Friday, May 20, 2011

Did the press go too far in identifying Arnold’s mistress?

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's whopping breach of marital ethics has touched off a curious ethical dilemma in the media world: In reporting the ongoing fallout from Schwarzenegger's affair with the former housekeeper who gave birth to his child, has the press unduly invaded the privacy of Schwarzenegger's one-time paramour?

Some major news organizations have exercised restraint, declining to publish the names, photos or any other revealing details about the housekeeper and her son. Others have confirmed the woman's identity, described her home, and splashed her image across TV screens, front pages and web browsers. At its most lurid, the coverage seems akin to stealing an intimate family photo album and scattering its contents around world.

Has the press gone too far?

Some critics think so: "The housekeeper, who was recently let go by the former California governor, did not ask to be at the center of a white-hot political scandal," writes Howard Kurtz of the Daily Beast, which decided not to identify her. "She has made no statement, filed no lawsuit, trotted out no publicist, sold nothing to the tabloids, made no appearance on 'Oprah.'  She had an affair with her boss and got pregnant, but she is as far from a public figure as you can imagine. What gives the media the right to obliterate her privacy?"

Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, which published the woman's name on Wednesday, has an answer.

"Our basic job is to inform readers about news events, so we need a pretty compelling reason NOT to give readers information we think they care about," Keller told the Los Angeles Times' James Rainey. "We're sensitive to privacy issues, but in this case we don't see that compelling reason to keep our readers in the dark ... There's nothing to suggest that reliving the earlier experience is likely to be traumatizing in the sense rape victims describe (she's lived with it--and worked for him--for 10 or 15 years). And the reality is, there is not much privacy left for us to protect."


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