Author: Michael Bugeja

ROSEMARIE AQUILINA: Judge, Journalist, Attorney, Professor, Soldier, Survivor Advocate, Author and Friend

Judge Aquilina was our guest at Iowa State University’s media ethics class, speaking about justice, social justice, #MeToo Movement, and evil vs. good in society. View her eloquent presentation and read about her life, heritage and contributions to social justice.


  • Earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Journalism at Michigan State University.
  •  Earned Juris Doctorate degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School (now called Western Michigan University Cooley Law School) in Lansing, Michigan.
  • Worked for 10 years as administrative assistant and campaign manager for state senator John F. Kelly, and then as a partner in his lobbying firm, Strategic Governmental Consultants, PLLC.
  • Formed Aquilina Law Firm, PLC, practicing for several years.
  • Became host of Ask the Family Lawyer, a syndicated radio talk show.
  • Joined the Michigan Army National Guard, where she became the state’s first female member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
  • Served in the Michigan Army National Guard for twenty years before retiring.
  • Is an adjunct professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.
  • Accomplished chef with YouTube videos featuring Rosemarie’s Kitchen.
  • Author of several award-winning fiction books.

Presiding Judge in Larry Nassar Case

In 2018, Judge Aquilina presided over the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal case. She allowed 156 women and girls involved with the US Olympics gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, to present personal testimony on their sexual abuse. She sentenced Nassar to up to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse of juveniles and young women over the past two decades.

NBC News Interview with Judge Aquilina

Book Author: International Guest of Malta Book Council

Rosemarie was chosen as the 2019 keynote speaker of the Malta Book Festival.  Listen to the podcast about her work Triple Cross Killer to understand why she writes fiction.

Video and story at SEEN:

Our Malta Connection

Rosemarie Aquilina and I are friends. We both share the same heritage as dual citizens of Malta and the United States.

Her family hails from Qrendi …

My family from Ghajnsielem


We also share a surname. Here’s my nanna, Antonia Aquilina

Surname is derived from the word aquila, which means eagle. The surname was given to those whose eyesight and talons are sharp as a raptor. That describes Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.

The ethics of presidential slogans: They may be catchy, but can we believe them?

By Michael Bugeja September 28, 2020 IOWA CAPITAL DISPATCH

A screen displays the campaign banner for U.S. President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on the South Lawn of the White House Aug. 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“In God We Trust” is the official motto of the United States, but the first to appear on a circulating coin was “Mind Your Business,” conceived by Benjamin Franklin.

The motto appears on the 1787 “Fugio” cent — the Latin for “I fly” is a reference to “time flies.” The coin also is printed with a depiction of a sundial, symbolizing the popular saying “Time is Money.” Franklin penned that, too, in his 1748 essay “Advice to a Young Tradesman.”

“Mind Your Business” encourages entrepreneurialism and privacy, two very American beliefs.

Family mottoes also express beliefs, some dating back centuries and appearing in coats of arms. For instance, the Bugeja family crest depicts a cow or bull with the bovine motto, “To the Willing, Nothing is Impossible.”

Well, yes and no. Determination helps achieve goals, but lots of things are impossible, no matter how willing we are to realize them.

What if you lack a family crest or dislike what yours stands for?

I pose that to my media ethics students who create their own personal heraldry, choosing colors that represent heritage or culture and designing symbols associated with ethics or lifestyle. They add icons to the left and right of a chevron illustrating career path or aspiration. Their motto, or “moral brand,” goes under the chevron.

You can see examples in this article or learn how to create heraldry in this video.

Family mottoes are powerful. We hear them as children and heed them as adults. Here are a few from my class:

  • Treat others the way you want to be treated.
  • Respect your elders.
  • Never apologize.
  • Cheating is okay as long as you don’t get caught.

As you can see, some mottoes are true (Golden Rule), some mostly true (depends on the elder), mostly false (apologies also free us), and false (cheating is never okay).

Assess your own mottoes and put your beliefs to the test.

Presidential slogans are as memorable as mottoes. Campaign officials conceive, test and promote them. Sometimes a candidate says a catchy phrase in a speech, and supporters adopt it.

When candidates put slogans on buttons and banners, they function like political coats of arms.

Slogans fall into broad categories. Some play off candidate names or share platforms, promises and values. Memorable ones inspire unforgettable images or catchy rhymes.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater adopted this slogan: “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right.” Lyndon B. Johnson countered: “In Your Guts, You Know He’s Nuts.”

