How Many Journalists Fake It?

Richard, in his very interesting Twitter feed, points to a thought-provoking and troubling story.  It’s a New York Times piece about another journalist who apparently has fabricated sources, quotes, and, therefore, stories.

The reporter was a 30-year veteran who worked for The Cape Cod (Mass.) Times.  She had covered the police and courts beats tor the paper and was held in high regard by those she’d covered.  However, she wrote an article about a Veterans’ Day parade that struck her editor as just a little too pat, yet unbelievable.  When the editor tried to identified the people quoted in the article, she couldn’t.  The newspaper, to its credit, then undertook a careful review of the reporter’s human interest feature stories, found other indications of non-existent sources, and reported the fact on its front page as part of an apology.

The Cape Cod (Mass.) Times‘ straight-up response to this makes this former journalist proud; its response speaks well of journalistic ethics and responsibility.  It also shows why newspapers staffed by skeptical, fact-checking editors still should play an important role in our democratic society.  Favorite news websites are nice, but how much of their content is reviewed, considered thoughtfully, and checked by someone as careful as the editor in this case?  And for those who complain that the newspaper should have uncovered the problem earlier than it did, isn’t the affirmation of journalistic skepticism shown by this story reassuring — and don’t most of us agree with the saying that it is better late than never?

The tale nevertheless makes you wonder how much fabrication may occur in our nation’s newsrooms.  If a respected reporter who’d worked for the paper for 30 years makes things up, how rare can it be?

David Brooks, “The Real Romney”

David Brooks is the only New York Times columnist I always make a point of reading, even though his politics don’t accord with mine. I like his insight and the way he strives for moderation. I like how he seeks out unusual topics for his columns when every other columnist lazily picks partisan themes.

Last week, he wrote a column in which he declared his support for Romney/Ryan because he thinks they will do something to halt the growth of Medicare. Yet, in the same column, he criticizes them for being unwilling to raise taxes. In his next column, he criticized Ryan for not voting for the Simpson/Bowles deficit-reduction plan. This sort of independent-mindedness and appreciation for nuance is the most important quality of a columnist.

Brooks doesn’t usually tickle my funny bone – the tone of his columns is usually as serious as he looks in his picture – but he did with today’s column, which made me laugh out loud more than once. It is top-notch political satire worthy of The Onion or MAD Magazine in its prime, poking fun at the way both parties distort a candidate’s history to inflame their bases.

Brooks has changed his tone radically for this column. Instead of reasoning about politics, he’s lampooning it. But he’s kept his independent perspective.