The New Yorker magazine published a lengthy piece by legendary journalist and author Gay Talese that has prompted a vigorous discussion about journalism ethics.
Talese wrote about a self-proclaimed voyeur near Denver who owned a motel and used it to secretly observe guests having sex. The owner, Gerald Foos, contacted Talese 30 years ago to share his observations about couples and their sex habits. Foos insisted on a non-disclosure agreement, so Talese was not able to write about Foos or his peculiar activities. Talese even visited the motel once and observed couples in sexual congress.
At one point in their relationship, Foos told Talese he watched a man kill a woman many years ago. Neither Foos nor Talese ever told police about it. As Foos entered his 80s, he contacted Talese to tell him he could write about the motel and identify Foos by name. The result of all this is a forthcoming book by Talese, The Voyeur's Motel. The New Yorker published an excerpt from the book two weeks ago.
The Talese-Foos partnership is an odd one, to say the least. We would never have allowed a reporter to violate the privacy of someone by secretly watching them have sex. Talese compounded the ethical problem by failing to notify police of the apparent homicide at the motel. Reporters are not and never should be considered an arm of law enforcement. If one of our journalists observes, receives evidence or word of a serious crime, our first step would be to begin asking questions of law enforcement. If necessary, we would share with authorities what we know.
In our weekly Spokesman-Review podcast, reporters Kip Hill and Nathan Weinbender discuss the Talese article and his actions. I think you'll find the issue worthy of your consideration. For further reading, you might be interested in The Washington Post story on the matter.