Candidate Names

In 1852, Franklin Pierce alluded to prior fellow Democrat James K. Polk: “We Polked you in ‘44, We shall Pierce you in ’52.” In 1856, James Buchanan resurrected that, adding, “We Po’ked ’em in ’44, we Pierced ’em in ’52, and we’ll Buck ’em in ’56.’”

In 1872, Ulysses S. Grant espoused, “Grant Us Another Term.” In 1912, Woodrow Wilson campaigned on “Win with Wilson.” In 1924, Calvin Coolidge asked voters to “Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge.”

“I Like Ike” propelled Dwight D. Eisenhower to office.

Party Platforms

In 1840, Martin Van Buren envisioned an “Independent Treasury and Liberty.” In 1888, losing candidate Grover Cleveland observed, “Unnecessary taxation oppresses industry.” Four years later, Cleveland won on “Tariff Reform.” Theodore Roosevelt was victorious in 1904 promising “National Unity. Prosperity. Advancement.”

Ethical Standards

Abraham Lincoln’s character was immortalized in 1860 as “Honest Old Abe.” Jimmy Carter asked voters in 1980 to support “A Tested and Trustworthy Team.” In 1988, George H.W Bush envisioned a “Kinder, Gentler Nation.” In 2000, George W. Bush advocated “Compassionate Conservatism.”

Borrowed slogans

Sometimes candidates pilfer successful slogans from past campaigns. In 1908, William Howard Taft promised, “A Square Deal for All.” Four years later, Theodore Roosevelt echoed: “A Square Deal All Around.”

One of the most memorable slogans was Lincoln’s 1864 phrase, “Don’t change horses in midstream.” Franklin Roosevelt, seeking a fourth term in 1944, stole it.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran on “Let’s Make America Great Again.” Donald J. Trump deleted “Let’s.”

Best slogans

Here’s my top 10:

10. “A Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage,” – Herbert Hoover, 1928

9. “Vote as You Shot” – Ulysses S. Grant, 1868

8. “All the Way with LBJ,” Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964

7. “I like Ike” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1952, and “I Still Like Ike,” 1956

6. “It’s the Economy, Stupid” – Bill Clinton, 1992

5. “Don’t Change Horses Midstream” – Abraham Lincoln, 1864

4. “Happy Days Are Here Again” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932

3. “Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago?” – Ronald Reagan, 1980

2. “Yes, We Can” – Barack Obama, 2008

1. “The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved” – Abraham Lincoln, 1864

In 2020, incumbent Donald Trump is running on “Promises Made, Promises Kept” and “Keep America Great” and Joe Biden on “Restore the Soul of America” and “Anything is Possible, No Malarkey!”

Voters might judge those slogans by the ethical standard of true, mostly true, mostly false, and false. Did Trump keep promises and make America great again? Did America lose its soul and, if so, can Biden restore it? Is anything really possible, or is that malarkey?

We’ll know the answers in November.

Broadcast techniques enhance remote learning

Instead of a tech model, consider a broadcast one with teacher as producer

By Copyright 2020 Poynter

During the spring 2020 semester, when thousands of face-to-face classes went virtual on short notice, some professors dumped lecture notes on educational software and called it a day. Others recorded lectures asynchronously, uploaded them on YouTube, and left it at that.

Many instructors already had websites with posted lectures that students could visit 24/7. Initially, department chairs and deans encouraged students to access these sites as some students lacked home computers with broadband internet and requisite software. It was enough at the time.

Because of the abrupt transition in March, traditional rules for students and faculty also were relaxed, including attendance, proctored exams and even grades, with pass-fail options available.

It was supposed to be temporary.

Then the pandemic in the United States worsened.

By mid-August, universities planning to hold face-to-face classes reversed that decision. Some, including Iowa State University, where I teach media ethics, relegated large classes to the Internet and smaller ones to classrooms with meticulous social distancing regulations.

Students were asked to practice safety precautions after hours and off-campus. It was the new honor code.

Many students violated it, especially on 801 Day (Aug. 1) in Ames, an annual citywide party on the Saturday before school starts.

This video went viral. Then COVID-19 did here.

Ames became the top national hotspot in early September. Iowa State reversed course again. In an Aug. 31 memo, faculty were informed that no one would be forced to teach in-person. Professors had the option to “modify a course’s delivery mode (in-person, hybrid, online or arranged).”

Such reversals safeguard employees and students. But they also often create havoc as professors trade face masks and sanitizers for help webinars and IT support.

Vaccines most likely will not be widely available until late spring or summer next year, according to top infectious disease specialists. That means the spring 2021 semester will look a lot like 2020.

