The Wall of Journalism Shame


Stephen Glass

 The New Republic determined that at least 27 of 41 stories written by Glass for the magazine contained fabricated material. Of the remaining 14, former TNR executive editor Charles Lane said, "In fact, I'd bet lots of the stuff in those other fourteen is fake, too. ... It's not like we're vouching for those fourteen, that they're true. They're probably not, either."

Three other magazines, Rolling Stone, George and Harper's, which Glass contributed to, also reviewed his work. Rolling Stone and Harper's found the material generally accurate but had no way of verifying information from anonymous sources. George discovered Glass fabricated quotes in a profile piece and apologized to the article's subject, Vernon Jordan, a Clinton advisor.

Glass completed his law degree at Georgetown University Law Center after being fired by TNR. In 2003, he began appearing on television to promote his "biographical novel" "The Fabulist."

"I wanted them to think I was a good journalist, a good person. I wanted them to love the story so they would love me,"  he told Steve Kroft of CBS News' "60 Minutes" in an interview. He also used his time on national television to apologize to his ex-coworkers. His detractors, however, suspected these signs of contrition were merely to promote his book and believed Glass still could not be trusted.


Jayson Blair

Jayson Blair (born March 23, 1976, Columbia, Maryland) is a former New York Times reporter who was caught plagiarizing and fabricating elements of his stories in the Spring of 2003.

 Blair was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Diamondback, for the 1996-97 school year. According to a letter later signed by 30 staffers, Blair made four serious errors as a reporter and editor that called his integrity into question. Among the alleged errors, they cited an award-winning story about a student who died of a cocaine overdose, who was subsequently found to have actually died of a heart complication. Despite these criticisms by colleagues, some of which were aired at the time, the College of Journalism (technically unaffiliated with the paper) gave him a positive recommendation.

 Blair became a summer intern at The New York Times in 1998, and at the conclusion was offered an extended internship. He indicated that he had to complete some coursework in order to graduate, and the Times agreed to defer it. He returned to The Times in January of 1999, claiming he had received his degree, when in fact he had not. In November 1999, he became an "intermediate reporter."

 By 2000, his editors were rebuking Blair for the high error rate in his articles and his sloppy work habits, but in January 2001, despite making more mistakes than any other reporter in the paper's Metro section, Blair was made a full-time staff reporter.

 After several more mistakes, poor evaluations and a period of leave during which Blair was said to be dealing with "personal problems," Blair's editor Jonathan Landman sent a memo to management, warning them "to stop Jayson from writing for The New York Times. Right now." Instead, in 2002, Blair was promoted to the national desk.

 Despite recurring questions about his performance, he was assigned to the Beltway sniper attacks, in particular because he knew the area and seemed "hungry." Blair wrote 52 stories during the sniper attacks. His reporting errors were so serious that one led a prosecutor to hold a press conference to denounce it (the claim "all the evidence" pointed to Lee Boyd Malvo being the shooter). The error rate of Blair's material again became an issue internally. In another instance, Fairfax County, Va., prosecutor Bob Horan claimed that 60 percent of a story written by Blair, in which he was quoted, was inaccurate.

 Despite such accusations and a slew of corrections the paper was forced to make in the wake of his reporting, Blair continued to cover critical stories for the Times, moving from the sniper attacks to national coverage of the Iraq war. In his four years at The Times, Blair wrote over 600 articles.

 On April 28, 2003, Blair received a call from Times' national editor Jim Roberts, asking him about similarities between a story he had written two days earlier [1] and one written by San Antonio Express-News reporter Macarena Hernandez on April 18. Hernandez had had a summer internship at The Times years earlier, and had worked alongside Blair. She contacted The Times after details and quotes in Blair's story appeared exactly the same as in hers.

 Blair's plagiarism of Hernandez’ article was so blatant that it led to further pressing by Times' editors, who asked him to prove that he had, in fact, traveled to Texas and interviewed the woman in his article. After being unable to provide proof, Blair resigned from The Times on May 2, 2003. After the resignation, a full investigation of all of Blair’s articles began.

