Ever since Nellie Bly feigned insanity to document the conditions of asylums, the media have celebrated undercover journalism. It seemed like you couldn't go a couple of weeks during the 1970s and 1980s without journalism stings attempting to bring down some manufacturer, retail outlet or other entity.
More recently Barbara Ehrenreich has gone undercover for Harper's as a maid, a waiter, a Wal-Mart employee and a nursing home assistant. And the media loves her work.
But when pro-life activists went undercover to reveal various problems at abortion clinics, the media response has been quite the opposite. Mostly they've ignored the stories -- such as that various abortion clinics are happy to arrange sex-selection abortions even if it violates the law or that clinics are willing to help people exploit underage sex rings.
I suspect the media are doing that because of their own fervor for abortion rights. But I also have problems with the undercover journalism.
Undercover journalism almost always involves deception. And I don't believe it's moral to lie to get a story.
The excellent online journal Public Discourse ran a series of essays discussing this topic last year. You can read essays against the practice, such as Truth, Love, and Live Action and essays in support of it, such as In Defense of Live Action.
As I have argued before, lying always involves intentional damage to the goods of personal integrity and community; and we now can see that it is also always incompatible with a virtuous orientation toward the goods of truth and religion. And these considerations do not even yet raise questions of justice, which are often implicated in the wrong of lying. The use of lies in service of a cause of such overwhelming importance as the saving of unborn human children from willful destruction is thus, as tempting as it is, nevertheless a temptation that the virtuous, and all who are committed to genuine human goods, will resist.
What do you all believe? Can such undercover journalism, particularly in service of saving lives (as opposed to uncovering fraudulent selling practices at grocery chains), be justified? And on what grounds?