Your online classes do not have to, however, if you prepare for the inevitable.

For the rest of the article, including step-by-step instructions, click here. (Or visit: )

Updated Trigger Word Game

Trigger words are ones that you relate to strongly–in a positive or negative manner. Journalists, especially on-air or in ad and PR campaigns–have to know what words trigger that reaction inside them. Once you identify your triggers, journalists and practitioners can adjust for them emotionally.


Michael Bugeja has played the “Trigger Word” game in his ethics classes for decades.

Trigger words are just that: words or phrases that elicit inside us an overwhelmingly positive or negative emotional reaction.  How does this relate to advertising, journalism and public relations?  When a source or client utters such words, they alone may alter our perception, prompting us to view the person as friend or foe, based solely on a word or short phrase.

Here’s how the “Trigger Word” game is played in media ethics classes with enrollments approaching or exceeding 100.

  1. Share only proper nouns. Students are warned not to share lowercase words that cause an emotional reaction. Lowercase words may violate privacy because they indicate that something associated with the word happened in the person’s life. Proper nouns emanate from culture, media, pop culture, social debate, government or other (miscellaneous). Example: “abortion” vs. “Roe v. Wade.”
  2. Record words on board. Each time a student shares a word, that proper noun is written on the chalkboard or whiteboard. A minimum of at least 30 words are listed there.
  3. Students vote on words. Students are asked which words on the board also cause a positive or negative emotional reaction in them.
  4. Top 10 words for each class are listed. After all the votes are tabulated, ties are listed in alphabetical order (i.e. #9 Clinton, #10 Trump).

Top words for each year are compiled in these categories:

CULTURE (history, education, religion, etc.). Students typically learn about these words as a part of U.S. history or through their religion, education or convention.

GOVERNMENT (government figures, officials, policies). Students learn about these persons in their capacity of holding office, leading state or nation, or issuing policy.

MEDIA (news, social media, films). Students learn about these terms from viewing news in a multitude of journalism platforms.

POP CULTURE (fads, hype, urban legend). These terms come to us via sensationalized or mythic terms and figures, such as UFO and Bigfoot.

SOCIAL DEBATE (legal, social, political debates). These are long-standing debates, such as climate change or planned parenthood.

OTHER (local terms, businesses, miscellaneous). These are local or regional terms associated with the place the game is played, such as “Hawkeye,” the rival’s nickname for Iowa State “Cyclones.”

Here is a snapshot of responses at Ohio Univ. and Iowa State University

Note: Ohio University years are in green and Iowa State in cardinal.

Triggers 1995-2021

Here are cumulative categories of triggers

Categories of Triggers

As you can see, culture and media are the chief influencers of words that spark deep emotions.

Here is a detailed look at categorical breakdowns of each year

Categories of Triggers_detailed

Impact of “media” continues to rise over the years, inching up on culture. In some sense, we are dealing with media culture v. American culture. Social debate, government and “other” are consistent throughout the years without dominating any one year. Pop culture, which includes advertising, has little impact.

Keep in mind that this is just a snapshot. Living Media Ethics is in the process of collecting decades worth of data from this exercise in a more extensive research project.

In the meantime, it is important to note the impact that culture has, especially on social mores formulated by history, education and convention. As media, which includes social media, becomes more dominant, we might be more attuned to its impact on our collective psyches.

Culture Vulture Hoaxes Exploit POC

Whenever individuals perpetuate hoaxes in mainstream and social media, others are injured by the lies along with the causes they feigned to advance. This month two academics acknowledged and then apologized for fictive characters they invented–a Black activist and a American Indian #MeTooSTEM anthropologist. This post reminds journalists and practitioners of their social responsibility to identify and expose hoaxes.

In an essay on Medium, titled “The Truth, and the Anti-Black Violence of my Lies,” Jessica Krug, associate professor of history at George Washington University, admitted that she “eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then U.S. rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness.”

Inside Higher Ed reported neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin, a founder of the MeTooSTEM organization, “admitted Tuesday to creating a fake friend on Twitter, running the anonymous account for years and then killing off the persona with a case of teaching-related COVID-19.”

Journalists and practitioners must guard against hoaxes, which play on common fears, desires, convictions, values and cultures of a target audience or clientele. Hoaxers create opportunities to manipulate mainstream and social media by perpetuating:

  • Fear of a certain race, ethnicity, sex, disability, protected or social-class group.
  • Desire to be recognized or compensated for activism, victimization, innovation and contribution on trending topics.
  • Belief that certain people of a particular race, ethnicity, sex, disability or social class are inherently immoral/moral, unintelligent /intelligent, privileged/disadvantaged, etc.
  • Belief in or skepticism about the paranormal.
  • Conviction about political party, candidate, celebrity, religious deity, government policy, entitlement, legal case, etc.

