Broadcasting Operation Iraqi Freedom: The People Behind Cable News Ethics, Decisions, and Gender Differences

Journal of Business Ethics 84 (S1):115-134 (2009)


In March 2003, President Bush declared the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the anticipated commencement of intensive American-led military operations in Iraq. With this declaration, the media began intense coverage of military operations from the field. For the first time, viewers were able to see images of actual events. This was due to three developments: the advancement of technology allowing immediate transmission of text and images, the actual presence of journalists identified as "embedded journalists" at military sites, and the fierce competition among networks for viewers. One result of this constant coverage was significant pressure on decision makers within the television and cable news networks to decide within a matter of seconds which images to air. In particular, producers and broadcasters of competing networks experienced this pressure. Though the radio and broadcasting industry has a published code of standards, it is "general and advisory rather than specific and restrictive." Therefore, it did not address the unique time sensitive decision-making required within this new environment. Issues such as the security of soldiers, confidentiality of troop maneuvers, and the safety of the embedded journalists were critically important. Equally serious were the concerns about the impact of the immediate airing of information and violent images to the public. This research used Patrick Primeaux's ' mind-heart-sou¾ model of decision-making as its theoretical framework. The study investigated the gender and industry experience of selected professionals in a cable news network, MSNBC, to explore how ethical codes of behavior are integrated when people make decisions. Decision-making in both their professional and personal lives was examined. It is from this perspective that their professional decisions to air/not to air material from Operation Iraqi Freedom were studied. The findings on decisions about airing/not airing material from Operation Iraqi Freedom yielded both expected and unexpected results. There was no clear gender difference regarding ethical decision-making, but there was a difference when analyzed by industry experience. When the study focused on questions regarding the respondents' personal lives, the original hypothesis that there was a gender difference was validated

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