August 20, 2007
It's Not Just Scott Beauchamp (II)
By Randall Hoven
[See also: It's Not Just Scott Beauchamp (I)]
Without too much extra effort, it was fairly easy to add 21 more names to the "Media Hall of Shame" list, bringing the total to 83. With more effort, I'm sure the total list could easily double. But I will stop here, for now anyway, because I think you get the idea (and this can be time consuming!).
I need to acknowledge two corrections to the original list: it is "Rigoberta" Menchu, not "Rigoberto"; she is female. Also, Ward Churchill resigned his position as the Ethnic Studies department chair in 2005, but was fired by Colorado University in 2007 after a more complete investigation.
I should add that there were many "honorable mentions" that I was uncomfortable adding to the list. Some cases, like the reporting of Walter Cronkite and others on the Viet Nam war, especially the Tet Offensive, reporting on Haditha, the Swift Boaters, etc., were just too complicated to wrap up easily. For cases that require a deeper analysis, try mediamythbusters.com. I also tried to include only examples that had fairly unambiguous resolutions, such as a reporter getting fired, officially disciplined, resigning, or successfully sued. Plagiarism in particular has shades of gray. If held to a very strict standard, it seems almost everyone who has written anything has committed plagiarism at some time. I did not want to dilute the power of the list by including questionable cases.
Yet I'm sure some will think some of the cases are questionable. Jimmy Carter, for example, still defends his book. All I can say is start your search engines and hold on. I became convinced that every case in the list at least passes the "preponderance of the evidence" level of proof, if not "beyond a reasonable doubt".
- 1. ABC, Food Lion story (1992). Fraudulent techniques and probable fabrication. Two ABC producers lied on their resumes to get jobs at Food Lion. They each wore a wig hiding a tiny lipstick-sized camera, and each carried a concealed microphone. It's possible they shot footage of mishandled food by doing the mishandling themselves. Food Lion sued ABC and a jury awarded it $5.5 million.
- 2. ABC 20/20 "Exploding Fords" story (1978). Staged footage. Similar to the later NBC "exploding" GM trucks episode, ABC aired "grossly misleading crash videos and simulations, withheld the same sorts of material facts about the tests, and relied on the same dubious experts with the same ties to the plaintiffs bar... viewers were shown a crash fire and explosion without being told it had been started by an incendiary device."
- 3. ABC 20/20, "Buckwheat" (of the Little Rascals) story. (1990). Fell for hoax. "In 1990 the ABC program 20/20 was hoaxed into believing that Billy "Buckwheat" Thomas was alive and working as a grocery bagger in Tempe, Arizona. (Thomas actually died in 1980.) A segment broadcast October 5 with narrator Hugh Downs featured an impostor."
- 4. Ron Borges, Boston Globe sports writer (2007). Plagiarism. The Globe suspended him for two months "after allegations that he had plagiarized a portion of a football column from another sportswriter." He retired from the Globe when his suspension ended.
- 5. CBS 60 Minutes, the "Runaway Audi" (1989). "... drilled a hole in an Audi transmission and pumped in air at high pressure. Viewers didn't see the drill or the pump-just the doctored car blasting off like a rocket. The story starred a mother who had run over her six-year-old son. On the air, she insisted that she had had her foot on the brake the whole time. When her $48 million claim came to court in Akron, Ohio, in June 1988 the investigating police officer and witnesses at the scene testified that after the accident the distraught mother had admitted that her foot had slipped off the brake. The jury found no defect in the car."
- 6. CBS 60 Minutes, Illinois Power story (1979). Erroneous reporting. "The next day, the company's stock fell in the busiest trading day of its history. Illinois Power replied quickly to the story, however, producing a 44-minute videotape that served as a rebuttal to the show. The company sent it to customers, shareholders and investors, corporate executives and other journalists. It was a point-by-point reply to all of the assertions made on the show. In January 1980, CBS admitted to inaccuracies in the story."
- 7. CBS, Dan Rather, The Wall Within (1988). Fell for hoax, liars. This documentary had Dan Rather interviewing six Viet Nam veterans who told stories of slaughter, cruelty and the horrors of war. "You're telling me that you went into the village, killed people, burned part of the village, then made it appear that the other side had done this?" Rather asked. "Yeah. It was kill VC, and I was good at what I did." It turned out that five of the six were never in the service at all, and the sixth, who claimed to be a Navy SEAL, was an equipment repairman and never near combat.
- 8. Maureen Dowd, New York Times (2003). Serious misquoting. She cut words out of one of President Bush's statements, using quotation marks, to imply he said al-Qaida is no longer a problem. He was really referring only to those who were dead or captured.
