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Plastic surgery blurs ethics guidelines in journalism

Julie Chen in 1995 before plastic surgery (left), and Chen's current news head shot.

Julie Chen in 1995 before plastic surgery (left), and Chen’s current news head shot.

In 2008, participants in the Nebraska High School Press Association’s journalism camp were given T-shirts with the words “seek the truth and report it”  screen-printed in bold red letters. Of course, the point of the shirts was to remind students of their responsibility to report news fairly and accurately. But that phrase runs much deeper.

On Wednesday, Sept. 11, Julie Chen announced on the CBS daytime show “The Talk,” that she had plastic surgery in 1995 to make her eyes look “bigger,” following discrimination by an agent and a news director.  Chen has been quite successful during her 25-year career.  She was a news anchor for “The CBS Morning News” and “This Morning.” She currently hosts “Big Brother” and “The Talk.”

No matter how successful Chen has been as a broadcast journalist, after admitting to this procedure, will audiences be able to look past the surgery to the journalist she is?  This is where journalism ethics and fair reporting come in.

Chen said that she was urged by her superiors to have the double-eyelid surgery to look “less bored” and “less Chinese.” In this case, her bosses were suggesting that to be able to successfully report the news, she must look less like herself.  Is that the kind of example journalists should be setting?  Isn’t our job as journalists to be honest to our readers and various audiences, no matter what?  Telling Julie Chen to undergo this life-changing surgery to get ahead in her career is the same as lying in a story to make it more appealing.

Julie Chen is not the first female journalist to have plastic surgery for career purposes, but because she is Chinese-American, the question of race must be considered.  When her news director at WDTN-TV said she’d never be at the anchor desk because she is Chinese, he also told her she wasn’t relatable to the community of Dayton, Ohio, because of her race.  An experienced journalist should know that separating the news by race is one of the fastest ways to alienate readers.  That is also just not what journalism is supposed to be about.  We are here to advocate for our audience, to inform them so that they are able to make better decisions.

Whether you are an editor, reporter, anchor or online journalist, knowing your demographic is key.  One must keep in mind, however, that it is so important to report the news for everyone.  Doing anything else is a violation of our code of ethics.

-Paige Comried

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