August 16, 2007
It's Not Just Scott Beauchamp
"Matt Drudge's role in the Monica Lewinski scandal] strikes me as a new and graphic power of the Internet to influence mainstream journalism. And I suspect that over the next couple of years that impact will grow to the point where it will damage journalism's ability to do its job professionally, to check out information before publication, to be mindful of the necessity to publish and broadcast reliable, substantiated information." -- Marvin Kalb in 1998
Scott Beauchamp was the last straw. I realized that I need a scorecard to keep track of all the fallen journalists, journalistic mistakes and major and minor screw-ups in the media. I couldn't find one already made, although Wikipedia came close, so I started my own. I apologize if there is a good list already out there, but I looked and could not find.
Offenses include lying and fabricating, doctoring photos, plagiarism, conflicts of interest, falling for hoaxes, and overt bias. Some are hilarious, such as an action figure doll being mistaken for a real soldier. Some are silly, such as reporting on a baseball game watched on TV. Some are more serious.
I leave it to you to judge whether the internet damaged "journalism's ability to do its job professionally", as Marvin Kalb accuses, or if the internet has in fact helped expose an already damaged "profession".
I doubt if my list is comprehensive, but I think it's a good start. So that I'm not accused of plagiarism myself, I would like to give credit to Wikipedia for many of the entries on this list. And all the information below can be found with a little internet searching; I just could not find it all in one place. I do give at least one source for each item, embedded in the text.
- Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press (2005). Lying/fabricating. In his sports column, he described alumni players at a basketball game who were not even there.
- Stephen Ambrose, historian/author (2002). Plagiarism. He was almost a book "factory", writing eight books in five years. But that apparently came easier when parts were copied from other books, without attribution.
- Associated Press (AP) (2005). Fell for hoax and phony photo. The AP ran a story, with a photo, about a soldier held hostage in Iraq. The photo turned out to be that of an action figure doll; there was no such soldier.
- Mike Barnicle, Boston Globe (1998). Lying/fabricating and plagiarism. Totally made up stories, including one about a black kid and a white kid with cancer. Also used quotes from George Carlin as his own. Fired from the Boston Globe.
- Maria Bartiromo, CNBC (2007). Conflict of interest. She dated a Citicorp executive and received special treatment from him, and also owned stock in Citicorp while doing financial reporting for CNBC, including reporting on Citicorp.
- Scott Beauchamp, The New Republic (2007). Lying. TNR hired this U.S. Army private and husband of one of its own reporters to write first-hand accounts from Iraq. One of his accounts, supposedly demonstrating the dehumanizing effects of the Iraq war on him and fellow soldiers, occurred in Kuwait before Beauchamp even entered Iraq. Other parts of his writing are likely false, and if not, constitute military crimes on his part. In fact, his anonymous writing from a war zone is likely against military rules. This story is currently unfolding.
- Nada Behziz, The Bakersfield Californian (2005). Lying/fabricating and plagiarism. Writing mostly on health issues, she plagiarized from the New York Times and AP, made up sources, and got basic facts wrong. An investigation counted 29 fabricated or plagiarized articles. She also lied on her resume. She was fired.
- Michael Bellesiles, professor of history, author of Arming America and recipient of Columbia University's Bancroft Prize. Lying/fabricating. He made "myth shattering" claims about the history of guns in America that were based on fabricated historical records. He resigned from Emory University.
- Joe Biden, U.S. Senator and candidate for President (1988). Plagiarism. He withdrew from the 1988 presidential race after being discovered "delivering, without attribution, passages from a speech by British Labor party leader Neil Kinnock... a serious plagiarism incident involving Biden during his law school years; the senator's boastful exaggerations of his academic record at a New Hampshire campaign event; and the discovery of other quotations in Biden's speeches pilfered from past Democratic politicians." He's still a Senator, and back in the race for 2008.
- Jayson Blair, The New York Times (2003). Lying/fabricating. He fabricated parts or all of at least 36 stories. He, along with his bosses Gerald Boyd and Howell Raines, resigned from the NYT.
- The Boston Globe (2004). Fake photos, fake story. The Boston Globe published pictures alleging U.S. troops raped Iraqi women. The pictures turned out to be commercially available pornography.
- Paul Bradley Richmond Times-Dispatch (2006). Lying/fabricating. Made up his story on reactions to President Bush's speech on immigration. He fabricated interviews. He reported on an event in the first person, yet he was not even in the same town. He was fired.
