In a world where new forms of technology and increased transparency (in most aspects of life) have allowed for greater access to information, accuracy within the media is more necessary than ever. Misinformation and outright lies are easily discovered and as a result, one of the world’s most formerly trusted reporters has been suspended after some inaccuracies in one of his more important stories. We are speaking of course, about Brian Williams. The NBC reporter was suspended six months for embellishing a story about his experience in Iraq, early on in the war.
Views on journalism can vary based on some peoples’ views on politics and the media. There are those out there who think that if it appears on the evening news, it is the product of a massive corporation, vented through the mouths of political pawns and onto screens of citizens to further brainwash them. Then there are the people who see it on the news and believe it automatically to be absolute, unquestionable truth. Both are frighteningly wrong, but that’s a different story for another day.
For those who do keep up with news stories, the mainstream media is a great source but bias, spins, embellishment and of course, factual omissions are all threats to accurate reporting that must be carefully panned for. Unfortunately, every media source commits these offenses but many are ignored, undetected or swept under the rug. Now and again, however, a widely respected journalist is caught in the act and becomes the media’s temporary pariah. Williams is one of the most notable and the most recent. Here is our list of fifteen other respected reporters and journalists who have committed similar offenses and had their credibility take a serious hit. Just a quick note, that Brian Williams will not be mentioned in the article himself, as his misstatement of fact and recent suspension is the basis for this article.
15. Helen Thomas
This article starts off with long time White House correspondent Helen Thomas. She led one of the most incredible careers in the history of American journalism, covering issues at the top of American politics for much of her life. She was known, even into her later life, for having a quick wit and telling it like it is. Sadly, as happens when older folks are asked for their opinions on touchy subjects, she offended a great many people with some comments deemed anti-Semitic in 2010.
Her comments were regarding Jews in Israel, and she essentially implied that the state of Israel was occupying land that rightfully belonged to Palestinians and that Israelis should “go home”. Her controversial comments saw her resigning just a few days into the resulting media uproar. While many do not consider her “disgraced” by any means, her unfortunate choice of words is remembered by many as damaging to her reputation. Thomas, called a true pioneer and a trailblazer by fans and critics alike, died back in 2013.
14. Michael Gallagher
In another case of a journalist whose”disgrace” is subjective, Michael Gallagher published a very sharp, interesting and accurate criticism of Chiquita (United Fruit Company) back in the late 1990’s. In essence, his article exposed numerous questionable ethical practices by the company, along with many broken laws. The company had polluted, committed bribery violations, smuggled drugs and of course, mistreated workers. The ironic part of this controversy was: most of the reporting was accurate. Gallagher was fired because he used voicemails illegally obtained from Chiquita’s telephone systems.
13. Judith Miller
Judith Miller was a New York Times reporter for three years after 9/11. Her work on security issues was highly respected but overzealous and poor factual value would be the end of her career with the publication. She was one of the journalists who reported that Iraq undoubtedly had and continued to develop weapons of mass destruction. Some claim that her articles on the topic were among the reasons for the United States to invade in 2003.
She was heavily criticized mainly for her source for many of these articles; Ahmed Chalabi. Chalabi was treated, during Miller’s writing process, as a reliable source, but it was later determined that he was an Iraqi exile who was against the Saddam Hussein regime and ultimately, wanted to see Iraq invaded, rather than simply wanting to aid Miller in her fact finding mission. She was fired from the Times back in 2005, but continues to write to this day, for various magazines and Fox News.
12. Jonah Lehrer
American author and journalist Jonah Lehrer is number twelve and his offenses include misquoting, self-quoting and simply making things up. Lehrer’s controversy spanned between 2012 and 2013, when his work in The New Yorker, along with a few other publications such as Salon.com and Wired.com, were found to have used quotes and information that amounted to plagiarism.
He still writes, and has a book coming out in May. Many have argued that his past dishonesty should not be a lifelong undoing of a gifted young writer, and his new publisher Adrian Zackheim, is one, calling Lehrer “one of the most gifted nonfiction writers of his generation”. His new book, according to New York Magazine, will deal with how to increase one’s productivity working with internet related media.
11. Walter Duranty
One of the most controversial figures ever to receive the Pulitzer Prize was English-American journalist, Walter Duranty. Though he died back in 1973, Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize remains a divisive topic to this day. He worked for the New York Times in the 1920’s and 30’s, covering the Soviet Union. To put a long and detailed controversy simply, Duranty was either duped or an agent for the Soviets, as he reported Soviet propaganda as actual fact.
He denied the famines that occurred throughout the Soviet Union in the early 30’s and would later rationalize the purges that terrorized the country later during Stalin’s reign. While some have argued and continue to argue that Duranty was simply writing as he did, out of fear of Soviet punishment or expulsion, many still consider him one of the most fraudulent figures in journalistic history.
10. Christine Bersola-Babao
Much like a couple of other entries on this list, the Philippine broadcaster Christine Bersola-Babao may or may not be “disgraced”, but in the minds of many, she is, for remarks considered homophobic, back in 2013. She wrote and published a homophobic article in March of that year, detailing methods of dissuading young children from being or becoming homosexual.