- 9. Andrew Gilligan, BBC (2004). False/unsubstantiated reporting. He reported that the UK government had exaggerated the threat by Saddam to justify going to war. His report was largely based on an interview with weapons expert David Kelly. His story was found to be "defective" and his claims "unfounded" by Lord Hutton's investigation. Gilligan resigned and Kelly committed suicide.
- 10. Michael Isikoff, Newsweek (2005). False/unsubstantiated reporting. The Newsweek article claimed that a U.S. interrogator at a Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down the toilet (2005). "Anti-U.S. fanatics seized on the report to stir up riots that have left more than a dozen people dead in Pakistan and Afghanistan." There is no evidence such a thing ever happened, and most of us wonder how it would even be possible.
- 11. Martin Luther King, Doctor of Theology, Nobel Peace Prize winner (1950's). Plagiarism. Parts of his PhD thesis were plagiarized. A Boston University committee found that he was "responsible for knowingly misappropriating the borrowed materials that he failed to cite or to cite adequately... that is a straightforward breach of academic norms and that constitutes plagiarism as commonly understood." The committee chairman added, "under no circumstances would the atmosphere under which he did his work condone what Dr. King did. It's incredible. He was not unaware of the correct procedure. This wasn't just done out of ignorance." His degree was not revoked, but the university did attach a letter to his dissertation explaining the plagiarism.
- 12. Dennis Love, Sacramento Bee (2001). Fabrication and plagiarism. "The Sacramento Bee fired Love for plagiarizing and fabricating material in his stories on the presidential campaign."
- 13. Bob Morris, Orlando Sentinel (1993). Plagiarism. "The Sentinel discovered that Morris had written a column for the paper in October 1993 that was essentially the same as one published eleven years earlier by Mike Harden... Punishment was moot since Morris was no longer on the Sentinel staff. But the paper published an apology to its readers and made a cash settlement to Harden."
- 14. New Orleans Times-Picayune The New Orleans Times-Picayune and many other newspapers reported rumors, hoaxes and lies. The NOTP came clean and critiqued itself and others who "... described inflated body counts, unverified ‘rapes', and unconfirmed sniper attacks as among examples of ‘scores of myths about the dome and Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials'." Also see Popular Mechanics for a refutation of Katrina myths.
- 15. Michael Olesker, Baltimore Sun (2006). Plagiarism. "Veteran Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker, who has been in a high-profile feud with Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, was dismissed yesterday over several instances in which he used, without attribution, wording similar to that employed by other journalists."
- 16. Mirthala Salinas anchor for Emmy Award winning newscast on KVEA-TV in Los Angeles (2007). She was having an affair with LA's mayor while reporting on him. Station executives were still deciding her fate as of July.
- 17. Ruth Shalit, The New Republic (1995). Lying/fabricating and plagiarism. She was fired.
- 18. Gail Sheehy author (1976). "Manhattan Journalist Gail Sheehy, in preparing her 1976 bestseller Passages, borrowed enough from [UCLA Psychiatrist Roger] Gould's unpublished research that the psychiatrist sued for plagiarism. The suit was settled out of court, with Gould receiving $10,000 and 10% of Sheehy's royalties."
- 19. Washington Post (and others), "Plastic Turkey" story (2003). Lying or false reporting. The Post and a host of other media, including the New York Times, reported that President Bush was photographed with a plastic turkey rather than a real one when he visited troops in Iraq on Thanksgiving. The story was used to paint the White House as a public relations spin machine, with policy just as fake as the turkey. But in fact, the turkey was real. Multiple newspapers issued corrections.
- 20. Gary Webb, Pulitzer Prize winner, San Jose Mercury News (1996). Lying. He wrote the series of articles saying the CIA under President Reagan brought crack cocaine to Los Angeles. "Major parts of Webb's reporting were later discredited by other newspaper investigations. An investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department found no evidence of a connection between the CIA and the drug traffickers. In 1997, then-Mercury News executive editor Jerry Ceppos backed away from the series, saying ‘we fell short at every step of our process.' Webb was transferred to one of the paper's suburban bureaus." He committed suicide in 2004, but remains a hero to many conspiracy theorists.
- 21. Micah Wright. Author and anti-war activist (2003). Liar. Claimed to be a former U.S. Ranger and combat veteran. His book, You Back the Attack! We'll Bomb Who We Want!, was endorsed by novelist Kurt Vonnegut and historian Howard Zinn. He was never in the military.