Since arriving to quake-devastated Haiti, network medical reporters have been shifting back and forth between doctor and reporter. Those dual roles have sparked criticism around the Web, notably from experts on journalism ethics who argue doctor/reporters put themselves in an ethical quanadry by trying to save lives one minute and tell the story the next.
"I think it's very hard for an individual who is professionally and emotionally engaged in saving lives to be able to simultaneously step back from the medical work and practice independent journalistic truth-telling," Bob Steele, journalism values scholar at the Poynter Institute, told the LA Times in this great piece about that ethical dilemma.
After Dr. Sanjay Gupta swooped in to perform brain surgery on a 12-year-old Haitian girl, Steele questioned CNN's motives in airing the story. "Frankly, it isn't much of a story," Steele told the LA Times. "You can't help but look at this and worry there is a marketing element in it." If he's going to be a doctor, do so, but then he needs to stop being a reporter, Steele argued.
Minnesota journalism professor Gary Schwitzer hears from other ethicists who maintain that doctor/reporters risk being seen as self-promoters who exploit suffering one moment then a second later try to fix it.
Just as many are praising CNN's earthquake coverage, others are criticizing that correspondents are mixing newsmaking with newsgathering. The snarksters over at Gawker said team Anderson Cooper and Gupta "played a team of roving superhero reporters, covering the news but only after saving everyone's lives. (Imagine if somebody could be Clark Kent and Superman at the same time.)"
Funny and true.
But Gupta and others have defended their position, saying they are doctors first and that they can walk a delicate balance between their moral responsibility to heal the sick and their journalistic duty to tell the story. In a disaster with such tremendous medical needs, what's a doctor to do?
What do you think?
AP photo: Gupta operates on a 12-year-old Haitian girl