Journalist present at JFK shooting says ethical media is in trouble

The Media Ethics Conference was on October 3, 2023. (The Vista/Jaydon Sims)

Maintaining the separation between hard news and false or opinionated statements is a “chilling challenge” to modern ethical journalism according to Joe Carter, a journalist that tells the story of the Kennedy assassination from a firsthand perspective. He gave the opening keynote at this year’s Media Ethics Conference. 

“Is it reasonable, fair, oriented, audacious for journalism to consider maintaining a high standard of ethics?” asked Carter. “Hell yes,” he said.

The process of finding unadulterated truth may also be complicated by citizen journalism with the rise of social media. Talking head commentators are often mistaken for journalists, marking an additional problem for the public in deciphering who is reporting opinion versus fact. 

As the nation watches a former president go on trial for fraud, Carter’s next statement was timely.

The journalist quoted a Washington Post article that stated as of January 24, 2021, Trump had lied or given misleading claims 30,573 times in the previous four years. 

Deepfakes and false news collide with a startling lack of media literacy at a broad level. Reporter Samuel Kozlowski covers media literacy for The Vista in other articles herein. 

To journalists, Carter said, “airing our own prejudices and writing news copy journalism must be above reproach,” admitting that “above reproach is a tough cow. Ask Caesar’s wife.”

He emphasized the power that journalists have: the power to tell the truth. 

“Please let us maintain our own highest standard and test of reporting truth as best as we can determine. Leave the opinion writing to the pundits and the editorial pages,” he said. 

However, he said it may not all be in the reporters’ hands. 

“Some things are beyond journalism power. I find it disconcerting that 4684 documents related to the JFK assassination are being withheld in our nation’s archives,” he said. “Why? The reason why they’re withholding, the reason I’ve read, claimed a request court order and protection of personal privacy.” 

Carter said that people have all kinds of conspiracy theories about the assassination of JFK. However, he remains “99.9 percent certain” that the lone gunman was Lee Harvey Oswald, though not all documents are available. 

To the heart of the matter, he stated that “ethical journalism must remain dedicated to nurture and feed an informed electorate.” The road ahead is not a walk in the park for journalists determined to protect democracy. 

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