AT&T spy room in SF

The AT&T Listening Room, San Francisco

This one comes in from Newt O. via The Chatrooms (edited for the clarity barely afforded to that medium, naturally):

“A former professor contacted the [college newspaper redacted] asking us to remove an article written about his not receiving tenure. He is concerned this article written some time ago may hurt his career as it shows up ahead of more charitable results in a Google search of his name.

“So,” Newt O. asks, “is it ethical to remove the article from the archives and does that bring journalistic credibility into question? Or should the article stay and jeopardize his career?”


Good one Newt! I see two possible answers here that both point to keeping the article. The first one:

Like the new saying says, The Internet Has Changed Everything. I’d find it hard to believe that this is the only negative piece of information (which wasn’t even established in Newt’s chat; maybe this professor was denied tenure because he was too qualified) stored away in Google’s cache about Dr. So’n’so. And if it is… then welcome Herr Doktor to our brave new world where every event of your life since 2002 of interest to at least 10 people (doting relatives excluded) is detailed on hundreds of magnetic platters — you may think you’ve just arrived but we’ve seen you around these parts before. Ultimately the tolerance of behavior ought to be extended to meet the widespread activities and comments on our lives that were once easily swept under the rug before the days of automatic archiving and blogs. And we’re getting more tolerant in this way rather quickly. Remember the days when people didn’t care what celebrities babies looked like? Remember how they then cared for about 20 months before losing interest and going back to the meat & potatoes of pictures of anorexic young women in bathing suits?

The other one:

This goes to the question about journalistic integrity vs. negative social consequences. First off, it’s not journalism unless someone’s career gets ruined every once in a while. USA Today teeters on this category. Like clockwork they turn out a hefty sports section, superficial scandals, and barely informative infographics. And then bam!, they score big like they did last spring with the AT&T/NSA domestic wiretapping story. So it depends, Newt, on which side of USA Today you think your newspaper — and specifically the article in question — falls. Is it frivolous, light-hearted, and splashed with color? Then let the man fret about other things. But if it forms, at the minimum, a small footnote to the history of power on campus then keep it as it is.


Michael “the ethicist” Goldman