Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WARNING SIGNS ON KELLEY....Over at Romenesko they're having fun with Jack Kelley. I especially like this letter from Kathryn Quigley:

Here is the part of the series that struck me the most, the quote in the sidebar that reads: "In at least 10 cases, Kelley wrote that he watched someone die." WHAT? Didn't that raise red flags to anyone? I was a daily reporter for 12 years. I saw my share of dead bodies (from car accidents, etc., covered in sheets) but no one ever died RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. TEN TIMES. If this were true, Kelley would be the Grim Reaper or something.I certainly wouldn't invite him to parties!

....I am adviser to a high school newspaper and these scandals are causing me to keep an eye on ALL my student writers - good and sloppy - instead of just giving the "good" writers a pass and thinking, "No, they could never plagiarize." Because it turns out, maybe they could!

It's true that it's mostly star reporters who get caught up in these high profile scandals, but that actually makes sense, doesn't it? Perhaps that's how some of them became star reporters in the first place? John McCloskey writes something along similar line:

I think it's high time everyone stopped spinning in circles, pointing fingers at the journalists who got caught in ethical lapses. As a regular civilian I've been close enough to a handful of stories to know first hand that reporters, no matter what publication they represent, regularly concoct quotations and conversations, imply that they witnessed events that they could not possibly have witnessed and plain ole make stuff up. I have seen gross errors that went uncorrected in The Times (of course), The NY Post, The Boston Globe and even (heaven forbid) The New Yorker magazine.

....This has been going on since the invention of writing. I would bet every cent I have in the world that if every reporter at every major paper was subjected to the same kind of scrutiny that has been focused on Kelley and Blair, a ghastly amount of errors and gross fabrications would be discovered.

I was a journalism major in college, and I have long suspected this is true, sometimes in minor ways and sometimes more seriously. As McCloskey says, the only way to know for sure would be to subject other reporters to the same kind of investigation Kelley and Blair got, and like him I'll bet that if you did this more than one well known reporter would end up without a career when it was over.

(For some reason Romenesko has never put permalinks on his letters, so these may have disappeared into the abyss by the time you click the link. Just keep scrolling if you really want to read the whole thing.)

Kevin Drum 7:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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