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An ethics case study: Trial by fire

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  1. Situational definition.
  2. Analysis of the situation.
  3. External factors.
  4. Groups affected.
  5. Ethical theories.
  6. Decision.

In March of 1988, a young man named Joey Philion suffered burns over 90 percent of his body. The U.S. and Canadian media reported that Joey, fifteen at the time, had run back into his fire engulfed home to save the life of his younger brother. The story showed Joey as a hero and soon money and other donations came in to help with Joey's future. A problem arose when a local reporter found that Joey had been burned leaving the house himself, not saving his brother, which left the station with the decision of breaking the truth or allowing the family to keep benefiting from the mistake. The mistake was found by CBLT-TV in Toronto, Canada, when a reporter talking to a neighbor found that the younger brother had in fact came to her house to inform her that Joey was still trapped in the house. When she arrived at the house, she found Joey had escaped and was badly burned. The reporter confirmed the story by talking to other neighbor witnesses and the fire marshal in charge of the investigation.

[...] By airing the retraction they are sticking to their values of telling the truth and informing the public of a mistake. This decision may be looked upon poorly by some but the station found that their journalistic values outweighed the consequences the family may endure. The theory of utilitarianism is used as the producers used the idea of the greatest good for the greatest number. They decided to reveal the truth that would benefit those donating and those that had already donated compared to the family who would not benefit. [...]

[...] The station possibly saved their credibility and helped themselves out by revealing the truth behind the hero story. Their action of airing the truth can be seen as a pro by sticking to their journalistic values and showing to their viewers that they will air the truth no matter the situation. A con of the situation is the harm done to the already damaged family and of course the boy. Joey did not ask to be portrayed as a hero and because of a misquotation, he may be deemed by some as a fake and a liar. [...]

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