Honor to DieForNewsweek and theAdmiral Boorda Case
Story goes… On May 16, 1996 Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jeremy M. (Mike) Boorda, committed suicide hours before a scheduled interview with Newsweek. Why? Newsweek was pursuing an investigation involving honors that Boorda wore on his uniform, called “v” clips, a year after he removed them. What are those? “v” clips are awarded for valor under fire to combat soldiers. Why a big deal? Admiral Boorda had been awarded two medals, the Navy’s Achievement Medal and the Navy Commendation Medal, but neither of them specified he deserved the awards.
More story… Admiral Boorda had served in Vietnam aboard two Naval ships in the South China Sea and while they were in a combat situation, nothing proves they were fired upon. A year before the investigation and interview were to be conducted, National Security News Service requested documents proving he was awarded the pins. He quit wearing them.
Here’s the issue… Ethical Dilemma Should Newsweek and National Security News Service continued their investigation a year AFTER he quit wearing them? Eh, probably not.
W.W.E.T.D.? Aristotle: The Golden Mean means taking the middle road on two extremes. One extreme- pursuing the story without a forewarning to Boorda until he killed himself (reality) Other extreme- not pursuing the story at all, which isn’t very characteristic of a journalist. Aristotle’s take: Newsweek could have written the story but given Boorda a notice of what the interview was over in advance notifying him he’d have a chance to explain his previous actions. Now, the outcome could have been the same but if there could have been less of a possibility of Newsweek being to blame for Boorda’s death.
“Kant” let this story go... Immanuel Kant: Don’t use people as an ends to a mean. Newsweek wanted a juicy story and at a time with the Navy was in the lime light for bad behavior what better than the CNO wearing pins he didn’t deserve? They wanted to use Boorda as their subject to get the goods for their news story. How to be like Kant: Kant would not have used Boorda’s ill decision to get a good story because it would be using a person as an ends to a mean.
Who cares? Gilligan: Carol Gilligan’s Ethics of Care values of interdependence, community, connection, sharing, trust. Newsweek didn’t care about the Navy as a community and how this would affect it. Nor did they care about the connection Newsweek would have after the fact. The trust in the media was tarnished a bit because people blamed the media for Boorda’s death.
Checklist John Stuart Mill: Consider all possible actions The potential situations could have been Boorda cooperated, explained, and they got their story. bad publicity for the four star Admiral and the Navy gained respect for telling the truth about a matter of the past actual outcome and Boorda reacted negatively and the story died when he did
Weighing the options Those investigating could have also weighed the options of all those affected by the story going public. Did it affect anyone that he wore the wrong pins in the past? Was it really important? Could humiliating the Admiral by calling him out be justified by doing good for the greater masses and what benefit would the public gain?
Technically… Admiral Boorda was in the wrong but, it seems it would have only affected everyone involved negatively; therefore the story should not have been a focus of the reporters.
My decision Using Kant’s theory, not using a person as an ends to a mean, I would find the story a good one to actively chase if Boorda had not removed the pins from his medals because it would be a blatant disregard to everything he supposedly stood for as four-star admiral and Chief of Naval Operations. However, because Boorda had removed the pins I would find the story to be a dead end, not being informational or entertaining.
Alternate Questioned the C.N.O. on his past actions regarding his combat decorations. I’d contact Admiral Zumwalt, if possible, due to the fact he was the active C.N.O. at the time of Boorda’s service in Vietnam. He would be the one to say if he did or didn’t deserve the pins. I’d research the exact criteria for the award and if he met the criteria then approach it in a way that made it look like my writing was to benefit him so he could get proper permission to wear the medals and deserve them.
In the end Ironically, in the years after Boorda’s death, it was determined he did deserve the “v” clips he was wearing and a letter was put in his file to verify it.