Sunday, April 27, 2008

Money Talks ... But Should It?

SOME OF THE PEOPLE who appear in a new documentary about the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal received cash for their time.

Specifically, those who received cash were the lower-ranking military members who were convicted of crimes.

“I paid the ‘bad apples’ because they asked to be paid, and they would not have been interviewed otherwise,” filmmaker Errol Morris told the New York Times.

But traditional journalism doesn't pay for interviews. According to the Times article:

American newspapers, magazines and television news divisions do not generally pay subjects for their interviews; their caution is rooted in a belief that the credibility of interviewees diminishes when money changes hands and that these people will provide the answers they think are desired rather than the truth.

Is the filmmaker in the wrong or have journalistic standards changed?

By the way, the image above is from a 2006 Philadelphia Weekly cover story about the Philadelphia attorneys who are handling the civil lawsuit on behalf the tortured Iraqi prisoners. Your journalism teacher wrote it.


Ariela Rose said...

Apparently journalistic standards have changed. I wouldn't necessarily point a finger at the filmmaker because those being interviewed were important parts of the documentary.

Regardless of all that, the story itself has been completely ruined. Those being interviewed have been paid to say what they think people want to hear. If they hadn't been paid they wouldn't have been part of the film. There is no way their answers will be completely honest.

Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Morgan said...

There's got to be a better way to get interviews than to pay subjects, especially those who were convicted of the crimes at Abu Ghraib. What about the fact that they're being given face time to explain and maybe even defend their actions, or apologize for them? I think they should have seen it as a unique way to have their own voices heard, while they were getting a bad reputation (for good reason, but still) elsewhere.

I think not paying for interviews is a really important part of journalism. How can you trust a paper, station, etc. if they buy their sources? That said, maybe these guys can slide because it was a "documentary." It's still questionable though.

ryan overhiser said...

Although monetary compensation could sway the interview, you gotta do what you gotta do.

guido said...

i feel like journalists should really stay away from this, saving it for only certain situations. i wouldnt ever offer it up front.

that being said i think this is one of those situations. errol morris(who made thin blue line, a really good doc about a murder in texas) seems to have integrity and i'm sure his reasoning was that he NEEDED these people's side in his documentary. just like the photojournalist that bought crack, otherwise they wouldnt get a crucial part of their story.
i just dont think it should be done in anything other than extreme situations.

Emily Shesh said...

Unfortunately everyone has a price, but I think it needs to be understood that in the film making process editing is always involved. If the filmmaker is only interested telling his story rather than the story of those involved he will structure it to his liking no matter what happened in production.

From a journalistic standpoint I agree with Guido that the money should never be offered upfront. But if you need an interview from someone who demands compensation what choice is there?