Chris Jansing is the host of MSNBC’s The Ethical Edge series. The series examines the ethical issues that confront us in our daily lives. The next installment in this series “The Ethical Edge: Hurricane Katrina” will air Saturday September 10th at 12 pm EST. ICN had the opportunity to talk with Jansing about this series…
Q: The Ethical Edge is a relatively new series for MSNBC. What do you want most to accomplish with it?
The Ethical Edge provides viewers with the tools they need to think about the ethical decisions and consequences that accompany so many of the stories in the news today. It allows us not just to give our viewers the facts, but help them address the underlying issues that affect their world, their community, their everyday lives.
The special will address - among other things - how all of us as citizens approach the obvious question of what went wrong in the response to Katrina. Is it ethical, in a time when so many people are still in need, to look immediately at why the response was slow? What is the responsibility of all of us in the aftermath of a national tragedy - and do people with particular skills needed at the disaster area have a greater responsibility? Who takes priority for an emergency worker: his community, his family, himself? Is there such a thing as “ethical looting”? One of our regular panelists, Rabbi Edward Cohn, lives in New Orleans. His congregation of 850 families is now scattered across the United States and he’s lived in three places in the last two weeks. He has a compelling personal story and obviously, brings that experience to his own insights on the ethical issues raised by Katrina.
Q: What is the draw for you as a journalist in discussing ethical issues? Do you feel this series is addressing an area that isn’t always given a lot of coverage in the media?
There are always legitimate questions raised about cable news and frankly, whether coverage of any given story is substantial, or superficial. Establishing “The Ethical Edge” is a clear message that MSNBC is committed to giving substance to the important stories of the day. As a journalist, I have always wanted to be able to have viewers witness the kinds of conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues about issues we all care about…because I found them not just fascinating but personally useful. This lets me do that with a team of unbelievably smart, interesting and diverse people. Our first job is always to give people the facts - this ongoing series takes that one step further: to what we hope will be a deeper understanding of the issues involved as well as showing people how those who have dedicated their lives to the study and teaching of ethics approach them.
Q: Emotions have been running high in New Orleans and other areas impacted by the Hurricane from jounalists affected by the events down there. I would like to go back a few months earlier to Rome when you were covering the twin events of the death of Pope John Paul II and the selection of Pope Benedict XVI. It was very apparent to me watching your coverage that those events had a powerful impact on you both professionally as a journalist and personally as a Catholic. And I got a sense that a lot of the topics and issues raised during that period by you and Father Thomas Williams carried over into the formulation of The Ethical Edge concept. Would that be an accurate appraisal?
That’s a very astute appraisal. We had been talking about how to bring something “more” to our viewers - but the experience in Rome was a direct catalyst for “The Ethical Edge” The feedback from viewers was tremendous. I had never gotten so many e-mails, letters and calls from people of such varying ages, backgrounds, religious beliefs or widespread geography. The communication was often deeply personal, and many people included a series of questions. It’s not hard to understand that this is a time of uncertainty about the world situation for many Americans, and what those letters told me is that they are searching for a greater understanding of what’s happening in their world. This is one way MSNBC wants to help give them that deeper look at the news.
Q: Professionally speaking you’ve had a quite busy past couple of years. You were on the road covering all of the 2004 primary season and the general election, broke down the issues and tactics with the award winning Battleground America specials, covered two political party conventions, anchored several 9/11 and Abu Ghraib related specials, covered the death of Pope John Paul II and the choosing of his successor; Pope Benedict XVI, covered the Return To Flight for Discovery; anchoring a couple of space specials along the way, and anchored the Ethical Edge series. The question I’m leading up to is are you living your dream experience as a journalist now? Did you ever think things would wind up being this fulfilling for you back when you first got bit by the journalism bug doing college radio?
I can’t imagine there have been many more fascinating times to be a journalist. I remember sitting around with a group of some of the most experienced and respected journalists of print and broadcast toward the end of the 2000 post-presidential election in Tallahassee, and there was a sense of melancholy. Many felt it might well be the most consequential story we would ever cover: Who would finally be declared the leader of the free world? Who could have imagined 9/11, the war on terror, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the first papal election in 26 years or the largest natural disaster to hit American shores, all in the next HALF decade? I have had the great privilege to be eyewitness to all this history, and I take very seriously the responsibility to help our viewers share it. That’s why I love doing the Ethical Edge as well…it’s an important tool to bring these stories alive in a unique way. Plus, seriously, I’m getting paid to travel the world and see events and meet people most can only dream about. It’s a lot of work, a lot of fatigue, but it’s worth it.
Joining Jansing for “The Ethical Edge: Hurricane Katrina” will be Father Thomas Williams, Dean of Theology and Professor of Ethics at Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, Rabbi Edward Cohn, Temple Sinai in New Orleans, Professor Anita Allen, Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.