This happened a long time ago but it happened nearby my hometown. It sparked a lot of questions for me. Namely, how does one form trust in their local market? What questions need to be asked? What information needs to be known? Please comment at the end of this read and tell me what your market guidelines are!
The problem with the case is that ABC News, journalist, Diane Sawyer, uncovered what she saw as a revealing public service. The reaction she received was far from the one she had predicted. Instead of the public being thankful that someone was “watching out” in a sense, they were angry because thousands of jobs were lost and lives were turned upside down. The problem is that these people could have been poisoned, and died even, and Primetime thought they were in the right by preventing these actions from continuing to happen. The public came across as extremely offended and betrayed. The fact that it happens so close to home made the Food Lion case even more interesting to me. The issues at hand were on a national level that needed to be addressed.
It was a shocking part of the story when I heard over 1,000 employees had lost their jobs and 88 stores had closed. Food Lion’s profit fell from $178M to $3.9M. It affected average citizens, families, investors, stockholders, and most of all, every single person’s conscience that knew about it or was involved in it. Watching the townspeople of Salisbury was wild and sad for me. The reality sunk in the massive amount of jobs that were lost. The people of the community were mad and hurt. Not only did it affect the townspeople in a large way but the government had gotten involved (a U.S. Senator), the executive producer of 60 Minutes, the President of ABC-Primetime, journalist, Diane Sawyer, the communications executive of Food Lion, and the corporate attorney for food lion. The public, the media, and the government were all involved in this case and it brought to light the strong worldviews of so many people.
It is important to know that the Primetime producers did not alter the images in any way, shape or form. What was shown to the public is exactly what happened in the store. This statement is argued because the selection of employees to be filmed is believed to be staged i.e. Primetime using a producer to act as a Welfare applicant several years ago. Primetime had to lie on job applications so that they were able to get inside of the store with their hidden cameras. There are so many conflicts of interest at hand and I think that is what resulted in the $5.5M lawsuit against ABC-Primetime. Behaviors and actions that were revealed from the hidden cameras were employees stating to “put the bad stuff on top and “sell the bad stuff first”. “Put new labels on old meat and put BBQ sauce on top of it to add a cosmetic feature”. “Mix old sausage or hamburger meat with new meat so that the old is not completely wasted.” “Enter into the dumpster to salvage food that should not have been discarded.” “Pour Clorox on the old fish so that it doesn’t smell bad”. After many employees were interviewed, Food Lion Corporate stated that these were x-employees who were part of the Union. Food Lion is a non-union company and allegedly the employees were trying to get back at Food Lion for not being a union company. The truth is that none of the employees were union workers and had stated to Primetime that they each worked for non-union companies. It is clear after watching these videos that there really were (are) not any laws set in place to set limits for a journalist. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are constitutionally in place but where is the bridge gapped? The media could absolutely be doing a disservice to the public if they are restricted from reporting in certain realms. We can see that this is still one of the largest issues in our country. Donald Trump allegedly pursued a federal lawsuit against Saturday Night Live for the constant negative portrayal of him by Alec Baldwin. Who would be the panel that comes together to make these important decisions for our country or even our world? How close are we to finding an agreement? It would definitely be important to know.
In order to determine the most appropriate ethical response to the dilemma, I have chosen three ethical theories that I could apply. With each, I will describe the ethical actions required. First, I will apply “Chen and Starosta’s Reciprocity Ethic”. This theory operates amongst 12 guidelines for the communicator to follow to ensure ethical actions and behaviors. I think that if Primetime had used a few of these guidelines, the community of Salisbury would have not been as angry as they were. For example, if Diane Sawyer, in her search to create the story, “seeks to learn the culture and language of the Other in considerable detail” or “places a positive value on cooperation and conflict resolution” or “sets only those conditions for the Other that will be honored equally by the Self”, I think some of the townspeople would have been more receptive to her findings. The second theory I would use is “Kale’s Human Nature Ethic”. In this theory, David Kale proposed three principles as a universal code. The three principles are “ethical communicators address people of other cultures with the same respect that they would like to receive themselves, ethical communicators seek to describe the world as they perceive it as accurately as possible, and ethical communicators encourage people of other cultures to express themselves in their uniqueness” (Johannesen, 227). I think this would have also been one of the theories the critics in the videos would have practiced. “Because deception undermines the ability of people of different cultures to trust each other, ethical communicators avoid intentionally deceiving or misleading” (Johannesen, 227). Deception was a common theme throughout the story in both videos and was also responsible for the upset of so many involved. The culture of Salisbury, NC is exceedingly not the same as the culture in New York City, NY. I think there were serious education gaps. After much thought into this case, I think the Food Lion employees on the store level and the corporate level needed to be informed about the problem and educated as to why the problem could not continue. I go back to the story I heard Oprah tell once about refusing to do an interview with a lady because she knew the content in the interview could damage the son’s life. Because there were so many other innocent people hurt from this story, it would have been wise to practice these principles before airing the story. The last theory I chose is the “Golden Rule”. In this theory, the famous guideline of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is what the communicator follows. I genuinely believe Diane Sawyer may have been practicing this rule because she would have wanted to be informed if her local supermarket could not be trusted. I think it was painfully hard for her to see how the residents of Salisbury reacted. I believe she is one of the world’s best journalists and she was simply doing her job and trying to do a public service, not a corporate service. This is why I feel bad that the story ended the way it did. I would be interested to know how the retrial went.
My recommendation for resolving the dilemma is for Diane Sawyer and Corporate Food Lion to apologize to the public. I think Diane should just apologize to the community of Salisbury for not realizing the economic impact her story would have on the townspeople’s lives. I think Food Lion Corporate should investigate the employees in the videos, the locations that were involved, etc. and publically and organizationally correct the wrongdoing that was clearly shown on the camera. The damage is already done so in order to move forward and make things right in the future, apologies could foster harmony between the media and the public. The predictable consequences could be that Food Lion continued to suffer and completely go out of business. If Primetime apologized to Food Lion, it would contradict everything they stand for and they would probably have to apologize to others, too. All of the egos on each side of the panel will not back down and I think the worst thing that could happen is a widespread hatred in government, media, and the public. The best argument against this recommendation is that even if they apologized, it is not guaranteed that they will be received as genuine. Once people have made up their minds (we saw that depicted perfectly in the video), there is usually no changing it. So, how do we foster harmony in our media, government, and public? We have to go to the root of the problem. I would still stick to my recommendation. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of being able to fix what is completely broken and we have to decide to move on somewhere. We have to decide to start somewhere. A classic, simplistic apology (letting go of self) is a beautiful place to start.