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Absence of Malice

In the film Absence of Malice (Sydney Pollack, 1981), a number of ethical issues related to the actions of the American press and to the abuse of police and investigative powers on the part of the government are raised, along with certain personal ethical issues involving personal relations among the characters. While the primary focus of the film seems to be on press abuses, overzealous government prosecutors are given considerable attention as well.

Cynicism is the mark of both journalists and government agencies in this film, and actions are guided by this attitude. Each of these groups has the underlying attitude that it is on the side of the angels and that whatever it has to do to control crime and report the facts is acceptable. Legality and ethical behavior are confused in the thinking of many in this film. The newspaper, and especially its lawyer, takes the attitude that so long as the law is satisfied, actions taken are ethical. The lawyer says that he does not care if the story is true or not, only that the newspaper believe it is true at the time and that the newspaper cannot be blamed if the story is later found not to be true. Outwardly, journalists claim to be reporting the facts and to celebrate truth, but as the speech of this lawyer indicates, in practice what is important is some form of plausible deniability. The legal issue would be malice--if the paper knew the story was false and printed it anyway out of malice, it would be liable. If the paper believes the story is true or is not printing it out of malice, it is not liable. No one is asking if this is the right thing to do--only if they can get into any trouble for doing it. This is reinforced when Gallagher comes to the paper to ask who gave the paper the story and the lawyer again takes the attitude that the paper is blameless.

Gallagher asks why no one asked him first, and Carter says she called and got no answer. She was told by her e...

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Absence of Malice. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 07:36, April 15, 2021, from