She was widely criticized for having archaic views on gender roles and homosexuality itself. While she remains a television personality, many now consider her a deeply flawed parenting figure. On the other hand, one can find people just about anywhere who still discourage homosexuality, but that’s another issue altogether.
9. Rob Morrison
While his body of work has actually been impressive and remains unsullied, it was a series of personal life scandals that saw Rob Morrison fired from his broadcasting job with CBS. He started reporting when he was with the U.S. Marines and would later go on to cover multiple American military engagements and spend time reporting from the Middle East.
His reputation was largely untainted for much of his career in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, but he and his wife had a series of domestic disputes from 2009, that culminated in Morrison being arrested for strangling her in 2013. He resigned from his job shortly thereafter and has not worked in the business since. In 2014, he was sentenced to two years probation for violating a restraining order between himself and his ex-wife.
8. Michael Finkel
Michael Finkel may well have the most interesting story of anyone in this article. He was a columnist for the New York Times back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but was fired after his editor determined that several of his stories were embellished or otherwise fraudulent. He was promptly fired.
He did not leave the writing game at that point however, and when his name was used by a fleeing murderer as an alias, his career experienced an odd resurrection. Christian Longo killed his children and wife in 2001, and made his way to Mexico under the name, “Michael Finkel”. After news of his alias and then capture, Finkel wrote Longo’s story prior to his conviction and death sentence. Longo is still on death row to this day, and this odd story is being made into a film, starring James Franco and Jonah Hill.
7. Jack Kelley
Jack Kelley’s career completely disintegrated back in 2004. He was one of the most respected in the business, having written for over two decades for USA Today. Unfortunately, much of what he had written was made up. Some of his colleagues had long suspected that his work was somewhat illegitimate, but it was not until 2004 when anything was proven. He created falsified interviews with bogus sources and by the 2000’s, USA Today hired an outside investigator to scrutinize his work, which was ultimately proven to be well-executed plagiarism.
Kelley has not received any significant journalistic work since 2004.
6. Johann Hari
Disgraced British journalist Johann Hari, who lost his Orwell Prize back in 2011, is our number six, having committed plagiarism and other fraudulent offenses in the world of journalism. With regard to the charges of plagiarism, one of Hari’s most renowned works was found to be shockingly similar to an earlier article that appeared in the German publication Der Spiegel.
Not only did Hari commit plagiarism, but he was also found to have edited the Wikipedia page of another journalist, Nick Cohen, while also editing his own page.
5. Tom Kummer
Tom Kummer is a Swiss journalist whose notoriety spawned from his interviews with many celebrities whom he had never actually met. He published outlandish and in many cases, ridiculous articles in which he created stories about his “interviewees”. In many cases his efforts were to make an interesting story rather than to actually tell a true story, and that is how he defends his work to this day. While his work stands as an insult to real journalists, it was impressive that he got away with it for a while before being caught.
4. Jayson Blair
American journalist Jayson Blair comes in at number four, after plagiarizing and fabricating multiple stories between 2002 and 2003. It started with just one article, but in April 2013, Blair was discovered to have made up much of the subject matter in several pieces. He had made up facts about former POW Jessica Lynch, made several fraudulent statements regarding John Muhammad, the Washington Beltway Sniper, and copied parts of reports from other publications.
He didn’t last as long as Kummer, but in spite of the heavy scrutiny with which he would have been dealing, Blair’s deception lasted a few months.
3. Janet Cooke
Working for the Washington Post back in 1980, Janet Cooke wrote a great article called Jimmie’s World, which would win her the Pulitzer Prize. Jimmie’s World was about an eight year old, heroin addicted street kid. Shortly after publishing, it became clear that Cooke had lied about her journalism training and shortly after that, her editors were able to get her to admit to making up the story. She resigned and went on to say that she had heard of a true story about such a little boy, but wrote the story without actually meeting him or discovering all the facts.
2. Stephen Glass
Working for The New Republic back in the 1990’s, Stephen Glass became a popular reporter but possibly only because many people like fiction. Many of his stories were too crazy to be true, and in the end, that was actually the case. His writing was captivating and in many respects, brilliant, but Glass had simply no place writing non-fiction.
He made up much of his work, including the notorious story about a teenage hacker that would actually destroy his already precarious credibility. Upon the realization that his work was bogus, Glass was fired. He would go on to complete a law degree, but has also returned to journalism and written some of his own books. The movie Shattered Glass tells his story, and stars Hayden Christensen, who played the role quite well.
1. Sabrina Erdely
A very recent example of terrible journalism which was quickly identified, Sabrina Erdely is the journalist whose Rolling Stone article on a major sexual assault case involving a fraternity at the University of Virginia makes our number one. She took a hot button issue, slapped a case of one-sided and biased “investigating”on it and sent it off for publishing.
Since being published in November of 2014, it has been called one of the worst pieces of reporting of the year and has been widely criticized for misrepresenting the case, the issue and leaving a University’s reputation tarnished, along with the fraternities, clubs and students of the school. While other cases of poor reporting or absolute storytelling may be more blatant, Erdely used one of the issues that must be reported with the utmost honesty and diligence and fabricated parts of the situation while omitting others.
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