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Pick of the Day: The Sanjay Gupta effect

Today, The Washington Post's Paul Farhi poses a provocative question on journalism ethics: Are reporters with backgrounds in medicine being show-offs when they simultaneously report on a disaster and administer care?

This debate has emerged in the aftermath of Haiti's quake; journalism's longstanding traditions dictate that we are supposed to be primarily observers, and that we should intervene in events only when necessary. Admittedly, reporters tend to take themselves a little too seriously -- with a dose of self-righteousness -- believing that we should not interfere in a story because we would interrupt the narrative's natural rhythms. But in the case of Haiti, or in any other crisis, reporters often discard those mandates.

I confess that when I saw the CNN reporter Sanjay Gupta caring for a baby in Haiti, dealing with the child's head wound, I cringed. I thought he had an ulterior motive, that he was trying to boost CNN's flagging ratings by sending a message to audiences back home: CNN tells great stories, but CNN also saves lives! One can't help but feel that major media organizations possess a kind of lust for these disasters, with their built-in storylines, and that the onslaught of reporters is taking up so much precious space and resources, as The New Republic's Noam Scheiber recently argued..

But, the more I thought about the extreme circumstances of Haiti's situation -- the seeming lack of government and scant supply of medical workers -- the more my cynicism receded and the more I thought Gupta and others like him have been doing the right thing. Haiti needs help. Reporters can tell stories and show the images to help boost sympathy and donor dollars; and, in the cases of those who are qualified, administer medical aid.

By Ian Shapira  | January 20, 2010; 8:39 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  | Tags:  CNN, Ian Shapira, New Republic, Paul Farhi, Sanjay Gupta, Washington Post, ethics, journailsm, journalism ethics, self-promotional  
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