Can the public trust today’s news media to present factual, ethical, and unbiased news content?
Historically, newswriting has always been based on genuine information, however, Internet journalists like Stephen Glass, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and Jayson Blair have been damaging the integrity of the American media’s foundation by fabricating news stories and failing to adhere to journalism’s unabridged ethical standards.
Glass published an article back in 1998 that told the story of a 15-year-old computer hacker breaking into a big tech company’s database, and then demanding money, porn magazines and even a sports car while government agencies sat helpless on the sidelines.
According to Forbes.com, previously known in 1998 as The Forbes Digital Tool, this was right at the beginning stages of online journalism, or “new media” as it was collectively referred to at the time. Glass took advantage of this frontline fringe career position by completely fabricating his story out of thin air.
“After investigating the claims made in the story, Forbes Digital Tool could not find any trace of the characters or companies or governmental agencies mentioned.” Forbes Digital Tool stated.
16 years later, Glass apologized on November 10, 2014 during a formal interview with a former colleague.
A little over a week later on November 19, 2014 Sabrina Rubin Erdley published her Rolling Stone Magazine article entitled “A Rape on Campus” that detailed the story of a girl anonymously named “Jackie” who had been the victim of a gang rape by a group of pledges in a university fraternity. This story, too turned out to be a complete fabrication.
That article was later retracted in December of 2014, and a case study published on April 5, 2015 was entitled: A Rape on Campus: What Went Wrong? It was written by a team of third party journalists led by Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Coll of the Columbia Journalism Review. Their investigation of the debacle revealed that the primary reporter, the fact checker, the editor and the editing supervisor were all at fault for pushing the story through without a single justification for a lack of verified sources.
Newsroom collaboration is essential to maintain a foundational standard of ethics. Although Erdley is not at fully liable for her story, both she and Rolling Stone are at fault for failing to adhere to the basic journalism standards of fact checking.
According to the same case study written by Coll, in 2003 The New York Times reporter Jayson Blair resigned after editors concluded that he had invented stories from whole cloth.
”There has never been a systematic effort to lie and cheat as a reporter at The New York Times comparable to what Jayson Blair seems to have done.” stated Alex S. Jones, a former Times reporter.
Across the span of almost four years Blair fabricated dozens of stories according a Huffington Post article published in August of 2014. In this article written 11 years after his termination from The New York Times, Blair blatantly admits to fabricating quotes from the scene at the 9/11 tragedy revealing that it marked the first time he had plagiarized.
“What I found is that when you cross the line once it becomes easier, and easier to cross it again,” Blair said during an interview on Oprah: Where Are They Now?
The New York Times has been tarnished since that experience, but their ethical principles still seem to be arbitrary on foundational basis. Recently, a University of Memphis online media writing class discovered some misappropriated information through a routine class discussion.
The students were tasked to seek out, find and analyze articles based upon the author’s tone, diction and strict adherence to the Associated Press style of writing, but what they found was an article swap with no retraction issued.
The primary confusion arose when one student posted an article on March 18 at 1:53 p.m. linking to a New York Times web page that was entitled: “Netenyahu Vows To Work Quickly To Form New Government” by Isabel Kershner. The online class discussion was structured around why the student’s linked headline title did not match the headline after the link was accessed:
“Sorry, I’m kind of confused because the link in your post takes me to a completely different story by a different writer,” said another student on March 20 at 11:59 a.m. replying to the initial post.
This hyperlink above takes the reader to The Durango Herald’s web page that posted Kershner’s article on March 18, 2015 via The New York Times News Service. It updated at 10:08 p.m. that night. Take note the date in the hyperlink – “2015.03.18.”
Why would The New York Times replace a story without issuing a retraction? The circumstantial proof of this replacement is evident by noting the numbers within the hyperlinks. Check it out. The wording and core structure of the entire article was retracted without any basis.
This hyperlink above takes the reader to The New York Times article published by Jodi Rudoren. This is the article the class discovered had replaced the original Kershner piece sometime between the March 18, 2015 at 1:53 PM (CST) and March 20 at 11:59 a.m. (CST). Note the date that appears on the hyperlink – 2015/03/19, less than 24 hours since the article was officially published.
The New York Times public editor declined to comment on the lack of a retraction notice, but her intern politely referred me to one her opinion editorials covering the Middle East crisis.
The New York Times “Core purpose of Standards and Ethics” explicitly states that “at a time of growing and even justified public suspicion about the impartiality, accuracy and integrity of some journalists and some journalism, it is imperative that The Times and its staff maintain the highest possible standards to insure that we do nothing that might erode readers’ faith and confidence in our news columns.” I’m a frequent New York Times reader, and I’m inclined to ask why an article would be completely retracted without full transparency. This clearly fails to meet the “highest possible standard.”
Transparency is vital to a functioning media watching out for its public readers. It solidifies the mutual trust and resolve to flesh out the inconvenient truths plaguing our society. No journalist nor media platform should be encouraged to violate the core value of ethics in place, and those who stand by idly in silence vicariously participate in its foundational destruction.
Let’s strive to be better.