Students design concrete canoe

The tabloid press, specifically the Globe, has been under fire for questionable ethics in enticing Frank Gifford into a sex scandal with a woman whom the Globe had paid beforehand. The Globe does not consider its conduct to be anything like entrapment, but the mainstream media have reported it differently. The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a story, from the Washington Post, about the scandalous tabloid practices. In covering the story with such a strong sense of moral indignation, the mainstream media have crossed over into ethical territory generally reserved for tabloids.
The news media should not be a vehicle for judgmental outrage. Journalistic standards of unbiased reporting are intended to avoid moralistic musings. Ideals of objective reporting steer the press away from copping an attitude.
But they are doing just that in their coverage of the Globe and that paper’s practices. The coverage broadcasts the mainstream press’s own values about journalistic practice. And now the story, a tabloid jewel, is getting major media coverage as a result of the Globe’s brazen techniques. The Washington Post’s story led with information about the payment made to the woman photographed with Gifford. The mainstream press seems to want to distance itself from the tabloids by feigning shock and asking the public to join in the outrage about the Globe’s practices. But the mainstream press should concentrate on retaining its separate identity through dedication to ethical reporting and avoiding the sensationalism that drives the tabloids. They should let the story be.
Moral outrage against celebrities who teeter too far from the straight and narrow path of American values fills the supermarket weeklies’ front pages. The tabloid press gives citizens a sense of moral superiority during long waits in the grocery line. The mainstream press, on the other hand, needs a morally neutral stance in order to practice the kind of journalism that does not confuse shock value with newsworthiness. The tabloids’ flouting of mainstream standards of reporting, in this case using their resources to help create a story, is hardly shocking. The argument could be made that when the tabloids cross an ethical line, the tabloid itself becomes newsworthy. It’s harder to say what that division is. If the line is drawn merely to separate the mainstream media from the shifty image of the tabloids, the border itself is foolish and the transgression unworthy of news coverage.
The mainstream press makes an effort to avoid sensationalism in highly charged celebrity situations, like the O.J. Simpson trial, by framing its coverage carefully. The danger of hyping these kinds of stories is real. There is a thin line between uncovering the issues of the day and exploiting drama for ratings attention. The popularity of tabloid journalism may make the mainstream news organizations nervous. But in this increasingly competitive information market, the mainstream press should secure its place as the stronghold of ethical reporting by covering stories without bias, not by spotlighting the questionable exploits of the other media. Only by carefully practicing what it preaches can the news media distance themselves from the glorified gossip that is tabloid reporting.