It is important for journalists and practitioners to know the various ethics terms used to define these concepts.

Invention happens from within the organization–a reporter fabricates quotations or sources, for instance–and so does not qualify as a hoax. A hoax relies entirely upon manipulation of media by an outside source whose sole goal is to program agendas according to their motives. A culture vulture is an inauthentic person who practices cultural appropriation in an attempt to identify with aspects of another culture and claim it as their own.

Hoaxes harm newsrooms, agencies and organizations because they:

  • Jeopardize personal credibility.
  • Harm corporate brand or non-profit reputation.
  • Expose personal beliefs of journalists and practitioners.
  • Demean, trivialize or exploit cultural beliefs.
  • Cause innocent others irreparable harm.

Harm happens to innocent parties that mistakenly embraced the fictive personae of hoaxes. In the case of a white person claiming to be Black or American Indian, the hoaxer exploits people of color.

Inside Higher Ed called attention to Krug’s author bio in the online magazine RaceBaitr as an “unrepentant and unreformed child of the hood.” The publication retracted Krug’s article and ran this notice on Twitter:

McLaughlin’s fabricated anonymous anthropologist, aka @Sciencing_Bi, not only exploited the Hopi Tribe but fears of teachers returning to the classroom and being exposed to COVID-19. That made her hoax especially harmful.

Racists, sexists, xenophobes, homophobes and supremacists often use baseless claims in hoaxes as fodder for conspiracy theories that may lead to physical and verbal violence, undermining legitimate cases for equity, equality and inclusion.

Living Media Ethics dedicates a chapter to hoaxes and how journalists and practitioners can identify and expose them.

  • Always question the motive of the source. Nothing frightens a manipulator more than questions about “motive.” In fact, use that word in your questions.
  • Always question your own needs. Determine whether the source knows how your media outlet operates. In fact, ask a question using a jargon word related to your outlet or newsroom. Assess your own eagerness to pursue the story
  • Always question the impact on audience. Determine how the source’s story, problem, discovery or product will affect your readers, viewers or customers. Assess how much the audience desires or fears what the source is peddling.
  • Always assess your own fears, desires, convictions or values. Ultimately hoaxers rely on you, not your outlet, as the medium for manipulation. The more your beliefs go unacknowledged, the easier it will be for the hoaxer to prey on them to achieve his or her goal.

Finally, it behooves us to remember the causes that Krug and McLaughlin harmed: equity, equality and inclusion for people of color. Journalists and practitioners are socially responsible for affirming those tenets in their reports and campaigns.

Identity: Who are we behind the masks, shields and social distance?

(Creative Commons photo via

By Michael Bugeja

We think about this incessantly but seldom, if ever, mention it, except perhaps to a confidant in existential moments. We have had many of those in the age of coronavirus whose masks, shields and social distance provide the perfect camouflage for contemplation.

Who are we and why? When, where and what shaped our experiences and perception? How do we come to terms with personal identity?

These are difficult philosophical questions. But everyone asks them.

John Locke (1632-1704), the philosopher who shaped America’s character via natural law — the inalienable rights of equality, life, liberty and happiness—links identity with consciousness. If we think and are rational and can assess our actions in the past and foresee them in the future, we possess identity.

This was a radical idea. (Previously, people believed religion defined identity to one degree or another.)

In “John Locke on Personal Identity,” a case is made that we begin life with an “empty” mind shaped by our experiences, the emotions they elicit, and the reflections that they create over time. In sum, life is a story.

To understand personal identity, we must distinguish it from other variants of the concept.

The general term, “identity,” means the physical attributes of people or things that differentiate one from another, as in “the identity of flood survivors.”

We also may ascribe to “cultural identity” or the specific group, generation, religion, ethnicity or nationality to which we belong. For instance, I am a first-generation American of Maltese heritage.

Then there are “identity politics,” which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as groups of people with “a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity (who) tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group.”

These variants sometimes confuse us. Fact is, some aspects of identity are visible, such as skin color. Others are not easily discernable, such as native tongue or ethnicity. Some may be invisible, such as religion or sexual orientation.

We often err or lapse into racism, sexism or homophobia when we make assumptions about another person’s identity.

