Take CNN "Reliable Sources" host Brian Stelter in an interview with the program "Access Hollywood." His ethical position? Anything goes, as long as the journalists aren't the hackers.
"It would be wrong and it would be illegal for the journalists to do the hacking and find these stolen documents," Stelter declared. "But once they're out in the public domain, they are, I'm sorry to say, fair game. They are sort of a free-for-all. That doesn't make it right necessarily, but it makes it inevitable."
Sorry? Don't kid yourself. He's thrilled.
Max Read, editor-in-chief of the bottom-dwelling website Gawker, is even less conflicted. "The idea that a journalist should refrain from publishing them because it might 'validate the hackers' actions/aims' is genuinely incomprehensible."
In other words, journalists have every right to exploit whatever the hackers steal. So much for all those lectures about compassion or ethics. Ends justify means. Juicy "scoops" trump any question about how the information was obtained.
When hackers for an evil entity procure private information through illegal means, isn't there a reason for the media to restrain itself?
Conservatives might enjoy powerful Hollywood liberals like Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin hypocritically trading racially insensitive jokes in their emails about the black movies they're guessing President Obama likes. Gossips might like silly gossip about Denzel Washington or Leonardo DiCaprio.
But is any of it accurate, or even any of our business? Everyone writes things in his private correspondence that could be painted as insensitive or mean-spirited. There is no exception. Who would like to see his private thoughts broadcast to the world because of a hacker violating their privacy? Film journalist Mark Harris prodded "everyone who's gloating over stolen emails" that "you must all feel very, very secure about your own correspondence."
Isn't there personal information that shouldn't be shared, not just Social Security numbers or financial information, but private chats that no matter how salacious are just that -- private?
The North Koreans have demonstrated they -- and God knows who else -- can target anyone at any time. What role should the media plan in refusing to enable this assault on civilized society?
Liberal producer Aaron Sorkin insisted that Hollywood documents shouldn't be revealed since there is no national interest in them, unlike the "Pentagon Papers." I suspect the Oliver Stones and Michael Moores would agree. But would Sorkin and Stone and Moore agree that an oil or coal company or a tobacco or gun manufacturer should be given equal protection?
It is time for the media to consider a standard similar to the way TV networks treated streakers in the 1970s. They made a decision not to display the offenders, and the offense faded away. Wouldn't it be more ethical for the media to refrain from publishing any information gained by illegal means?
Besides, if the media tout freedom of expression, the Sony hacks were a boomerang. As Slate editor Jacob Weisberg pointed out, "Journalists resisting what they see as an attempt at censorship by Sony are cooperating in a larger act of censorship, directed at Sony." That North Korea comedy might have been another raunchy romp, but America doesn't look strong when foreign tyrants kill American movies. And our national media don't distinguish themselves by enabling the viciousness of our enemies.