The Times today published an extensive article detailing how Jayson Blair, 27 fabricated multiple stories over a four year career at the paper. Not only did Blair concoct quotes and details, in many cases he wasn't even in the location his dateline said he was."The reporter, Jayson Blair, 27, misled readers and Times colleagues with dispatches that purported to be from Maryland, Texas and other states, when often he was far away, in New York. He fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He lifted material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not."
Provably fabricating a quote or story detail is enough to justify a reporter losing their job, even at a lesser page. It's stunning that Times editors tolerated multiple instances of such behavior from this reporter.
It's also stunning that the fact that a reporter was not submitting travel expenses didn't throw up immediate red flags. Did they think he was just paying for it out of his own pocket when his datelines were from all over the country?
Any good editor knows that the biggest product of a newspaper isn't the printed edition. It's the credibility of the organization. The Times' credibility has suffered a huge blow from this, and the editors are to fault as well as the individual. Certainly, there is no shortage of capable and willing reporters who would love to have filled that job if they had fired Blair earlier.
The story is all the more disturbing given how many of the stories they relate I can remember reading. Even though I worked as a reporter, and know errors happen, I still tend to regard what's reported in Times stories as the gospel truth, or at least a best-faith effort at it. Unfortunately, I guess the editors at the Times, like most of us, don't expect outright fabrication by the people we deal with. Especially given that even when you write a completely true story, people will often complain about misquotes and errors, making it harder for editors to detect inaccurate reporting. (I've had complaints about misquotes from interviews I taped recorded, where clearly they said exactly what I wrote.)
The Times article dances around the issue of race with regards to Blair's rapid rise at the paper, despite consistently erratic performance. There's no shortage of great reporters out there who have trouble finding work. Blair clearly what immensely charismatic, but it's apparent there was more going on than simple charm. I appreciate the concept of the diversity program, but it should be about finding more qualified minority employees (which is not so hard in the reporting business), rather than protecting unqualified ones.
Interestingly enough, the San Antonio Express-News reports that Blair had previously crossed paths with Macarena Hernandez. Blair's plagiarism of Hernandez's article eventually led to his downfall after the Express-News contacted the Times to demand she be credited properly.
More reporting from the Times: Accounting of the Deception.
Gothamistsummarizes the Times article and links to other coverage.
Coverage in The Washington Post.
The New York Times has a great article by Paul Krugman on the illogic of Bush's tax cut proposal.
"The average American worker earns only about $40,000 per year; why does the administration, even on its own estimates, need to offer $500,000 in tax cuts for each job created? If it's all about jobs, wouldn't it be far cheaper just to have the government hire people?"
Krugman wrote The Return of Depression Economics in the late 90's. It's still the best, most clearly written book on macroeconomics I've ever encountered.
TeeVee.Org's article: Crappy Journalism, Unfair and Imbalanced points out that the problem with Fox News coverage isn't its slant, or its bias -- it's the shoddly, unprofessional and unobjective in its delivery, and ignores good sense in jumping to conclusions based on incomplete information, abandoning any attempt at impartiality or thought. Even if you're totally pro-war, you're better off watching CNN or NBC and knowing what's going on than watching Fox's cheerleading.
Fox News Channel's slogan is: "Real Journalism -- Fair and Balanced." Forget the arrogance of having a slogan like that. Let's boil it down to the basics: before you can get to fair and balanced, you've got to practice real journalism. This weekend I didn't see any of that going on at the Fox News Channel.
The San Francisco Gate also has an extensive analyis of war coverage that particularly compares broadcast network and cable news coverage.
I have to add my voice of agreement to Jason Kottke's applause for al-Jazeera. We may not like how they report stories. But heck, I don't like how Fox News reports stories, either. The Arab network represents one of the first independent news sources in the Arab world. Such news agencies are a critical component of modern democray. Of course they report from an Arab perspective, with a slant towards empathy for the suffering of Iraq's civilians. Our news agencies slant towards reporting the humanitarian side of our soldiers and their families in just the same way. You don't have to read them -- but respect the effort they're making, all the same.
The Iraqi information minister has definitely upped the ante this week; I suspect he's setting himself up for a Hollywood second-career, or at least a made-for-TV-movie.
Read more on 'Victory over America'.
"We defeated them yesterday. God willing, I will provide you with more information. I swear by God, I swear by God, those who are staying in Washington and London have thrown these mercenaries in a crematorium.
"As President Saddam Hussein said: God will roast their stomachs in hell at the hands of Iraqis."
If you misssed my earlier post about this giant of the media, take a gander.
If the Iraqi information minister was an actor, they'd fire him for hamming it up as the evil despot lackey of this particular debacle.
This morning, he was giving a live interview with Al Jazeera declaring, as always, that the US is being defeated handily. (The Scotsman - International - Information minister delivers the rhetoric) Unfortunately, at the same time CNN was airing live video of US tanks making incursions into Baghdad.
Regardless of how you feel about the war, you have to admit this guys bluffing is getting pretty funny. One day he's saying that the US hasn't pushed into Iraq significantly, and the next day he's saying, well, they took Baghdad airport, but we pushed them back.
Someone said it's hard to keep giving these briefings when at this point, he has to worry about them getting disrupted by coalition troops. Me, I'm dying to see what I would consider the seminal TV moment off all time -- the Iraqi information minister declaring victory, right as US troops run in and tackle him. Think of it as the international version of COPS.
P.S. they are now showing video of Baghdad center where you can hear the sound of gunfire in the distance. It's too bad that wasn't happening when Al Jazeera was doing the live, outdoor interview.
P.P.S. CNN just said that he read a statement saying that US troops are "on Baghdad." I guess it was getting hard to stay credible.
Keep up with the latest from the man in Iraq.
The war, in some ways, is like reality TV in reverse... (continued)
Found these gems on Amazon today after seeing someone reading "The Idiot's Guide to Communing with Spirits." I'm wondering if maybe we could send some of these to Washington as a handy primer. Or maybe that's who wrote them...
Amazon, incidentally, is now recommnending Living Wicca (a witchcraft lifestyle-guide) to me, since I searched for the first book. Nice try... no sale.
The New Yorker has an interesting piece by Louis Menand, The Thin Envelope: Why College Admissions has Become Unpredictable. Especially in light of this week's affirmative action ruling by the supreme court.
I'm not totally sure how I feel about the use of race in admissions. Especially in business school admissions (my most recent experience) it seems to me that asking any information that does not speak to the immediate qualifications of the student should be questioned. Given my professional career, academic performance, personal qualities, why should which box I check in the "race" category change my chances of entry? This is a particularly personal question to me; given my mixed ethnicity, I have the right to make such a choice. I don't see how such a system can claim to be both internally consistent and equally fair to all races.
I found one section of the Harvard Business School application even more dubious, if not downright offensive -- the one where they ask where your parents went to school, and what they do for a living. As someone well into my career, what reasonable meaning could my parent's occupation possibly have? How could it possibly be an indicator to my personal integrity, professional skill or experience. My only thought is that it may be an indicator of how much I'm likely to donate to the school, or how famous (and/or well connected) my parents are. Is that any better or worse than say, asking how many generations my family has lived in this country?