Starting in late December and continuing into early January, a series of articles was posted to Kotaku – which is owned by Gawker Media – about a man named Paul Christoforo. Christoforo was a public relations worker for a video game hardware company, and when dealing with an impatient customer he chose to use a lot of indecent (and misspelled) words. The private emails between Paul and Dave (the customer) were forwarded to Mike Krahulik, who manages a video game trade show that draws in 70,000 people each year. These emails then reached Kotaku and many other large press sites.

First, and some may find this to be a non-issue, I don’t believe that this warrants news status. These are personal emails between a business and a consumer, and though they seemed unnecessarily rude to each other, this doesn’t seem like it’s something that should have been published for an audience of thousands.

Though the issue itself is charged, what’s even more appalling is how reporters chose to cover the issue. They certainly didn’t abide by the Kantian method of decision-making, as they basically hung him up for the Internet to see. They dug into his personal life, discovered some of his dirtiest facts, and displayed them for all to see.

One reporter at Kotaku found Paul Christoforo’s personal Facebook page. Unfortunately, most of his pictures were self-condemning, and they were embarrassing and didn’t help his defense at all. His pictures were used in a post about the subject, which was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. The reporter, Joel Johnson, also did a Google search on Paul Christoforo’s email and uncovered a forum post about “coming off a 16 week [steroid] Test Cycle.” The headline of the post in which the information was contained stated that Christoforo’s rage-filled email might have been due to the illegal use of steroids and the ensuing “roid rage.”

When applying the different philosophies, it becomes easier to make a decision regarding this matter. As I mentioned, Kant would not go to the same means as Johnson did. Digging into a person’s personal life and discovering their shameful secrets is a means to an end to some, but to Kant that would be unacceptable. A utilitarian may choose to pursue this, as shaming Christoforo – a rude, inconsiderate, incompetent salesperson – might shed light on the company as a whole. However, there was nothing to suggest that everyone else was “corrupted,” so the benefits might not outweigh the costs of smearing a man all over the face of the Internet.

I would have personally gone with Rawls’ veil of ignorance. Behind the veil, one can attempt to think clearly and cast aside any unfair biases or status issues that might hinder one from discovering the “right” course of action. Kotaku reporter Owen Good did this in his article, “A Beatdown in Which No One Threw the First Punch.” From a position of neutrality and control, the blame was spread across all parties who were, in some way, accountable.

Turning to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, one major responsibility is to seek and report the truth. One specific part, “take certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context,” was clearly violated.

Christoforo was already making a poor case for himself by using insensitive words, ignoring rules of spelling and punctuation, and generally refusing to admit he’d done any wrong. But the reporter, Joel Johnson, used his “meat head, tattooed, beer-drinking” photos to further his point that Paul is, in general, not a very savory human being. Along with a misleading headline that may or may not have been true, the picture in the reader’s mind about Paul Christoforo was painted by the reporter far before they actually dug into the meat of the story, and that is not something a journalist should practice.

This was a strange situation, one that concluded in more personal attacks than what one is accustomed to in the news. Christoforo lost his job during the holidays. Some outraged readers made death threats against him and his family. And, as of now, very little noticeable good has come of the situation. I don’t think the journalists did a fine job addressing all the stakeholders in this situation, and instead they lunged at a man with very little defense and not many opportunities to defend himself.

 

Links to the series of articles I just referenced:

Original outing. 
Digging up the dirt. 
Analysis of the various wrongs.