helped raise more than $1 million for a historically black college for women, Bennett College, to keep its doors open.

Days before the reported attack, the Chicago set of Empire received an envelope containing white powder, later shown to be aspirin, according to police. Authorities believe that Smollett sent the letter and then decided on a subsequent attack when the letter alone did not generate sufficient publicity.

At the time of the police news conference, Smollett still maintained his innocence. His lawyers issued this statement:

“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system. The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election. Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”

Living Media Ethics covers the ramifications of a hoax in a chapter on manipulation. It notes several types of hoaxes, including publicity stunts.

Here’s an excerpt:

10 Common Time Elements for Hoaxes *These time elements can be combined, of course.

  • When information about a sensational story, client or product seems to have reached a standstill.
  • When information about an event, incident, client or product threatens or supports a person’s or a group’s interests.
  • When a political candidate is running for office or an issue is being debated or considered for legislative action.
  • When society is consumed by a widespread fear or desire.
  • When society searches for a missing link, cure or other piece of evidence to advance learning, science or technology.
  • When a hoaxster needs the exposure or publicity.
  • When a media outlet has recently run a promotional campaign soliciting reader or viewer participation or feedback.
  • When a deadline or production schedule doesn’t allow for research.
  • When the media outlet has a need for a certain type of story, client or product line.
  • When a story, client, or product line is linked to a specific season, holiday or occasion

Reporters and practitioners are instructed to be patient and seek facts from reliable sources before disseminating a hoax story and also to:

  • Question the motive of the source. Try to ascertain why the person is resorting to falsehoods and manipulation. A person risks reputation and even criminal liability by resorting to a hoax.
  • Question your own motive and media needs. Ask yourself if your own motives, ambitions and deadlines are playing a role in your perspective.
  • Question the impact on audience. Determine how the source’s story, problem, discovery or product will affect your readers, viewers or customers. The bigger the story, the bigger the impact on you if you are wrong in your assessment.
  • Assess your own fears, desires, convictions or values. Ultimately hoaxsters rely on journalists and practitioners and their inherent biases to perpetuate a hoax. Be sure to take that into account.

Journalists and practitioners who refrain from prematurely dubbing a report a hoax gain credibility because they do not need to issue a retraction. Likewise, journalists and practitioners who outwit, defuse and expose a hoaxster enhance their credibility, along with that of the employer.

Living Media Ethics is available from Routledge and addresses ethical issues in advertising, journalism and public relations.