An Ethical Analysis of Serial Essay Example

The Oxford dictionary ethics is as “moral principles that govern a person's behavior or the conduct of an activity”.  One can determine right and wrong via ethics, and as such, can use it as method to discern whether one should take a particular action or not.  Other individuals might view ethics via an action’s positives and negatives and their relative impact to others, as well as if that very action is a positive or negative event in itself.  Sarah Koenig hosted the podcast Serial, which details the murder of Hae Min Lee and the subsequent arrest of Adnan Sayed.   Ms. Koenig’s podcast delves into questions surrounding the correctness of decisions made by the prosecution, and if Adnan deserved to be imprisoned due to those decisions.  However, one can view Ms. Koenig’s Serial podcast as unethical because the host demonstrates a clear bias in her reporting, it defames many of the persons involved, and as a result has upset many people involved.

 Ms. Koenig demonstrates a lack of ethics in Serial podcast when it defames multiple people in the story, including Jay Wilds, Kevin Urick, and Christina Gutierrez.  The podcast never presents Jay’s side of the story, which also portrayed him in a demonizing manner:

‘If you were stepping out with any girl of any name, from any location, that would have impacted your relationship with your girlfriend Stephanie would it have not?’ ‘Yes ma’am.’ ‘And you were always aware of that, weren’t you?’ ‘Yes ma’am.’” (Koenig, ep 8).

 Similarly, Ms. Koenig never provides Kevin Urick’s side of the story, portraying him as a corrupt and angry man.  Adnan’s Defense attorney, Christina Gutierrez, passed away before the recording of Serial and therefore could not provide any self-defense in the podcast. Therefore, Ms. Koenig also portrayed her as both an unprofessional lawyer and person:

”Members of the mosque had donated lots of money to help pay her, but Shamim says that toward the end of the second trial, Christina had begun to bully them about money. If they managed to get Christina on the phone or in a meeting, Shamim said the only topic would be money. Money, money, Shamim said. At one point, Shamim says, Christina told Adnan’s parents she needed them to bring $10,000 cash to the courthouse to pay for a jury expert”(Koenig, ep 10). 

Serial’s use of defamation, intentional or not, never afforded those involved any opportunities to provide their defense, resulting in an unethical end product.

Ms. Koenig consistently demonstrated bias in her reporting, leading to one-sided storytelling in Serial.  The podcast’s main host primarily interviewed Adnan Sayed during the investigation and the recording of the podcast, and therefore only reported on his version of the story.  Koenig herself even remarks about her personal bias after questioning, “And the second thing, which you can't miss about Adnan, is that he has giant brown eyes like a dairy cow.  That's what prompts my most idiotic lines of inquiry. Could someone who looks like that really strangle his girlfriend? Idiotic, I know” (Koneig, ep 1).  Usually given such introspection, an objective interviewer would seek out a counterargument to balance out the narrative.  For example, in episode 8, Sarah Koenig discusses the occurrence of her team going to Jay’s house to conduct an interview, where she frames the interaction as having gone smoothly.  However, Jay’s perspective portrays a different story:

“My wife took all our kids upstairs. And I think she started Googling Sarah and the other producer. I was downstairs and asked them if they had any business cards that said who they were. They said didn’t have any on them, and that she had to go out to her car and get one … I asked them to leave at this point because they were upsetting my wife and kids. But she said she was going to be around for another two days, and hopefully they could schedule another time to talk with me, and it wouldn’t be in our house. She kept saying, ‘It’s going to be in your interest to talk to me,’ and that just started to feel like a threat, like if I didn’t talk to her it was going to be bad news for me” (Vargas-Cooper).

Sarah Koenig displayed her patently biased manner by using one-sided storytelling, making Serial an unethical product.

Serial has led to Jay, Adnan and others a great deal of strife among in being forced to relieve their unpleasant experiences surrounding the death of Hae Min Lee.  The outcome of Serial greatly disturbed the home life of Jay Wilds, which ultimately led to him and his wife to be very paranoid about their lives.  He and his wife were thoroughly terrified for their safety after people found his address, and as a result, he stopped allowing his kids walk to the bus stop alone.  In an article done by the Intercept, Jay states, “She’s devastated. Because we have young kids around the house, and we used to let them walk to school. Now we don’t, because we don’t know if someone from the Internet is going to take their picture, or harass them. And she is just trying to be protective of them” (Vargas-Cooper).  Not only did Serial lead to individuals stalking Jay’s house, but Koenig herself intruded on their house and disturbed their home life to interview Jay.  She completely dismissed the Jay’s and his family’s well-being until after the fact.  Adnan had talked about how Serial had made his life more difficult and stressful, as he constantly had to think about how he was portraying himself over the podcast with each individual word.  Serial ignored the problems that it caused for one of Jay’s friends forced to deal with painful portions of his past which he did not wish to revisit:

“When I was there I heard from a few people that [Koenig] was harassing people at their jobs, making countless phone calls [to people] who kept saying they did not want to speak with her. I was talking to one of my friends, who had just recently gotten over a drug addiction, who she tried to talk to about this case. He told me it was really painful for him, and he didn’t want to go back and revisit this crap” (Vargas-Cooper).

Serial provided an unethical story due to its unbalanced reporting that caused strife to certain individuals while sheltering others.

Some claim that Serial is ethical as it never claims to be presenting entirely factual and unbiased reporting, nor does it provide an ultimate conclusion about the case.  Those base their argument on the fact that Serial never tells people to take action and to make their own conclusions about the story, especially given the story lacks a definitive ending.  As an untrained investigative journalist, Koenig presents the podcast as being the definitive statement surrounding the case, causing people to believe her version of the facts so that no independent research is required.  However, the claim that Serial does not directly tell the viewers what to think does not mean that the bias no longer exists in the presentation.  Ms. Koenig presents situations in a manner that only provides one side of the story.  Therefore, the overall perspective of the case is skewed, as one side will have stronger evidence than the other.  For example, in the presentation of Adnan’s case, Jay is portrayed as being jealous of Adnan’s relationship with Stephanie, “Like, you know, when I was talking about how close I was with Stephanie, and they were like, you know, and you never – like, she looked at me like I was an idiot – like you never thought that this bothered Jay?” (Koenig, ep 4).  However, an interview with The Intercept depicts a different story.  The podcast also advertises itself as a nonfiction report of a true story, which leads the listener to infer that Ms. Koenig provides the ultimate standard of factual reporting, the proper citing of facts and no bias. “Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one story — a true story — over the course of a season.”(Serial Productions)  It does not hold itself to that standard.  The podcast is not any more ethical because of its purported journalistic standard nor its lack of a conclusion.

One can easily conclude that The Serial podcast possesses serious ethical shortcomings due to its slandering and defaming, its biased methods of storytelling, as well as the problems that it inflicted on those involved.  Ms. Koenig displays a significant ethical lapses in Serial is when it defames Jay, Kevin Urick, and Christina Gutierrez without allowing them the opportunity of providing their perspective and story on the case.  Sarah Koenig uses bias in her storytelling, making the podcast unethical, ultimately creating a state of disinformation when fails to provide a true unbiased take on the topic.  The podcast is also unethical when it causes unfair harm to people involved in the investigation of the murder. In the end, Serial provides a textbook example of unethical journalism heavily warped by its bias and flawed storytelling, but ultimately where Ms. Koenig many reporting inadequacies are made obvious to all who wish to pursue the truth.


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