Can You Even Call It Journalism?

18 Mar

Recent years have seen an onslaught of what is termed ambush journalism. Called so for the style in which “journalists” will surprise their subjects with out of context questions and ask for responses to false facts. The most sever of these ambushes involving  complex plots of deception that seem more like movie storylines than journalistic research. Since the result of ambush techniques frequently involves extensive editing prior to release to the public many believe that these stories are not journalism at all but rather a from of fiction based on true stories. While the true intention of these works may always be in question there are two schools of thought on the true purpose of ambush journalism.

…on the legality end, tho, aren’t set-ups referred to as entrapment? – Ron Bergeron

Is it for self-promotion?

The most obvious gain from ambush journalism is notoriety. Regardless of the quality of the story it will get noticed and so will the person who created it. While the names of ambush journalists quickly make headlines themselves and these journalists oftentimes become the center of the story this fame is not always a positive long-term career move. James O’keefe gained huge amounts of personal publicity for his actions towards ACORN but after it was revealed that his reporting was actually fabricated his reputation as a legitimate journalist was lost.

Is it for political gain?

More often than not, the practitioners of ambush journalism are looking for sensationalism – they want people (including public officials or officials of private corporations) to make stupid or borderline illegal mistakes – Ehsan Ahrari

Because most of the ambush stories have been around political figures and organizations and have shown each in poor (if even falsely so) lights many people see this as strictly a political tool. Some talk show journalists, namely Bill O’Riely, have publicly declared ambush journalism to be their chosen style of reporting and are open about their political goals with it.

While the reason behind these deceptive techniques may remain a partial mystery the effects of them are very real and in many cases extremely harmful to those that are the recipients of the ambush. Organizations have gone under, individuals have lost jobs and personal lives have been shattered because of sensationalized headlines, which in some cases have been found to be entirely untrue. All of this leaves us with big questions as to if ambush journalism can be considered journalism at all? Even more so, if its not journalism is it simply libel, and why are these ambushers seemingly immune to the laws that others would be prosecuted with?

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One Response to “Can You Even Call It Journalism?”

  1. A.S. Miller March 30, 2011 at 5:00 am #

    I believe that ambush journalists are able to get away with it (ie not get charged with libel or slander) because they have recorded materials. Even if they completely change the context around the recordings to make false stories I would think because of that hard ‘evidence’ it can’t be called libel.

    Ambush journalism is terrible most often, but honestly I can understand the motivations for why one would do it…if you’re frustrated with some association/person/etc and convinced there’s something wrong with it, it has that vigilante feel, that loose canon copness to it.

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