BROOKE GLADSTONE: While journalists tend to rank pretty low on surveys that measure respect for professions, we at On the Media have noticed that two American heroes -- Superman and Spider-Man --both have day jobs at newspapers. Clark (Superman) Kent is a reporter for the Daily Planet, and Peter (Spider-Man) Parker is a photo-journalist for the more down market Daily Bugle. Given that over 200 million dollars have already been spent for tickets to the Spider-Man film, we thought it was high time to consider the journalism ethics of The Bugle's editor, J. Jonah Jameson, and his counterpart at the Daily Planet, Perry White. Joining us now is Staci D. Kramer, columnist of for the On Line Journalism Review and the operator of a journalism ethics list serve. Welcome to OTM!
STACI D. KRAMER: Well thank you very much. You know I, I guess I should point out that Peter Parker doesn't describe himself as a photo-journalist.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Oh. How does he describe himself?
STACI D. KRAMER:He's a photographer. "He takes pictures" is the way he puts it. He's making no pretense at being a journalist or about ethics. He's concerned about Spider-Man's PR -- and yet he keeps selling these pictures to the Daily Bugle which has no compunction when it comes to labeling things the Spider-Man does as, as bad, even when they're good!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Which brings us to the ethics of the editor in chief of the Daily Bugle -- J. Jonah Jameson -who is a hard-nosed, cigar-chomping, penny-pinching - let's not forget - really cheap editor of a cheap tabloid. But does that necessarily mean he's unethical?
STACI D. KRAMER: [LAUGHS] He's a sensationalist. His ethics are, are aimed solely at selling the paper, and he also has his own very pointed view of the world -- maybe I should say warped, pointed view of the world. The world, according to Jonah Jameson is, is what you see in the Daily Bugle. It's not necessarily the world according to the way things happen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But it's fair to say Spider-Man is a man wanted by the cops. He leaves webbing on public buildings. He interferes in police business. Is there any evidence that J. Jonah Jameson is actively censoring the news of Spider-Man's good deeds or is the Bugle's coverage just an example of how an event can have multiple interpretations?
STACI D. KRAMER: Well, in, in part it's because Jonah doesn't really believe that anyone does anything out of good, and because he doesn't believe in it, he doesn't believe other people are capable of it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Compare J. Jonah Jameson to Petty White.
STACI D. KRAMER: Perry's a blow hard, but he's a good journalist. He's a good editor. He's somebody you can learn from.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Compare Perry White to Ben Bradlee.
STACI D. KRAMER:[LAUGHS] I'd say that Perry does things that Ben wouldn't do. He's in a different place. He's in a comic book. Also he's in the - he's even no matter how much they advance him, he still seems to me to be in the '50s. [LAUGHTER] And the concept of ethics in the '50s --journalism ethics in the '50s -- and, and, and journalism ethics now is pretty different. We're, we're a lot more strict with ourselves.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Do you seriously think that the cartoon representations of journalists and publishers have any effect on the public's real life attitudes towards this craft?
STACI D. KRAMER: Not in a conscious way. But I do think it does have an impact. Well, right now there's, there's a very serious debate going on over coverage of the Middle East. One person looks at a picture; one picture looks at a story and sees one thing. One looks at a story and sees another. Well, when you have in your mind that the last movie you saw has an editor who writes fake headlines -- or who distorts the news -- even if they're a comic book character, at some point, you know, it's there! It's part of the last thing you thought about, about journalists! And it, and it carries over. I don't think it's a con-- again, I don't think it's a conscious thing, and I don't think it's something to stress over. It's just something that is there and we - we're foolish if we think it doesn't exist.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So the moral of this story is: comic books, no matter how many superheroes they employ as journalists, it's their publishers that are always going to make us look bad.
STACI D. KRAMER: Yeah. I, I would say it's - it's always the editor's fault, isn't it? [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And on that note, Staci, thank you very much.
STACI D. KRAMER: Thanks.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Staci D. Kramer is a columnist for the On Line Journalism Review and an editor at large for Cable World Magazine. [MUSIC]