- Rick Bragg, The New York Times (2003). "Drive-by" reporting. "Bragg's defense -- that it is common for Times correspondents to slip in and out of cities to ‘get the dateline' while relying on the work of stringers, researchers, interns and clerks -- has sparked more passionate disagreement than the clear-cut fraud and plagiarism committed by Blair. The issue, put starkly, is whether readers are being misled about how and where a story was reported." He resigned.
- Fox Butterfield, New York Times (2000). Lying/fabricating and plagiarism. In 2003, a federal jury ruled that "the New York Times and one of its reporters libeled an Ohio Supreme Court justice" in an article published April 13, 2000. The jury found that the article was "not substantially true". He also "had lifted material from a story in The Boston Globe while reporting, ironically, on plagiarism by a Boston University dean".
- Thom Calandra, Marketwatch.com (2005). Conflict of interest. He profited by selling stocks shortly after giving them positive write-ups in his newsletter. The SEC brought suit against him, which was settled.
- Jimmy Carter, former U.S. President, Nobel Peace Prize winner and author of Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid. Lying, plagiarism, bias. His book was so full of errors, including doctored maps, that his chief collaborator, Kenneth Stein of Emory University, resigned his position with the Carter Center. Carter's book was condemned by Alan Dershowitz and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among others.
- CBS, Dan Rather, Mary Mapes (2004). Fell for fake documents. CBS used forged documents from a non-credible source in claiming George W. Bush received favored treatment in the Air National Guard.
- Chris Cecil, Cartersville Daily News (2005). Plagiarism. "The associate managing editor of a small Georgia newspaper was fired for plagiarizing articles by a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald, including copying a passage about his mother's battle with cancer. Chris Cecil, 28, was fired from The Daily Tribune News of Cartersville on Thursday after the Herald pointed out six to eight columns written since March that contained portions from work by Leonard Pitts Jr."
- Philip Chien, Wired News (2006). Lying/fabricating. He made up sources and quotes in at least three articles. Wired withdrew the stories.
- Ward Churchill, Chairman of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado. Lying and plagiarism. He lied about his credentials and ethnic background to get a job in the first place. His "research" was laden with fabricated evidence, plagiarism and referencing his own previous writings under pseudonyms. He is worthy of Mary McCarthy's quote about Lillian Hellman: "Every word (s)he writes is a lie, including ‘and' and ‘the'." He was fired.
- CNN, Operation Tailwind, CNN NewsStand (1998). Lying/fabricating. The televised special claimed that the U.S. military used nerve gas in a mission to kill American defectors in Laos during the Vietnam War, but the story had no factual support. CNN later retracted the story.
- CNN and Eason Jordan (2003). Admitted bias, slanting the news. Eason Jordan, CNN's news chief, admitted that CNN withheld reporting on Saddam Hussein's atrocities so as to continue getting favored treatment from Saddam.
- Janet Cooke, Washington Post (1980-1981), Pulitzer Prize winner. Lying/fabricating. Her series on "Jimmy's World" about an 8-year-old heroin addict was totally made up.
- Katie Couric, "Katie Couric's Notebook," CBSNews.com (2007). Plagiarism. In the first place, her blog is largely written by someone else. That someone else copied material from The Wall Street Journal, without attribution.
- The Daily Egyptian (2005). Fell for hoax. This student newspaper wrote a series about the family of a soldier in Iraq who subsequently died, except that the whole thing was made up.
- Allan Detrich, The Toledo Blade (2007). Doctored photos. He submitted 79 photographs that were altered. "The changes Mr. Detrich made included erasing people, tree limbs, utility poles, electrical wires, electrical outlets, and other background elements from photographs. In other cases, he added elements such as tree branches and shrubbery." He resigned.
- Stephen Dunphy, Seattle Times associate editor and business columnist (2004). Plagiarism. He used significant quotes (e.g., seven paragraphs at a time) from other sources on multiple occasions. He resigned.
- Walter Duranty, The New York Times (1930s), Pulitzer Prize winner. Lying. This man visited Stalin's Russia and wrote that nothing untoward was happening there -- no famine, etc. In fact, up to 10 million people died in the Ukraine famine. His writings matched Russian propaganda almost exactly. His Pulitzer Prize still stands.
- Joseph Ellis, professor at Mount Holyoke College and historian/author (2001), Pulitzer Prize winner. Lying. He falsely claimed military service in Vietnam and incorporated his war "experiences" into his college courses on "The Vietnam War and American Culture". Mount Holyoke censured him and suspended him without pay for one year.
- Jacob Epstein, novelist (1980). Plagiarism. "Jacob Epstein, responding to charges that he had plagiarized from Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers for his first novel, Wild Oats, has apologized, admitting that he had indeed copied passages and images from Mr. Amis, and from other writers, as well."
