FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

American’s are Liars

by WALT BRASCH

The nation’s journalists were surprised, shocked, and outraged. Jayson Blair, a 27-year-old New York Times national correspondent, had lied and cheated his way through a four-year career at the paper that not only claims to have the highest journalistic standards but also believes it’s the national record.

At the time he resigned under pressure at the end of April 2003, Blair had not only left a trail of innumerable factual errors, but had fabricated quotes, “covered” stories in other states while not leaving New York, and plagiarized from metropolitan newspapers.

Several persons, according to the L.A. Times, didn’t report Blair’s errors because they “shrugged off his mistakes as more examples of sloppy, melodramatic reporting.” Only about one-fifth of all Americans even believe “all or most” of the stories in their newspapers, according to a survey by the Pew Center in 2002; a separate poll revealed that almost half of all Americans thought news stories “are often inaccurate.” The L.A. Times, Newsweek, and dozens of other publications reported that even when some sources tried to report errors, they were met by an arrogance in which editors didn’t return phone calls–a common problem among all major media, not just the Times. The Times senior editors apparently also didn’t listen to reporters who had questions about Blair’s accuracy, or to metropolitan editor Jon Landman who a year earlier had written them a terse memo calling for Blair’s termination.

In an unprecedented 14,000 words of explanation and apology almost two weeks after the “resignation,” the Times excoriated the chain-smoking, Scotch-drinking, cocaine-using Blair for having “committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud,” wailed that it was the worst “black-eye” in the newspaper’s 152-year history, and promised to take steps not to allow it to occur again.

But, it will occur again, just as it had occurred for decades, not just at the Times but in all the media.

During the nineteenth century, in their quest for political power and circulation, newspapers not only exaggerated and fabricated, they also played innumerable hoaxes upon their readers. In the twentieth century, “jazz journalism” replaced “yellow journalism,” but reporters still looked for ways to meet their publishers’ needs to sell papers. Journalists have come a long ways since then. But, as in any profession, there are still significant holes of ethics.

TV shows sponsored by Ford in the 1960s and 1970s either shot away from New York City’s Chrysler Building, or electronically eliminated it. The National Geographic digitally altered the pyramids for “aesthetic” reasons for one of its covers. Janet Cooke, who won a Pulitzer Prize for a feature about an eight-year-old boy who was addicted to cocaine while in his mother’s womb, was stripped of her prize and fired from the Washington Post in 1981 when the story proved to be as much fiction as her resume.

NBC-TV broadcast a story about fish that were supposedly killed on government land, but it was footage of a different forest–and the fish weren’t dead. NBC also came under a firestorm of protest when the public learned that to enhance a story about truck safety, the network’s “Dateline” staff rigged a GM truck with an explosive to illustrate how easily those trucks burst into flame. FOX-TV obliterated the distinction between news and hucksterism when it “interrupted” its coverage of the 1997 Super Bowl with a “special report” by news anchor Catherine Crier. The breaking news? The Blues Brothers “escaped” and were about to headline the half-time show.

Both Ruth Shalit and Stephen Glass fabricated stories at The New Republic in 1990s. Associated Press correspondent Christopher Newton invented quotes and sources in 40 stories. In 1998, the Boston Globe fired columnist Patricia Smith then two months later allowed long-time columnist Mike Barnicle to resign after they acknowledged they made up sources and quotes. Ironically, Globe editors were warned by some reporters that Blair, who was an intern for two summers and freelanced after that for several months, had a credibility problem. In May, the New York Post acknowledged that it published an article by freelancer Robin Gregg that was plagiarized from The National Enquirer. The deceit doesn’t end with the stories reporters file.

A few American reporters, embedded with troops in the second Gulf War, apparently assumed they could plunder Iraq of national treasures, including art, antiquities, and weapons.

As much as journalists may want to believe these are isolated examples, they aren’t. As much as the public wants to believe that the problem occurs only in journalism, it doesn’t. About 75 percent of college students admit to cheating, according to a 1999 survey conducted by Donald McCabe, a Rutgers University professor. A year later, a survey conducted by the editors of Who’s Who Among American High School Students revealed that 84 percent of high school students believe cheating was common. A study by the Center for Academic Integrity revealed that about 15 percent of all students say they bought research papers, and more than half admit to having copied passages, without attribution, from published sources.

More important, students don’t see that cheating, lying, or plagiarizing are necessarily immoral or unethical. Almost half of high school students, according to the Josephson Institute of Ethics, believe “a person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed.” College graduates pad their resumes; references lie in their recommendations. Psychologist Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts found that among 11-16 year old students, there was a high correlation between lying and popularity. Feldman told the Associated Press, “Politicians have known for a very long time that telling people what they want to hear is a very good social tactic.” Politicians and CEOs, aided by hordes of PR professionals, also know they can spin the truth because the media, often faced by increased work loads and diminished resources, have largely abrogated their roles of cynical watchdogs.

Americans lie on their income tax returns, on claims to insurance companies, and about the condition of their used car which they’re about to unload. They lie about productivity to their bosses, and use “sick days” to play golf. And when it comes to managers and executives, Enron, Adelphia, Halliburton, and dozens of others may not be exceptions to how many corporations do business.

The nation’s journalists shouldn’t be shocked, surprised, or outraged about Jayson Blair’s theft of honesty–they, like most Americans, are all part of the problem.

WALT BRASCH, a national award-winning reporter and editor, is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. He is the author of 13 books, including The Press and the State, and the current book, The Joy of Sax: America During the Bill Clinton Era. You may contact him through his web-site www.walterbrasch.com.

He can be reached at: brasch@ptd.net

 

More articles by:

Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an analysis of the history, economics, and politics of fracking, as well as its environmental and health effects.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 28, 2017
Jordon Kraemer
The Cultural Anxiety of the White Middle Class
Vijay Prashad
Modi and Trump: When the Titans of Hate Politics Meet
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Efforts to Hide Palestinians From View No Longer Fools Young American Jews
Ron Jacobs
Gonna’ Have to Face It, You’re Addicted to War
Jim Lobe – Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio
Is Trump Blundering Into the Next Middle East War?
Radical Washtenaw
David Ware, Killed By Police: a Vindication
John W. Whitehead
The Age of No Privacy: the Surveillance State Shifts into High Gear
Robert Mejia, Kay Beckermann and Curtis Sullivan
The Racial Politics of the Left’s Political Nostalgia
Tom H. Hastings
Courting Each Other
Winslow Myers
“A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind”
Leonard Peltier
The Struggle is Never for Nothing
Jonathan Latham
Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in an Animal Feed Supplement
Deborah James
State of Play in the WTO: Toward the 11th Ministerial in Argentina
Binoy Kampmark
The European Commission, Google and Anti-Competition
Jesse Jackson
A Savage Health Care Bill
Jimmy Centeno
Cats and Meows in L.A
June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail