Weighing privacy and the public's right to know

(CBS News) Those of us in journalism spent a lot of time worrying about the wrong things, such as whether newspapers and books of the future will be printed on paper. It's an important question, but one over which we have little control. The truth is, technology will decide how we get the news.

What we need to be thinking about is not the delivery systems, but the information being delivered -- all of which was underlined this week by the inexcusable hacking of the Bush family's personal e-mail accounts.

In the past, when journalists got personal information about public figures, we normally didn't publish it unless we determined it was, first, true; and second, was in the public's interest to know. Did it show the person was dishonest? Did his private life impact on his public responsibility?

Publishing the Pentagon Papers revealed a government making public statements about the Vietnam War that it knew to be false.

The Watergate revelations revealed a cancer of government corruption.

Making public personal phone numbers and family conversations about the health of an ill father are no one's business but the family.

For the most part, the mainstream media handled the Bush e-mail hacking with restraint. We reported the hacking -- that is news -- but little else.

Still, the episode is a less-than-gentle reminder of how technology is redefining our culture -- the whole idea of privacy and, yes, the respect (or lack of it) that honest citizens should have for each other.

These are the things that all of us, not just journalists, may want to think about. How the news is delivered will take care of itself.

  • Bob Schieffer On Twitter»

    Bob Schieffer is CBS News' chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation.

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