Tale of Two Journalists
Are journalistic standards holding up under the stresses the profession is facing? Two recent events offer an opportunity for reflection.
In other news, firebrand
From one point of view, it would be unfair to compare Blair's gross journalistic misconduct with the peccadilloes Dobbs has committed in pursuit of his obsession. Blair, you may recall, often did not bother even to go to the cities where he claimed to have conducted face-to-face interviews, including those of injured soldiers returned from
Dobbs has neither plagiarized nor fabricated stories from thin air. Yet he has consistently stretched and twisted tidbits of truth into grand conspiracy narratives that have little resemblance to reality. In a typical diatribe, Dobbs claimed that one-third of the nation's prison inmates are illegal immigrants. (In fact, less than 7 percent of inmates are noncitizens, whether here illegally or not.) Dobbs later retracted the claim.
Factoids of this nature are Dobbs' stock-in-trade. Sometimes they're selective accentuations. Sometimes they're exaggerations. Sometimes it's hard to believe they're anything but flat-out lies. But what they add up to is misinformation -- exactly what journalism should not be.
It's worth asking which kind of journalistic malpractice is worse, writing riveting articles about soldiers you've never met based on interviews that never happened, or letting loose nightly with inflammatory distortions of an issue that has serious consequences for tens of millions of people?
The journalism profession has bright ethical lines for plagiarism and the kind of fabulation Blair engaged in. You do that kind of thing and get caught, and you'll never work in journalism again. Two top Times editors resigned in the wake of Blair's fall, and its management and newsroom underwent a months-long internal probe into how Blair's deceptions were allowed to continue.
One of the many fine things about print journalism -- or reputable print journalism, anyway -- is that there is a system of peer review in place, starting with your newspaper's copy desk and ending with readers (including watchdog groups and journalists at other papers and magazines) who can call you to account if you are not accurate. Obviously, it doesn't always work swiftly or smoothly. Nearly a year before Blair resigned, a metro editor sent a memo up the Times chain of command warning, "stop Jayson from writing for the Times."
Similar checks and balances exist up to a point in television as well -- ask
In his remarks to the students, Blair admitted, "Somewhere along the way, on my way of climbing upwards, I lost sight of the very reason I entered journalism."
In a way, that's a fitting coda to a scandal that shook the nation's premier newspaper to its very foundations. Journalism is nothing without its ethics. And those ethics endure.
We'll likely have to wait a long time for such a mea culpa from Dobbs.
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Tale of Two Journalists | Mary Sanchez
(c) 2009 Mary Sanchez