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Media Meltdown? Planets Misaligned? Searching for Answers to Crisis of Confidence

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Media Meltdown? Planets Misaligned? Searching for Answers to Crisis of Confidence

Article excerpt

T IS THE SEASON for journalistic apologies.

They seem to be coming fast and furious these days -- lapses and lamentations from some of the nations biggest news organizations.

"Looks like a media meltdown to me," says Reed Irvine, chairman of the right-wing news watchdog group Accuracy in Media.

This is a strange alignment of planets. isn't it?" adds Len Bruzzese, deputy director of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Here's a rundown of some of the biggest gaffes:

* Early in the year, in pursuit of scoops in the White House sex scandal, the Dallas Morning News and Wall Street Journal retracted stories based on anonymous sources. The result: embarrassment, but nobody fired.

* Then came Stephen Glass, who admitted to piping all or part of dozens of stories for the New Republic magazine. Casualties: red faces, but only Glass booted.

* A few weeks back, Boston Globe editors axed metro columnist Patricia Smith after she admitted she made up characters in four columns. The paper has since reported that as many as 48 of her columns dating back to 1995 may be suspect. Judge's card: Smith out; editors sorry.

* Two weeks ago, the Cincinnati Enquirer genuflected and agreed to cough up 10 million bananas -- U.S. dollars, that is -- to Chiquita Brands (update, p. 8) after running more than 20 broadsheet pages of investigative stories that "created a false and misleading impression of Chiquita's business practices" the paper confessed. Fallout: $10 million penalty; lead reporter fired, sued, investigated; Titanic-size black eye.

* Enter Time magazine and Cable News Network. Time Warner's brand-name news outfits retracted their joint story about U. S. military use of deadly sarin nerve gas on defectors during the Vietnam War, saying, "The facts simply do not support the allegations that were made." Score: one resignation, two producers sacked, Pulitzer Prize-winning former AP Vietnam correspondent Peter Arnett reprimanded (he says he provided voice-over but wrote "not one comma of the piece), all others safe but sorry.

The parade of apologies has provoked heightened hand wringing in a profession characterized by chronic self-doubt. "Our credibility is our most important asset," Time managing editor Walter Isaacson wrote in a note to readers. …

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