The Hippocratic Oath, with its exhortation "primum non nocere" — first, do no harm — belongs to physicians, not to journalists. We know that our work sometimes hurts.
That's not because reputable journalists set out to harm somebody, nor because we're the sort of careless scandal-grubbers that screenwriters often create as unsympathetic characters in movies or on TV.
No, what can sting people, even if journalism is practiced with ethical intent and great skill, is the truth. A good journalist finds what's true and then presents it at the appropriate scale. That requires us to be conduits for the truth, even if that truth inflicts pain.
The Times Union has published some painful truth recently, as we often do. We hear the loud voices nowadays that eagerly attribute hostile motives to our work, feeding the cynicism that has grown in America about every major institution. So it's important for people to understand how much care goes into newsroom decision-making when we find ourselves obligated to publish something that we know can injure.
Consider, for example, our coverage of claims raised by people who say they were victims of sex abuse by Catholic priests. News organizations worldwide have been covering the issue for years, ever since the scale of the tragedy was first revealed by The Boston Globe in 2002. We have reported on dozens of alleged perpetrators in our community, including some who have been removed from the priesthood and incarcerated. Many of the alleged perpetrators died long before the claims about their offenses became public.
Those stories are important if we as a society hope to address the scourge of child sex abuse and give justice and peace of mind to the victims. But they may offend people who are loyal to the church or who loved those accused of wrongdoing.
In particular, when a lawsuit...
Midway through a Qigong exercise class, as we silently expressed appreciation for how hard our internal organs work, the instructor grinned and said, “Now when people ask what you did on your retreat, you can tell them we smiled at our livers.” The class was part of a “Rejuvenation Retreat for Women,” a trip sponsored…
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