Ethical Journalism: How Gawker Missed the Purpose of Investigative Journalism

Last week, published a highly contested story about the CFO of Condé Nast courting an escort by staff writer Jordan Sargent.  Almost immediately, angry tweets and Facebook posts started to circulate online, condemning the gossip site for running a story that shamed an individual with no greater benefit to society.

Not to say that shaming an individual is ever okay, but when it comes to journalism there are plenty of ugly stories that showcase the hypocrisy of public individuals.  In this case, the investigative story laid out lurid details of an attempted affair of married David Geithner, the chief financial officer of Condé Nast, with a gay escort. editor, Max Read defended the decision to run the story, stating, “given the chance gawker will always report on married c-suite executives of major media companies fucking around on their wives.”

Geithner allegedly reached out to a gay escort and porn star to set up an affair on a personal trip to Chicago.  Geither allegedly paid for a hotel and airfare for this individual.  At some point the escort, who is unnamed, tried to extort Geithner for personal gain.

What Gawker doesn’t seem to realize is that Geithner is not a celebrity, or even a public persona for that matter.  While the details aren’t pretty, they are of a personal matter and should be between him and his wife.  This story offers not benefit to society; no knowledge, perspective or interest is gained by the reader.  Had this story been about a politician with a staunch history of condemning gay rights, that would be a different story.  However, the article that ran was an investigative, slanderous piece about an individual with no more celebrity than you or I.  Essentially, there is nothing news-worthy of this story.

Many struggled to find the purpose to running this story.

“I’m working realllly hard to find the news basis and public interest here and it’s just not quite coming together?” tweeted Awl editor Choire Sicha.  And Recode editor Kara Swisher tweeted, “An appalling act of gay shaming disguised as a story — thought we were way past this crap.”

What further infuriated people was that Gawker refused to acknowledge who their source was.  While sources are regularly sheltered in contentious stories, there was no reason to protect this individual who attempted to extort Geithner. Again, a huge misstep on Gawkers part.  By protecting this individual, Gawker is condoning this persons personal interests by not holding him accountable for his involvement in the story.  It seems to be self serving for this individual to be able to throw Geithner under the bus for his supposed involvement in the story while he walks away scot-free.

While Read’s response only added fuel to the fire it seemed to also catch the ire of some other, higher-ups at Gawker who disagreed with the editor.  By the end of the day on Friday the story had been removed from the site and an explanation regarding the decision to run and eventually remove the story was run on the site.

While Gawker later ran a story that explained their editorial process in choosing to run the article, no apology was ever issued. The entire explanation as to why the post was removed from the site can be found here.

Regardless of the details of the story between two consenting adults, the fact stands that this story slandered an individual and offered nothing to in terms of education and perspective to society. Gawker still refuses to acknowledge that the piece that they published wasn’t only a failed journalistic attempt, but also a defamous self-serving, clickbaity story.

Follow Sean on Twitter and Instagram @BuffaloFlynn.

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and
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