that's news to us
or complete bullshit, one of the two
by dan gonzalez
First there was Jayson Blair, he of the creative school of journalism, riding lies, plagiarism, and the coattails of affirmative action to great personal success at the fabled 'grey lady', the NY Times. Then there was the massive BBC, government subsidized, haters of that same government--the very hand that feeds them--and now reknowned manglers of truth. And now there is Jack Kelley of USA Today, who spent the better part of the last 2 decades--for lack of a better term--making shit up out of thin air.
Apparently bullshit doesn't discriminate.
There's a little bit in all of us. And if you've read any of my stuff on this fine website, you've seen plenty of mine, I'll be the first to tell you.
But these jackasses have taken it to another level. What were they thinking? Better yet, what were their jackass editors, managers, and executives thinking? Or were they thinking at all?
Alas, the fourth estate has fallen. Instead of advocating the common folk, they lie to us. But worse, these punks managed to get their editors to lie as well. Because these middle-managers advocate themselves and their own profits more than anything else, they practically have to. And that's what they must have been thinking the whole time: how can we get through this, maintain and retain credibility so people will continue to buy our rags? Nothing else explains the nature of their actions.
Marcus Aurelius, who said many wise things in Latin, said something pretty close to 'the first question to ask when approaching any subject of inquiry is of what is it's true nature?' Because I'm a bit of a simpleton, and I don't speak Latin, I sum this useful tidbit up as 'you are what you do.' The true nature of a chair is that it holds up your ass and either adds to, or detracts from--as the case may be--the decor of the room. The true nature of an ideal institution of the press is that it reports unbiased factual information or clearly demarcated opinions. You'd think it would be pretty easy to separate the two. In either case, complete fiction is never a part of it.
Consequently I ask, what goes on? Not in the minds of these skullduggerous lying reporters, mind you. We're all liars, I'm lying right now with my choice of words, the way they're organized on this page, and my ultimate goal of baiting you to read on. I don't even know if skullduggerous is a word. I'm writing this in notepad which doesn't have a spell checker. What's more, I've never even used that word before and I have a healthy suspicion that I just made it up to emphasize my point. [Editor's note: skullduggerous does not appear in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language.] Anyone can lie, all it takes is a small bit of creativity and some minor sociopathic tendencies.
But really, what goes on in the mind of the people that run these 'institutions'? Consider their responses to the crises. The NY Times accepted the resignation of 3 senior editor/managers. They then promptly moved on. The BBC? They accepted resignations, and moved on. The USA Today? They are in the process of accepting the resignation of several editors, one of whom said "It's in the best interest of USA Today that I hereby resign from my post as..." blah blah blah.
That is not in their best interest, firing someone's sorry ass is! But again, you are what you do. And if a company (to refer to them as institutions any longer would give them too much credit) accepts resignations from people who directly or indirectly violated our trust, said company's only viable commodity, in lieu of firing them for malfeasance, then I shall assume that said company's primary interests lie with themselves and not us.
This all came up in the midst of a huge self-investigation of USA Today that you may have read about here. Among other tidbits, the fact that Jack Kelley lied about this battle in Afghanistan stands out, because it's something no one could corroborate and we're all completely dependent on to inform us as to what's going on there.
Other details of USA Today's crises stand out as well, including the fact they ignored several complaints over the years about Kelley's work and "did not act until they got an anonymous complaint about Kelley last year after The New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was caught in published falsehoods."
How long were people getting away with this before Jayson Blair got caught? How long have editors been letting people get away with this?
They caught Kelley a day late, and a dollar and however many faux news stories short. Worse, the investigators, all of which are news editors from other rags, found that "[USA Today's] initial investigation of Kelley last year was fatally flawed 'because the investigators set out to prove he had been guilty of nothing,' rather than conducting an impartial review with no preconceptions."
Good grief, their own chosen investigators are telling them their entire organization is fraught with weakness and is practically cultivating idiots like this, and their response is to accept resignations?
Why not step up and fire somebody, dammit? It's time for someone to get shit-canned in disgrace over this. Personally, I'd like to see them dragged out to the town square so we could all throw rotten fruit at them. I don't want to hurt them, but public humiliation could go a long way here, particularly because it is the public, not their own profits, that they supposedly serve. At least they pretend to serve us when they're hiding behind the first amendment, giving good face-time to that right while calculating their profits behind the scenes.
Oh well, you are what you do, as I say, in my poor slob's interpretation of Marcus Aurelius. I do not like the true nature that I have ascertained from inquiring into this particular subject.
What would Aurelius have thought of this, I wonder? A great emperor, he loved philosophy, and strove to overcome all obstacles with honesty, virtue, and peace by all accounts. He was the last of the so-called five great emperors, and reigned in a particular time of turbulence, just a couple hundred years before the ultimate fall of that empire.
What ensued after that fall is popularly known as 'The Dark Ages.' It seems to me, absent of truth, virtue, and the honest obligation to properly persecute known corrupters of enlightenment, our media may have us headed in just such a direction.
Maybe it's you, maybe it's Dan. Things aren't quite the way they should be. And now it seems Dan's peace of mind has come up for the bidding, and those that he respects and trusts must all have been just kidding. Dan's little world has lost control, but still it keeps on spinnin'...
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4.25.04 @ 5:44p
It seems to me, absent of truth, virtue, and the honest obligation to properly persecute known corrupters of enlightenment, our media may have us headed in just such a direction.
Well said. Perhaps the problem is that true enlightenment of the masses could seriously impact the bottom line. If we could attain common ground, a set of fundamental truths, it would be more difficult for those in power to keep us fighting amoungst ourselves. With a clear enlightened mind, many might begin to see who and what it is that is causing the majority of our societal problems.
