Monday, May 9, 2005

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In the LAT David Shaw asks:

As the list of media miscreants continues to grow with the name of a new fabulist or plagiarist added almost daily, it sometimes seems the inevitable question arises: Are there more lazy, careless, duplicitous, dishonest journalists working today than in earlier generations?

Shaw says yes, though he also says that there's greater opportunity to nab miscreants. But he doesn't consider what's probably the biggest reason for the apparent spike in cases of journalistic malfeasance that make the news: our standards are not lower but higher.

This idea came to mind after reading the historian Ron Robin's book Scandals and Scoundrels: Seven Cases that Shook the Academy. Robin points out that there were cases of rogue historians like Stephen Ambrose in previous generations, but they either didn't cause a stir or remained of interest within the academy.

Just so, isn't it possible that just as journalists are now policing more aggressively the behavior of presidential candidates, Cabinet nominees, professors, and other public figures, they're also casting a colder eye on their colleagues? Did anyone miss Jack Shafer's 2003 Slate piece on the fabrications of journalistic gods H.L. Mencken and A.J. Liebling? Maybe there have always been Ruth Shalits, Stephen Glasses, Mitch Alboms and Rodney Rothmans, but no one howled about it.

[You're aware, aren't you, that Shafer doesn't buy that argument? -- Ed. Yes, but the article's so good, it's worth reading anyway.]

And the theory of higher standards may also help explain why journalists are now being let go for minor or even non-offenses.

posted by on 05.09.05 at 06:15 PM


Are there more lazy, careless, duplicitous, dishonest journalists working today than in earlier generations?

I doubt it. Does the name Walter Duranty ring a bell?

posted by: rosignol on 05.09.05 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

A lot of what I see over at Romenesko is squabbling about things that are of no interest at all to me as a reader, to wit, minor plagiarism and patently trivial untruths. To clarify:

1) I can see why I would be pretty annoyed as a writer if someone ripped off my nice turn of phrase. As a reader, I could give a rip. I rarely even look at bylines. (This is part of what people were ticked at Ruth Shalit about; I could have cared less.)

2) The recent Mitch Albom brouhaha boils down to this: Albom, a sports columnist, was doing some scene-setting business for a column, and in doing so described a couple of fans who planned to attend a game as actually having attended the game (it turned out they ultimately didn't attend). At worst this was a literary flourish gone awry, on the sports page no less. I'd be happier if the accuracy hall monitors spent their time patrolling the news section for actual errors in the actual flippin' news, thank you very much.

posted by: alkali on 05.09.05 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

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