 The Times reported on Blair's journalistic misdeeds in an unprecedented 7,239-word front-page story which ran on May 11, 2003, headlined "Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception." The story called the Blair scandal "a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper."

 Blair authored the memoir "Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at the New York Times," released on March 6, 2004. In the book, he accused the Times of racism, and described his ethical lapses as the result of previous drug problems and bipolar disorder.

 After resigning from the Times, Blair returned to college and said he planned to go into human resources. Though he remains a controversial figure, Blair has gained some public acceptance as an advocate for the mentally ill. Blair has made efforts to start support groups, counsel families and those with mental illnesses, and has spoken to college and business audiences about mental health and substance abuse issues.


Janet Cooke, Washington Post (1980-1981)

 Janet Cooke was a reporter for the Washington Post during the early 1980s. In 1980 her story, "Jimmy's World", about an 8 year old heroin addict, sparked a frenzied 17-day scouring of Washington, D.C. at the behest of then-Mayor Marion Barry, in search of child addicts: none were found. Nevertheless, the article won a 1981 Pulitzer Prize for journalism. The day after Cooke won the award, her editors confronted her about discrepancies in her resume brought to their attention by The Toledo Blade, where she once worked, such as her fraudulent claim that she attended Vassar College. Cooke confessed that "Jimmy" was a fabrication — she said in later interviews that she had heard of such a boy on the streets, but created him to get her editors off of her back. Cooke resigned and the Post returned the prize.


Patricia Smith, The Boston Globe (1998)

 Shortly after the Glass affair, award-winning columnist Patricia Smith was asked to resign from the Boston Globe. Smith, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist that year and won the American Society of Newspaper Editors' Distinguished Writing Award for column-writing, admitted to putting fictional people in four of her columns. The Globe later returned her ASNE award.

 Race also became a touchy point in Smith's firing. Some critics accused the Globe of firing Smith, who is black, while giving columnist Mike Barnicle a suspension for misdeeds. Columnist Eileen McNamara, on the other hand, wrote that Smith's race made her editors give her the benefit of the doubt when she had been previously suspected of fabrications.

 "It was the worst sort of racism that kept us from confronting the fraud we long suspected. If we did ask, and she did tell, we might lose her, and where would we be then? Where would we find an honest black woman columnist who wrote with such power and grace?" McNamara wrote.

 Her editors proved that Smith's sources were fake when they could not find people in her columns, like cosmetologist "Janine Byrne," whose jobs are state-licensed.


Mike Barnicle, The Boston Globe (1998)

 Mike Barnicle was a long-time journalist for the Boston Globe who was removed from his position at about the same time as colleague Patricia Smith. Barnicle was accused of violating several rules of reporting, but was removed from the Globe when it was discovered he fabricated quotes from parents of a sick child.


Jay Forman, Slate (2001)

 Jay Forman a feature reporter for online magazine slate wrote an article titled "Monkeyfishing". The story was about an underground extreme sport that involved using fruit to fish for monkeys on an isolated Florida Key. It was exposed as a hoax by the Wall Street Journal.

 Jack Shafer, Foreman's editor at Slate, later wrote: "When Forman [...] turned in a first, flat draft about his Florida Keys adventure, I encouraged him through several rewrites to add more writerly detail to increase the piece's verisimilitude. Forman complied, inventing numerous twists to the tale [...] The lesson I learned isn't to refrain from asking writers for detail but to be skeptical about details that sound too good or that you had to push too hard to get the writer to uncover or that are suspicious simply because any writer worth his salt would have put them in his first draft. All that said, it's almost impossible for an editor to beat a good liar every time out.


Mary Mapes, Dan Rather and "Memogate" (2004)

 During the 2004 US presidential campaign, CBS and Dan Rather were responsible for using what were probably forged documents during a Sept. 8, 2004 60 Minutes Wednesday report on George W. Bush's Vietnam era service record.