4.25.04 @ 11:33p
I am a great believer in truth, as a weapon as well as something that sets one free. However, truth is fluid. When a person looks at the truth he doesn't always see the same thing others see.
4.26.04 @ 7:44a
When a person looks at the truth he doesn't always see the same thing others see.
Interestingly enough, the same could be said for interpreting statistics. Coincidence? I think not.
4.26.04 @ 10:18a
Let me ask a question, Dan - are you angrier that a reporter lied or that his editors were allowed to resign, rather than get fired?
4.26.04 @ 1:29p
If that is unclear perhaps I lacked focus, need a rewrite and posted this too soon. Also, I'm not so much angry as questioning the future credibility of the publishers.
I think the big problem is that the editors completely failed in their jobs but weren
't rebuked. Accepting a resignation is a courtesy you would expect on amicable partings, not one in which the resigning party was completely negligent and failed.
In the big scheme of things, it doesn't matter what an individual reporter does, a couple of liars can be dealt with. But how can an agency be credible if their chain-of-command has completely failed and they refuse to punish those responsible? In this case, the failure was to edit, mitigate conjecture, and publish truthful stories, their main job description as I understand it. In the real world, people get fired for this. How will they ensure future editors perform this function properly?
4.27.04 @ 8:53a
Dan, what's your view on the NRA starting their own news service to get around campaign finance laws that limit donations from special interest groups?
4.27.04 @ 3:34p
what's your view on the NRA starting their own news service to get around campaign finance laws that limit donations from special interest groups?
I wasn't aware of it, but I don't like the sound of it. Normally, I credit the NRA for advocating the lawful, responsible bearing of arms since they do much in the way of safety and unbiased education.
This seems to be an extreme measure.
5.4.04 @ 7:14p
A pleasure to see Marcus Aurelius in anyone's gallery post. The lying newspaper staff hardly shocks me. I am sure that it will eventually come out that all those reality shows were fixed from Adam.
5.4.04 @ 9:29p
The NRA's news service has competition...
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - An investor group headed by former Vice President Al Gore said Tuesday it is buying a cable channel and launching a news network that will offer "irreverent and bold" programming for young adults.
Gore will serve as chairman of the board and said he will devote most of his time to the network. Also announcing the acquisition was Joel Hyatt, an entrepreneur and former finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee who lost a bid for the Senate in Ohio in 1994.
"Having learned from both the successes and failures of other cable networks, we are confident this is a winning concept," said Hyatt, who will serve as chief executive.
Hyatt said the programming will include traditional news formats like documentaries. But he used words like "irreverent and bold" to describe the tone of the programming, which he said will include news comedies and other "formats you haven't seen before."
5.5.04 @ 12:02a
It doesn't matter. Gannett owns USA Today and the majority of the other newspapers in the country. USA Today accepted the resignations because today, news is not "news" - news is entertainment and ratings and sales.
And before someone (Matt) says "NPR!" - let's not forget what they just did to Bob Edwards for no particular reason. OH - that's right. The reason was Joan Kroc's $200 MILLION bestowment.
Matt* attended a news conference this past weekend, and a 92-year-old newsman named Jack Shelley was there. Matt* has previoulsy received the prestigious Jack Shelley Award, an honor given fo integrity combined with outstanding journalism. Shelley recounted some days of old, like when he spoke with the pilot of the Enola Gay after the bombing, the signing of the treaty at Pearl Harbor, and a few other notable events. He then went on to say that all of journalism today is rotted and corrupted by the monopolistic news organizations only after the dollar.
5.5.04 @ 12:08a
In the interest of historical accuracy (and as a recovering journalist) I'm obliged to suggest that you're referring to the signing of the articles of surrender in Tokyo Bay.
Sounds like Shelley was a hell of a newsie. Reminds me of how much I miss David Brinkley.
5.5.04 @ 12:26a
Yeah. Those. Absolutely. I'm tired, and was tired when I heard the story. I know there were Japanese people there and a description of hands shaking as things were being signed.
smack! (Matt* just bapped me, from the other room, while sleeping.)
Shelley was AWESOME. As were Brinkley and Cronkite.
At a news function in New Orleans, I sat with a table of newshounds at the very moment of their discovery of Cronkite at the very next table!!!, eating Bananas Foster.
The hijinx did ensue, and all I could do was roll my eyes. They finally just agreed to let the poor guy eat his lunch in peace.
5.5.04 @ 8:00a
There are ENOUGH news channels and ENOUGH sports channels already. Wonder what quality cable channels we'll lose in the package so NRA and Gore networks can be on the non-digital section of the dial.
If they dare to touch TLC, TCM, AMC, HGTV or Food Network I'm cancelling my cable subscription and going back to rabbit ears and dial-up internet service.
5.7.04 @ 11:12p
I am always interested in anything having to do with journalistic integrity,
and media structure as a whole. I found your article to be very well written and so true. It reflects exactly how I feel about the whole scenario. I can express my firsthand frustration, as I was a journalism major, but switched to English/creative writing due to some of the very issues that are so prevalent and problematic in our media culture.
5.8.04 @ 3:45a
as I was a journalism major, but switched to English/creative writing
Zounds, smallish world. I started out as a journalism major but only finished (7 or so odd years later!) with a creative writing degree.
Maybe we are kindred spirits because of that, but it's sure nice to hear that my vulgar, swearing, ranting style didn't completely alienate you, an obviously intelligent, sensitive writer based on what I've read. Thanks so much, I'm very glad you could relate, that is what it's all about for me.