Society also divides us according to cultural and political identities. The Pew Research Center reports that Black adults “are about five times as likely as whites to say they’ve been unfairly stopped by police because of their race or ethnicity.” About 88% of white Democrats believe that Black people are treated less fairly by police whereas only 43% of Republicans feel similarly.

As mentioned earlier, I am of dual heritage. I was brought up with Mediterranean culture in every aspect but one: language. My parents refused to teach me Maltese in the belief I could integrate more easily into U.S. society and not be viewed as an immigrant.

My parents knew by experience that immigrants face discrimination. That bias exists today.

My white privilege allowed me to succeed. Others cannot change their skin color or sexual orientation and so face challenges that I have never experienced.

Make no mistake: I am profoundly proud of Maltese history, art and cuisine; but I cannot fully identify with hundreds of Maltese relatives, friends and colleagues because I do not know their language. I feel inauthentic even though my bloodline traces back to the 16th century in church records.

Cultural identity typically asks us to conform in one way or another to be a fully credentialed member of a specific group. Identity politics sometimes does the same.

Personal identity is about character.

Elisabeth Camp, associate professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, narrates a short but insightful video, titled “Personal Identity: The Narrative Self.”

In it, she makes these points about “what makes me, me?” She asks, if someone made an exact replica of you, would it be you? In some sense, this is what identical twins confront — a genetic exact copy of themselves. But each, of course, is an individual with unique personal identity.

Is identity really a story with a beginning, middle and end? If so, how do we respond if a person passes early in life — their future, cut short — or if an elder needs continuous care and outlives their life purpose?

Cultural stories have narratives, too, as in the “self-made” man or woman. What if we fail to live up to that model? What if injustice prevents us from participating in or achieving that outcome?

Identity politics asks us to vote for a platform whose several components we may or may not fully support.

Professor Camp makes a valid case that personal identity is about character — literally and figuratively. We may be a character in life’s narrative, but the goal is to develop character via ethics.

To be sure, we can embrace our physical, cultural, religious, ethnic and political identities. They play important roles in relationships, activities and society and influence our self-perception.

But when we define ourselves by the content of our character, we question our biases, attitudes, choices and actions and strive to be more truthful, responsible, prudent, generous, fair, open-minded and empathetic.

Imagine how society would change if we and our elected representatives embraced that identity.

Michael Bugeja

Michael Bugeja  is the author of “Living Media Ethics” (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) and “Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine” (Oxford Univ. Press). He is a regular contributor to Iowa Capital Dispatch and is writing a series of columns on the topic of “Living Ethics.”

Free press v. free will: Do we have either?

What influences our free will and our free press? (Photo by Carol Yepes/Getty Images)

The 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) maintained that we all have free will. At issue, he says, is who or what shaped that will.

In his book “Essays and Aphorisms,” he writes, “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” In other words, perception becomes our reality.

What factors influence our perception of free will or media coverage in free press?

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines “free will” as “the ability to act and make choices independent of any outside influence.”

It defines “free press” as reporters being able “to express any opinions they want, even if these criticize the government and other organizations.”

Origins of free press begin with Thomas Jefferson’s belief that citizens “are the only censors of their governors.” He embraced this idea so fervently that he proclaimed, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

He qualified that, stating, “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”

Those qualifications helped insure a free press. Delivery progressed from horseback and pony express to telegraph, train, ship, plane, truck and, finally, worldwide digital access.

Reading required education. John Jay, first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, believed “nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining (education) at a cheap and easy rate.”

(Jay likely would disapprove of rising college tuition rates.)

Speaking of money, one of the biggest influences on mostmedia is profit. Editors and publishers at publicly traded media companiestypically consider views of shareholders as well as corporate branding, audience attitudes and advertising.

According to the American Press Institute, media bias also happens when reporters act as crusaders or seek to please editors and sources. Sometimes they simply follow the pack (what other outlets are covering) without regard to newsworthiness.

Journalism educators train aspiring reporters to question their own perceptions and to assemble as many facts as possible to balance stories.

Of course, reporters are people whose perception is subject to the same biases as members of the audience.

Case in point: You’re probably reading this through personal filters, which include your generation, religion, culture, politics, ethnicity, experiences, mood and expectations. The latter is especially powerful. Many of us expect reality to align with our perceptions.

Ironically, a key factor shaping perception is the media we support or dislike. We may patronize or loathe Fox News or MSNBC because their reports affirm or undermine our political biases. But we’re not passive consumers. We link, copy and paste our views on social media and fault others who criticize our posts and opinions.

That affects our mood.