 Producer Mary Mapes bore the brunt of the criticism. She was accused of liberal bias for working on the story for five years and putting Bill Burkett, the source of the memos, in contact with Democratic challenger John Kerry's campaign. The panel investigation into what was called "Memogate" and "Rathergate" accused Mapes of gross negligence for "crashing" the story six days after she received the copies of the memos and doing "virtually nothing" to establish a chain of custody. No original documents have been produced.

 The aftermath of the independent investigation's report released on January 10, 2005 led to the firing of Mapes. She later wrote a book arguing that the memos were real. Yet paradoxically Mapes also advanced a conspiracy theory that White House advisor Karl Rove had planted the memos in order to deflect attention from Bush's service record during the Vietnam War. Three others, Josh Howard, executive producer of 60 Minutes Wednesday; his top deputy Mary Murphy; and senior vice president Betsy West, were asked to resign.

 Rather stepped down as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" on March 9, 2005, with about two years left on his contract. Although denied by Rather and CBS, many critics believe that his early retirement was a direct result of the scandal. Rather has since told reporters that even if the documents are fakes, he stands by the story.


The Boston Globe's Fake "GI Rape" Photographs(2004)

 In May of 2004, the Boston Globe published photographs it alleged were of United States soldiers abusing and raping women in Iraq. Shortly thereafter, these photographs were stated to be commercially-produced pornography that were originally published on a web site named "Sex in War". At the time, other news sources claimed to have already exposed the photographs as fake at least a week before the Boston newspaper published them.


Fake American hostage, Associated Press (2005)

 The Associated Press moved a story on February 1 with a picture of what appeared to be an American soldier held hostage in Iraq. The story stated that the captors would kill the soldier in 72 hours unless Iraqi prisoners were freed.

 Within hours after the story was published, bloggers who noticed that the photo looked odd figured out that the "hostage" was in fact a G.I. Joe Air force special operations doll named "Cody."

 The hoax, which ran on the heels of Memogate at CBS, further sullied the media's reputation for fact-checking. United States Central Command had not reported any soldiers missing at the time. Furthermore, some bloggers noted that the "hostage" was allowed to keep his equipment and grenades, which is not something that militants experienced enough to capture a U.S. soldier would do.


Barbara Stewart, The Boston Globe (2005)

 In the spring of 2005, the Boston Globe ran a story describing the events of a seal hunt near Halifax, Nova Scotia that took place on April 12, 2005. The article described the specific number of boats involved in the hunt and graphically described the killing of seals and the protests that accompanied it. The reality is that weather had delayed the hunt, which had not even begun by April 13, the day the story had been filed, and was rescheduled to start, at the earliest, on April 15, three days after Ms. Stewart (who had worked for the New York Times for a decade previous) "described" the events of said hunt. As there was no hunt to describe, the story was obviously fabricated. As of yet, Ms. Stewart has not commented on filing this story describing events that never occurred.


Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press (2005)

Detroit Free Press ("Freep") star columnist Mitch Albom wrote a column April 3 about the April 2 NCAA Final Four game against Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina stating that Michigan basketball alumni Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson were watching in the stands. They were not – they apparently told Albom earlier that they would be attending, but they had a change of plans.

 The Freep disciplined Albom and four other employees, arguing that Albom, also a best-selling author and radio personality, was too busy and took an unethical shortcut. Critics accused the newspaper of having a lower set of standards for its "star" writer, and argued that Albom's description of what Cleaves and Richardson were wearing was clearly fabrication, a first-time firing offense for many journalism operations.

 The paper did not reveal how the five employees were disciplined – Albom's column did not appear for several weeks as the Freep investigated the transgression.


Eric Slater, Los Angeles Times (2005)

The Los Angeles Times fired veteran reporter Eric Slater in April 2005 after he wrote an article on hazing at Chico State University that was so inaccurate and relied so heavily on unnamed sources that questions arose about whether Slater fabricated the piece or actually visited Chico at all. Slater also quoted the university president by lifting a quote from a local paper without attribution. University staff received an apology from the Times, which the president felt was inadequate.

 Slater's mistakes humiliated the Times because the error-laden story ran two days after former media critic David Shaw wrote in his column that Internet bloggers do not deserve protection under journalistic "shield laws" because their work has no editorial oversight.