It has been a rough summer for the journalism business. Each week brings with it a new media scandal – falsification of sources and quotes, gathering information through illegal means or completely false stories. Each new scandal only pushes journalism’s tattered reputation further into the gutter.
A rundown of the past several months: Stephen Glass was fired from the New Republic for creating people, facts and events to spice up his stories. Boston Globe columnist Patricia Smith was fired for concocting facts in a column. The Cincinnati Enquirer apologized and forked over millions of dollars to the Chiquita banana company after it ran a story based on illegally-obtained voice mail messages. And a former Time magazine White House correspondent admitted she wouldn’t mind having a fling with President Clinton – she said she would have given him sexual favors “just for keeping abortion legal.”
Finally, the Time/CNN story about “Operation Tailwind.” The report alleged the U.S. military used nerve gas in a Vietnam War operation to kill American defectors. Last week, CNN retracted the story, apologized to the military and its viewers, and fired the two producers of the report.
These media lapses in common sense and ethics are inexcusable. The American public counts on the media to supply the most accurate, truthful information possible. Scandals like these only can lead to further public mistrust of the media. News organizations must be more careful with their reporting.
A Watergate-like story happens once in a lifetime. The quest of some journalists to make a name for themselves with their own Watergate-esque scoop has led to some of these ethical disasters.
With the 24-hour news cycle that dominates today’s media, viewers can turn on the television or log onto the Internet and get the latest news in an instant. This never-ending cycle puts tremendous pressure on media outlets to get a scoop and cover breaking news before the competition gets to the story. But the traditional rules of journalism need not be tossed aside in favor of getting the news fast and first. Apologies aren’t enough.
This article appeared in the July 13, 1998 issue of the Hatchet.