Nevertheless, Americans consume news and social media at record rates. We use or view online content as if our lives depended on it, spending about 11 hours per day, or two-thirds of waking hours.

We are so hooked on media that people typically experience withdrawal symptoms as severe as addictive substances.

According to Psychology Today, “In the same way that ‘a fish only notices the water when it is gone,’ if media communications were suddenly eliminated from our lives, we would experience a major social and emotional sense of loss.”

As a consequence, media gives us a false sense of reality. Coupled with our own innate biases, our view of the world is skewed.

Psychologist Jim Taylor affirms that in his article, “Perception is Not Reality”:

“Perception acts as a lens through which we view reality. Our perceptions influence how we focus on, process, remember, interpret, understand, synthesize, decide about, and act on reality. In doing so, our tendency is to assume that how we perceive reality is an accurate representation of what reality truly is. But it’s not.”

In the end, we may not have a free press or free will devoid of bias. But there are things we can do to see the world more impartially.

Taylor recommends the following:

  • Don’t assume that your perceptions are reality (it’s just your reality).
  • Be respectful of others’ perceptions (they may be right).
  • Your perceptions may be wrong (admitting it takes courage).
  • Challenge your perceptions (do they hold up under scrutiny)?
  • Seek out validation from experts and credible others (don’t just ask your friends).
  • Be open to modifying your perceptions if evidence demands it (rigidity of mind is far worse than being wrong).

Journalists also would do well to follow those guidelines to fulfill their primary mission of informing the public so that citizens make intelligent decisions in the voting booth.

If we all challenged perceptions, we might realize what Jefferson and Jay envisioned to safeguard rights and liberties, and both our will and press would be freer than they are in these divisive times.

Michael Bugeja

Michael Bugeja is the author of “Living Media Ethics” (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) and “Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine” (Oxford Univ. Press). He is a regular contributor to Iowa Capital Dispatch and is writing a series of columns on the topic of “Living Ethics.”

What an Apology Should and Should Not Do

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defines the essence of a conscientious apology. Rep. Ted Yoho’s attempt at one denies, obfuscates, justifies and spins. See the textual analysis below.

Earlier this month Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) engaged in what a reporter called a “heated exchange” with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol, telling her she was “disgusting” for linking poverty and unemployment with increased crime.

She told him he was being rude and walked away. A reporter then overhead Yoho say, “f–king b—h.”

Here is the initial report by The Hill.

Upon learning the exchange would be reported, Yoho delivered the above attempt at an apology. Technically, it failed because (a) he never mentioned AOC’s name, (b) tried to justify his behavior, and (c) spun the truth rather than admit it.

Here’s a textual analysis:

Ethically, an apology should:

  1. Identify the error or wrongdoing (what it was, when and where it occurred, and whom it harmed).
  2. Correct the record.
  3. Do so as soon as possible.
  4. Do so prominently.
  5. Provide an explanation about the error or wrongdoing.
  6. Disclose how the error or wrongdoing could have been avoided and/or how it will be prevented in the future.
  7.  Issue a sincere apology to those damaged by the false disclosure or wrongdoing.

At best, Yoho made a quick, prominent attempt to admit wrongdoing but failed to do so sincerely in his “non-apology apology.”

Living Media Ethics has researched apologies, categorizing them into five categories:

I. Non-Apology Apology

The accused did nothing wrong and those offended may be too sensitive or misguided. Typically, it includes the words–“I apologize if you felt offended” or “I apologize if you misinterpreted my actions.”

II. Excuse Apology 

The accused did something wrong but wouldn’t normally have done this except for the fact that [add excuse].

III. Justified Apology

The accused may have crossed the line but probably was justified in doing so.

IV. Personal-interest Apology

The accused expresses regret because of possible consequences to career, family, ambition or other individual objective or concern.

V. Conscientious Apology

The accused expresses true sorrow for causing pain, conflict or disparagement on another person, organization or group.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez delivered what some say was the speech of a lifetime refuting Yoho’s apology. You can listen to it below.

Among the many highlights is this statement, accurately conveying the essence of a conscientious apology:

“Having daughters is not what makes someone a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect is what makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he does apologize. Not to save face. Not to win a vote. He apologizes, genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.”

Hers is a textbook example of how to make an ethical apology. Rep. Yoho’s is a textbook example of how not to.

There are always consequences when one attempts an apology but does not deliver an ethical or sincere one. When that happens, as in this case, the failed apology becomes the news.


