Journalistic Integrity vs. The Daily Beast

Last week, The Daily Beast put up an article about the use of social dating and hook-up apps by Olympic athletes in Rio. Real Woodward and Bernstein kind of stuff…

Historically, Olympic athletes, surrounded by other like-minded people, similarly aged, and mostly attractive, have been known to act a bit promiscuous during their Olympic trips. The couple of weeks these people spend in the Olympic village is something they worked their whole life for, and once their events are finished, it’s no surprise that a bunch of 20-somethings like to party it up. And as consenting adults, they have earned the right to celebrate their achievements.

So The Daily Beast sets out on a mission to lure in some of these people to see who is on the prowl, and if an average person can get in on the fun. When they have no luck on Tinder however, their “journalist” Nico Hines goes on Grindr, which is for gay men. Hines is quick to point out he is not gay, and has a wife and child at home.

He then, under false pretenses, proceeds to lure gay athletes to meet him, so that he can out them in his publication and get some more clicks. In the piece, he acknowledges some of these men live in notoriously homophobic countries and remain closeted at home, though that doesn’t stop him from including those individuals in the piece. And while he doesn’t give names, he does offer enough in the way of description that it took only moments for these men to be identified via quick Google searches.

In the wake of extreme backlash, The Daily Beast has since taken down the article and issued an apology. But that came far too late. The article itself was disgusting tabloid fodder, but the bigger issue I have here is; How many editors approved this idea? How many people edited the piece? Who approved its publishing? How many people, completely devoid of journalistic integrity does it take to make this whole thing happen? How many lives were affected as a result of this carelessness? It’s easy to lay all the blame at the feet of Nico Hines, but it seems to me, there is plenty of blame left to spread around.

Let’s look at the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. What follows are a few snippets that seem worth mentioning;

Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.

A couple of things here – One, no Nico Hines did not lie about being a reporter when asked. But his presence on Grindr, as a straight man looking for something other than a hookup, is tantamount to being undercover. These men, had they known who he was up front, would likely have never agreed to meet him. Furthermore, how was any of the information gathered here “vital to the public” – It wasn’t.

Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.

As Nico acknowledges right in his article, the outing of his “sources” – in this case his subjects, could be dangerous, which is why he doesn’t use their names. But that is hardly the same as granting them anonymity.

 Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.

Well, that one was out the window as soon as this thing was given the green light.

Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.

Now Olympic athletes don’t always share the same anonymity as the average private citizen, but Hines clearly ignored the part about weighing the consequences.

It’s a shame that this happened, but it’s not something that should be forgotten either. The Daily Beast will no long be in my newsfeed, and I can only hope that other publications see this fallout and are more careful about what they print.

To give real service you must add something
which cannot be bought or measured with money,
and that is sincerity and integrity.  
– Douglas Adams


Images: The Daily Beast,
IOC – International Olympic Committee

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