Some recent media meltdowns call attention in the worst way to the continuing failures of much of the American news and information media. Bad judgment and abandonment of basic principles in three recent cases call attention to a long-standing slide from respectability to corruption for the nation’s news purveyors. Some examples from the recent past include:
the Rolling Stone rape story, in which contributing editor Sabrina
Rubin Erdely wrote about a female freshman at the University of Virginia
identified as “Jackie,” detailing an alleged sexual assault by seven
members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
Erdely did a poor job of fact-checking the story and failed to
interview key individuals involved in the episode. The story was unfit
to be printed in any credible publication, and caused quite a bit of
turmoil at UVA.
defense of this journalistic malfeasance, the following notion has been
floated: “Just because it wasn’t true in the Rolling Stone case doesn’t
mean it isn’t true somewhere.” Such foolishness is a common defense of
beliefs thought to be so important that truth takes second place.
Although Rolling Stone is a pop culture magazine, not a “real” news source, it is not excused from following the rules.
The New York Daily News, however, is a real news source, and has no excuse for this failure:
Palin has gone rogue again - this time, giving her fans a fleshy
surprise as a holiday gift,” wrote Adam Edelman in the Daily News,
describing a video of Ms. Palin.
the episode, Palin demonstrates how to make her favorite iteration of
blueberry pie, but as she delicately kneads the dough, her sweater falls
down to her arms, revealing a whole lot of sun-kissed Alaskan skin and a
sexy black undergarment,” wrote Mr. Edelman, a political writer for the
implying that Ms. Palin was deliberately provocative, the headline
blared: “Ho, ho, ho! Sarah Palin wishes fans holiday cheer as sweater
falls down,” alleging she “gifted them with the naughtiest Christmas
present of all – flesh.”
Ms. Palin’s good looks dazed Mr. Edelman, confusing him about what he
saw. Or didn’t see. She wasn’t wearing a sweater, as anyone who watched
the video knows. The political writer’s imagination ran wild, and
visions of underthings danced in his head.
appears the delicious opportunity to ridicule Ms. Palin easily
overpowered whatever journalistic ethics he and the newspaper might once
the third example, when a white police officer in Ferguson, MO shot and
killed an 18 year-old black youth, the media widely portrayed the black
youth as a gentle giant who had his hands up in surrender, saying
The reaction to this seemingly tragic event was swift and angry. And wrong.
see, it never happened. The “gentle giant,” Michael Brown, who was a
giant, but was anything but gentle, had just minutes before the
confrontation with officer Darren Wilson stolen cigars from a store and
assaulted a store worker, disobeyed the police officer’s lawful
instructions to move out of the middle of the street, attacked the
police officer in his car and attempted to take his gun, then ran from
the police officer. An autopsy revealed that he had marijuana in his
blood, and according to grand jury testimony, never put his hands up and
never said, “don’t shoot.” Instead, he attacked the officer again and
died from gunshot wounds in response to his attack.
media rushed to judgment, accepting without examination the idea that
an innocent 18 year-old black youth was murdered while he was
surrendering to police with his hands up. Was it because this scenario
fit the preconceived notions of much of the mainstream media?
is the reporter’s duty to scrupulously avoid injecting opinion in his
or her reporting, and to carefully label unverified information, so that
those in the audience have reliable information from which to form
journalist and educator Walter Williams founded the world's first
journalism school at the University of Missouri in 1908, and in 1914
created the Journalist’s Creed. Among the elements of the Creed are the
believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected
with it are, to the full measure of responsibility, trustees for the
public; that all acceptance of lesser service than the public service is
a betrayal of this trust.
**I believe that clear thinking, clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.
one hundred years after its creation, after witnessing so much news
coverage that falls so far short of the lofty standards of the
Journalist’s Creed, one may justifiably wonder whether the Creed was
ever a part of the training of so many practitioners, or has merely been
forsaken by them, and is as carefully concealed from journalism
students as so much information is hidden from the public by our
three examples listed previously only scratch the surface of the of the
failure of modern news journalism to adhere to its moral and ethical
mandate. Like our nation’s founding principles, journalism’s ethics and
morality need to be restored.