  • Bugeja, Michael. Making Whole: Ethics of Corrections in Three Case Studies across Platforms. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, Vol. 22, No. 1, 49-65.
  • Bugeja, Michael. “Correction Policies” in Encyclopedia of Journalism. Ed. by Gregory A. Borchard. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage, 2020.

Democracy, accountability and empowerment: The case for journalism as a gen-ed course

As the availability of journalism jobs decreases, the future of the discipline might depend more on technology and general education

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By Michael Bugeja

Recent racist incidents and police violence have been caught on video, uploaded to social media and viewed millions of times, sparking protests and outrage and accelerating diversity agendas at colleges and universities.

In most of those incidents, the photographer was not a reporter but a bystander or victim of abuse themselves.

Reporters have been arrested in record numbers covering protests associated with the May 25 killing of George Floyd. Some 10,000 mostly peaceful protesters have been arrested and assaulted, too, with many such incidents caught on tape. In an op-ed in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, I ask, “What makes a journalist, the person or the device?”

Increasingly, I argue, it is the device.

In the hands of a journalist, however, or a civilian who knows reporting basics, you double its power.

Power is at the core of controversies about police brutality. Smartphone technology has empowered civilians whose photographs and videos undermine the authority of law enforcement, at times exposing lies, racist agendas and prosecutorial negligence.

Police departments rely on video and security cameras for traffic control, license plate recognition and crime detection. But when the lens is turned on them, they often are less enthusiastic.

Units equipped with body cameras may not release videos to the public or wait months to do so, as was the case in the killing of Elijah McClain. He had done nothing illegal but was wearing a mask while on an errand to pick up iced tea for his brother.

The issue here is accountability and transparency, key tenets of journalism. Reporters are watchdogs over government and file freedom of information requests to foster openness. They embrace the credo of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

These are lessons for everyone.

Everyone is a reporter

In 2005, Wired ran an article with that maxim:

“When man bites dog, who’s the first to report it? Don’t assume it’s your local paper or CNN. These days, ‘our man on the scene’ is often a swarm of amazingly prolific nonprofessionals posting up-to-the-minute stories and pictures of breaking news from their laptops.”

When I first read this, I was skeptical, fearing so-called citizen reporters would undermine the credibility of journalism. A month after the Wired piece, I wrote “The Media World as It Is” for Inside Higher Ed:

“(T)he promise of technology — that it would build social networks, democratize news and generally enhance information in two-way flows — has always hinged on the presumption of readily available and verifiable information. What are the consequences, not only for media, but for academe, when opinion displaces fact?”

I was worried about fake news years before President Donald Trump claimed to have invented that term.

But my own opinion has changed as technology became more powerful, mobile and ubiquitous in the form of a cellphone, especially the iPhone, which first made its debut in 2007.

Apple’s inaugural device included many features we still use every day, such a web browser, email, text messaging, music and video players, and maps applications. It also came with a first-generation YouTube default app.

By 2009, YouTube was registering more than a billion views per day. Now there are more than 2 billion users.

The power of cellphones is epic. We call them smartphones for a reason. The 2020 iPhone 11 Pro Max boasts a 12-megapixel ultra-wide, wide angle, and telephoto lens. Its video is as sharp as any network television camera, with a processor and neural engine capable delivering more than 1 trillion operations per second.

It can capture just about anything within a 120-degree field of view.

The increasing power of cellphones coincided with the decreasing presence of reporters. They are not yet extinct, but on society’s endangered species list. Between 2008 and 2020, U.S. newsrooms lost half of their employees, according to Pew Research Center.

News deserts are popping up all over. As Penelope Muse Abernathy, Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina, notes in News Deserts And Ghost Newspapers: Will Local News Survive?:

Many of the country’s 6,700 surviving papers have become “ghost newspapers” — mere shells of their former selves, with greatly diminished newsrooms and readership. The loss of both journalists and circulation speaks to the declining influence of local newspapers, and raises questions about their long-term financial viability in a digital era.

The choice is obvious: Bemoan journalism’s decline or inspire thousands of opinionated but omnipresent smartphone users. I embrace the latter. They may be the only option left to hold government and law enforcement in check.

Everyone has rights

They also have cellphones. Increasingly they document racism under the genre “while being Black” with African Americans insulted, threatened or arrested doing everyday things. Earlier this year Amy Cooper, a white woman, threw a viral tantrum and called police after a Black birdwatcher in Central Park asked her to leash her dog.

These frequent encounters are becoming more ominous. In June, Mark and Susan McCloskey brandished weapons at protesters who passed their palatial home in St. Louis. Another white couple, Jillian and Eric Wuestenberg, were charged with felonious assault in a parking lot incident during which Jillian pointed a gun at a Black mother and her 15-year-old daughter.

