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Suppose that you are employed as a reporter by the local newspaper in your town. You learn that Ron Smith, one of the individuals running for sheriff in the county, has been accused of sexual assault. The victim came to you, seeking help. You want to vet her story and run an article. The election is next week. Your boss asks you to hold off publishing the article until after the election results are tallied. In the workplace, you will be confronted with ethical dilemmas. None as disturbing as this one perhaps, but dilemmas nonetheless. Which three ethical principles would be the most appropriate approach to ethical dilemmas encountered in the twenty-first century? Remember that Aristotle’s focus was virtue, Kant’s was duty, and John Stuart Mill’s was utility. Defend your answer.

The choices for the most appropriate ethical approach to this dilemma are Aristotelian, duty, then utility. Duty ethics says that the reporter has a duty to break the story. Utilitarian ethics dictate to report the story only if the reporter disagree with the candidate. Aristotelian ethics say that failure to publish the story constitutes a dereliction of the reporter's duty.

Expert Answers

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The example of concealing an important story until after an election is not one that would be the case of an ethical dilemma but rather a matter of being asked to do something unethical and needing to weigh the practical issue of needing a job versus one's moral convictions. In all cases, one would pursue the story but might hold off on publishing if and only if the evidence behind the allegations was weak.

In terms of duty ethics, one has an obligation to act according to one's moral duty at all times regardless of the consequences. If one believes that the duty of a reporter is to investigate important stories and make the information public, then one has an absolute duty to pursue the story regardless of the editor's wishes of the election. Duty would also suggest that even if the allegations were weak, the voters would have the right to know that they were in progress and make their own decisions.

In the case of utility, one would need to ask whether one thought the candidate should be elected. If you believed the candidate was the best one running, you might want to hold off on reporting a story that could weaken him. You would want to report on a story that would weaken a candidate you opposed.

In the case of Aristotelian ethics, your purpose as a reporter is to investigate stories. By not pursuing the story, you would not be acting in accordance with your ultimate ends as a journalist.

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