Get It Right vs. Make A Splash

By James N. Thurman, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 3, 1998 | Go to article overview

Get It Right vs. Make A Splash


James N. Thurman, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Truth is stranger than fiction, except when the truth turns outto be fiction, as it has in several reputable media outlets in recent weeks.

Indeed, media fakes seem everywhere today, from a Boston Globecolumnist who concocted sources, to a New Republic writer whose pieceswere, indeed, too good to be true, to a series on the business of fruitthat The Cincinnati Enquirer ate crow over.

Reporters have long faced challenges to their credibility. In1981, The Washington Post's Janet Cooke was stripped of a Pulitzer Prizewhen it turned out she had made up her gripping story of a child drugaddict.

As did the Cooke case, the most recent instances of phonyjournalism call into question the profession's very integrity. Why theresurgence of the problem?

One possible cause: cacophony. As the proliferation of mediaoutlets continues on cable and the Internet, reporters and editors aregrappling to stay atop the clutter.

Along the way, ethics and standards are taking a beating, andthe old-fashioned wringer of fact-checking that stories once went throughto make it to air or press just isn't there.

"When the values of journalism are subjugated to the pressuresof competition, the frenzy kind of news coverage we have on every issue,the result is shoddy work," says Jim Squires, former editor of The ChicagoTribune.

Other critics say journalism's problems run even deeper.

Out-and-our fakery is "retail malfeasance," says Jeremy Iggers,author of "Good News, Bad News: Journalism Ethics and the Public Interest."

There will always be scoundrels who make up quotes, situations,even whole characters, he says. But Mr. Iggers adds that he believes suchevents are sideshows that divert the public's attention from what's reallywrong with the media.

"What's wrong has to do with wholesale dereliction of duty,"Iggers says, citing television news as an example.

Network preoccupation with the more scurrilous details of theLewinsky case and the Diana, Princess of Wales, story comes at the expenseof more substantive issues. The trend is just as acute at the local level."There is a virtual abandonment of {coverage of} local affairs and localgovernment," his research found.

What news scandals overshadow, of course, is that thousands ofjournalists go about their jobs every day with integrity. Overall, USjournalism today is far more accurate than it was in the days of yellowscandal sheets and hat-brim-snapping news dogs.

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