With the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling today that Norman law enforcement must release 2014 surveillance footage of OU running back Joe Mixon hitting then-OU student Amelia Molitor in the face, journalists will finally have to look themselves in the mirror and answer an ethical question of enormous proportion.
Just how badly do we all need to see a woman get punched in the face?
From an open-government perspective, today’s determination that “the Mixon video” constitutes a public record is undeniably the right decision. The public has a right to know and see what evidence is entered into a court of law.
But as anyone with a proper media-ethics education understands, the public’s “right to know” is different than the public’s “need to know.”
Moreover, just because the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters affirmed the right of media to request and receive the tape does not mean any of those broadcasters should necessarily show that tape.
If this sounds like a confusing caveat, then pull up a chair and let’s talk through the ethical decision that editors and news directors (hopefully) will be taking quite seriously in the coming days.
Public would watch the Mixon video, but to what end?
When determining whether to run an inflammatory photo, video or article, journalists are taught to weigh both the newsworthiness and the social impact of the item at hand.
In this instance, the surveillance footage of the highly publicized altercation at Pickleman’s restaurant is an element of a newsworthy story that has clung to the public arena for the past two years. Molitor is still suing Mixon, and Mixon finally issued an apology for his actions last month.
Just going by basic news values, the story features prominence, proximity, emotion and controversy.
But journalists must also ponder how much broadcasting the footage of this altercation adds to the story. Furthermore, they must weigh the impact on the victim against the value to the public.
Sure, leering Americans will gleefully fix their lascivious eyeballs on a video like this, but to what end? Will anyone’s situation improve as a result? Similarly, how will Molitor react to the tape of her traumatizing victimization as it plays over and over on local news for days? How will she handle it on YouTube for a lifetime?
Can editors and news directors really convince themselves that the viewing public needs to see Molitor be punched more than Molitor needs privacy and respect?
Those are some tough questions. Here’s hoping journalists actually consider them before pushing play.
Civilization will soon find out just how badly we want to see that woman get punched in the face.