- Diana Griego Erwin , Sacramento Bee (2005), lying/fabricating. The Bee was "unable to verify the existence of 43 people she named in her columns". She resigned.
- Hassan Fattah, New York Times (2006). Fell for a hoax. Did a front page story about the man in one of the famous Abu Ghraib photos. But it turned out that the man who claimed to be the one in the picture, who provided details for the story, was not the one in the picture at all.
- James Forlong, Sky News (2003). Fake story, fake footage. He presented footage from a missile test as actual combat in Iraq. He subsequently committed suicide.
- Jay Forman, Slate (2001). Fake story. He wrote an article describing the fictitious sport of Monkey Fishing as real. Slate later published an apology and admitted details were fictitious.
- James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, Oprah Book Club. Lying. Virtually the entire "nonfiction memoir" of his vomit-caked years as an alcoholic, drug addict, and criminal was fabricated.
- Michael Gallagher, The Cincinnati Enquirer (1998). Information theft. "Mike Gallagher had illegally tapped into Chiquita's voice mail system and used information he obtained as a result in stories questioning Chiquita's business practices in Latin America." The paper agreed to pay Chiquita Brands International over $10 million and run an apology on the front page three times.
- Stephen Glass, The New Republic (1998). Lying. "Glass, a 25-year-old rising star at The New Republic, wrote dozens of high-profile articles for a number of national publications in which he made things up...he made up people, places and events. He made up organizations and quotations. Sometimes, he made up entire articles. And to back it all up, he created fake notes, fake voicemails, fake faxes, even a fake Web site - whatever it took to deceive his editors, not to mention hundreds of thousands of readers." He was fired.
- Jacqueline Gonzalez, San Antonio Express News (2007). Plagiarism. She admitted "she used, without attribution, information from a Web site for a Christmas Day column. Later research uncovered further examples of plagiarism in two other columns."
- Doris Kearns Goodwin, historian/author (2002). Plagiarism. Large portions of her book, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, were lifted from multiple other sources without attribution. She took a leave of absence from PBS.
- Adnan Hajj, Reuters (2006). Doctored photos. He doctored dozens of pictures of the 2006 Lebanon-Israel conflict. Reuters later withdrew all 920 of his photos from sale.
- Alex Haley (1977) , Pulitzer Prize winning author of Roots. Plagiarism. He settled a lawsuit for $650,000, admitting that large passages of Roots were copied from the book The African by Harold Courlander.
- Mark Halperin, ABC News (2004). Admitted bias. He wrote a memo to news staff telling them to hold George Bush to a stricter standard than John Kerry: "Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and makes] mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win. We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides ‘equally' accountable when the facts don't warrant that."
- Jack Hitt, New York Times (2006). Lying, or at least really sloppy research. He wrote a story about a woman in El Salvador who was sentenced to prison for having an abortion when she was 18 weeks pregnant. It turned out that "her child was carried to term, was born alive and died in its first minutes of life." In short, her crime was infanticide, not abortion.
- Houston Chronicle, Light Rail Controversy (2002). Admitted bias. An internal memo outlined how the paper would promote the light rail project in Houston and do research into Tom Delay and other light rail opponents. That would be creating the news rather than reporting it.
- Eason Jordan, CNN (2005). False accusations. He accused U.S. forces in Iraq of deliberately targeting and killing journalists. He apologized and resigned.
- Jack Kelley , USA Today (2004). Lying. USA Today concluded of "the star" of its news staff: "Jack Kelley's dishonest reporting dates back at least as far as 1991."
- Jesse MacBeth, anti-war star (2006). Lying/fabricating. "Jesse MacBeth stoked opposition to the Iraq war in 2006 when he spoke out about atrocities he committed as a U.S. Army Ranger serving as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. MacBeth, 23, of Tacoma, claimed to have killed more than 200 people, many at close range, some as they prayed in a mosque. He spoke at an anti-war rally in Tacoma and appeared in a 20-minute anti-war video that circulated widely on the Internet. Trouble is, none of MacBeth's claims was true."
- Rigoberta Menchu, author of I, Rigoberta (1983), Nobel Peace Prize winner (1992). Lying/fabricating. She claimed her autobiographical book "is the story of all poor Guatemalans. My personal experience is the reality of a whole people." However, "Menchú augmented her own story with that of the Indians of Guatemala generally, reporting experiences she either did not have or could not have witnessed and misrepresenting the violent history of her area of Guatemala to support her own cause as a Guatemalan guerrilla organizer."
- Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher (2006). Lying. He admitted to fabricating a story in his younger reporting days.
- NBC, Waiting to Explode segment on Dateline NBC (1992). Faking evidence and footage. NBC demonstrated the explosive danger of GM trucks' gas tanks by showing one actually explode in what appeared to be normal circumstances. "NBC said the truck's gas tank had ruptured, yet an X ray showed it hadn't; NBC consultants set off explosive miniature rockets beneath the truck split seconds before the crash -- yet no one told the viewers."
- Christopher Newton, Associated Press (2002). Lying. "The Associated Press accused Washington bureau reporter Christopher Newton of journalistic fraud last month and sacked him. The AP alleges that in at least 40 of the many hundred stories Newton wrote for the wire service between Jan. 13, 2000, and Sept. 8, 2002, Newton quoted sources who appear not to exist."
- NPR, CNN and others on the "Jenin massacre" (2002). CNN reported: "There's almost a massacre now taking place in Jenin. Helicopter gun ships are throwing missiles at one square kilometer packed with almost 15,000 people in a refugee camp . . . This is a war crime, clear war crime." However, the actual "death toll was 56 Palestinians, the majority of them combatants, and 23 Israeli soldiers."
- Reuters, Lebanon coverage (2006). Fake/staged photos. A burning tire dump as the scene of an Israeli bombing, Photoshopped bomb smoke, etc. during the Lebanon-Israel conflict.
- Reuters Russia's North Pole coverage (2007). More fake photos/footage. "Reuters has been forced to admit that footage it released last week purportedly showing Russian submersibles on the seabed of the North Pole actually came from the movie Titanic." The mistake was caught by a 13-year-old Finnish boy.
- Tim Ryan, Honolulu Star-Bulletin (2006). Plagiarism. This entertainment reporter wrote multiple articles with words lifted from other sources without attribution. He was fired.
- Eric Slater, Los Angeles Times (2005). Inaccuracy and plagiarism. "The LA Times ran a lengthy Editor's Note that outlines the inaccuracies, ‘substandard' reporting methods and unverifiable quotes in two stories by reporter Eric Slater." He was fired.
- Patricia Smith, Boston Globe (1998), Pulitzer Prize finalist. Lying/fabricating "An award-winning metro columnist for The Boston Globe resigned Thursday after being asked to leave by the paper's editor, who said she admitted to fabricating people and quotes in four columns this year." "I attributed quotes to people who didn't exist."
- Barbara Stewart, Boston Globe (2005). Lying/fabricating. "The Boston Globe acknowledged yesterday publishing a partially fabricated story by a freelance reporter about a Canadian seal hunt that had not taken place."
- Nina Totenberg, The National Observer (1972). Plagiarism. She was fired by The National Observer for plagiarism. "Totenberg had allegedly lifted several paragraphs from a Washington Post story and dropped them into a piece she was writing about former House Speaker Tip O'Neill for the now-defunct National Observer." She is currently legal correspondent for NPR.
- Jim Van Vliet, Sacramento Bee (2005). Misrepresentation and plagiarism. "The reporter watched the game on television at a location away from the stadium. He filed his story without telling editors at The Bee his true location, leaving the impression he covered the game from the ballpark. In addition, it was discovered later that the story included quotes from other media outlets that were unattributed and old, made to reporters on a previous occasion before the day of the game." He no longer works there.
- Brian Walski, The Los Angeles Times (2003). Doctored photos. The LA Times admitted that it "published a front-page photograph that had been altered in violation of Times policy."
- Bob Wisehart, Sacramento Bee (1994). Plagiarism. "Sacramento Bee editor Gregory Favre fired TV columnist Bob Wisehart the second time he plagiarized. For the first offense, Wisehart got a five-month suspension even though his plagiarism involved hundreds of words taken from Stephen King's book Danse Macabre for a television column about horror shows."
I conclude with a few observations.
- These offenses have been going on for years, long before the internet. But there does seems to be a rise in the number of reported offenses in recent years. Did the number of offenses go up, or did the fraction of discovered offenses go up?
- In a good number of these cases, the errors were caught by non-journalists, sometimes communicating over the internet.
- If it is "too good to be true", or just too politically correct to be true, take it with a grain of salt - several grains, apparently, if from The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The New Republic, CNN or Reuters.
- The Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize just ain't all they're cracked up to be.
- If this is the visible part of the iceberg, just how big is the iceberg?
If I missed any, or if there is a better list out there, let me know.
Randall Hoven is an engineer living in Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.