Because cellphones recorded each incident, consequences ensued. Cooper lost her job at an investment corporation and faces misdemeanor charges. Eric Wuestenberg was fired from his support staff position at Oakland University. The McCloskeys were each charged with one count of unlawful use of a weapon.

These videos are deeply troubling, but the one shot by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier was horrifying. Some called the documented killing of George Floyd a state-sponsored execution.

Frazier was on a grocery store run with her 9-year-old cousin when she saw Floyd being arrested. She used her cellphone to capture former police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck, killing him.

Frazier’s lawyer, Seth Cobin, told the BBC, “She felt she had to document it. It’s like the civil rights movement was reborn in a whole new way, because of that video.”

The comment about civil rights reverberates in former reporters of that era. The primary goal in the 1960s and early 1970s was equal treatment in all aspects of society for African Americans. I covered protests by the American Indian Movement whose leaders, including Dennis Banks and Russell Means, sought economic independence, preservation of native culture, autonomy over tribal areas and restoration of stolen lands.

Civil rights and liberties are fundamental aspects of journalism education, which utilizes case law associated with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, among other statutes.

Civil liberties are associated with the Constitution.

Every journalism graduate should know freedoms of the First Amendment — press, speech, religion, assembly and petition — as well as unlawful seizures of the Fourth Amendment and due process of the Fourteenth.

Those liberties are at the heart of a federal lawsuit filed against the city of Minneapolis and its police department for actions against reporters covering George Floyd protests. The suit alleges that reporters were assaulted and arrested by police without cause, “all after these journalists identified themselves and were otherwise clearly engaged in their reporting duties.”

Protesters have the same rights as reporters, according to 42 U.S. Code § 1983, which protects citizens from being deprived of “any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution.” Any entity violating that law can be held liable in class actions.

Everyone should know that.

Everyone needs gen ed

But does everyone need journalism? I think they do.

And yet, journalism rarely is on the list of required courses in colleges and universities. That has to do in part with the history of general education. Originally, in the early 19th century, it sought to complete the liberal education of the aristocracy. In the 1960s, it attempted to make liberal education more accessible to nontraditional students. The culture wars of the 1980s heightened consciousness about feminism and canons of underrepresented groups. More recently, general education exploded with dozens of courses based on budget models rewarding departmental enrollment.

Nevertheless, gen-ed courses still fall under the usual umbrellas of humanities, social sciences, and math and physical/biological sciences.

Rarely will you find journalism in the mix. Many reporting courses are skill-based and excluded on that basis. Journalism is neither humanities nor social sciences; it is one or the other and sometimes both. Courses like media history clearly fall in the humanities camp; others like public affairs reporting in the social sciences group; and science communication in both.

General education includes survey, theory and concept classes. When viewed in that manner, several journalism courses easily adapt.

They also may be popular. Americans on average use smartphones about 5.4 hours per day. The 16-24 demographic interacts on social media about 3 hours per day. As such, general education students would benefit from courses in news/media literacy, cultivating the next generation of news consumers who possess the ability to spot fake news and dis/misinformation.

A survey course in media law and ethics also might enlighten students about rights, liberties and precedents, all of which are vital for future generations seeking change.

A theory class in world press systems might expand and diversify knowledge. Specialized courses might be popular, too, such as “History of the Black Press,” “Social Media and Change” or “Gone Viral: Videos That Made History.”

Journalism education has focused for decades on graduates securing media jobs. As those decrease, along with enrollments, the future of the discipline might depend more on general education. But the case here is about democracy, accountability, transparency and empowerment.

Without a robust news industry, monitoring government and investigating the corporate elite, our only hope may be in the hands of the people, literally and figuratively.

Michael Bugeja, distinguished professor of journalism at Iowa State University of Science and Technology, teaches media ethics and technology and social change. He can be reached at

VIDEO: Reporter Arrests (Cameras, Constitution, Consequences)

This presentation discusses the disturbing trend of reporter arrests during George Floyd-related protests, focusing on how the camera has caused a power shift in the authority of police and the practice of journalism.

Goals of the presentation:

  • To show how cameras have documented social ills in society.
  • To review reporter arrests in recent George Floyd protests.
  • To cite legal ramifications associated with constitutional rights: freedom of press and assembly, unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process.
  • To document how cameras and wireless technology have caused a power shift in society affecting authority of police and practice of journalism.
  • To make recommendations (a) for curricular changes in general education and (b) for reporters covering protests.