Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Who Cleaned up That Shattered GLASS?

After being fired from The New Republic in 1998 Glass went to Georgetown University Law Center. He has completed his law degree and has passed the written portion of the New York State bar exam, but has yet to be admitted to the bar.

Glass wrote a novel called The Fabulist that was released in 2003. Forbes Magazine published a book review in which The Fabulist publishers Simon and Schuster, along with the novel, are sufficiently bashed. An interesting aspect of this Stephen Glass scandal is the reaction from the rest of the media. Glass was outcast and ridiculed during the time of his scandal. The release of his novel was seen as a last ditch effort to apologize to TNR and the rest of the media…sort of. It seems as though every one is just fed up with Stephen Glass and no one really believes a word he says.

Mark Lewis of Forbes Magazine writes, “Glass is said to be working on a second novel, but his first one will not leave its readers eager for more. It does, however, leave them puzzling over which parts of it are entirely autobiographical and which (if any) are wholly the product of the author's imagination.”

Poynter Online spurred interesting discourse about The Fabulist on Book Babes The Nonfiction Fabulist.

Shattered Glass, directed by Billy Ray, was released in 2003. IMDB describes it as a “true story of a young journalist who fell from grace when it was found he had fabricated over half of his articles.

Why Couldn't They See Through GLASS?

Stephen Glass’ stories were so good they seemed too-good-to-be-true. This raises the question of what The New Republic was doing for the three years that Glass was writing fabrications? How did he get past their fact checkers? For that matter how did it all slip under the radar of the entire journalism community?

Glass got by because he was careful and thorough. According to Glass’ interview with 60 Minutes he “knew how the system worked.” All of his fake notes and phony voicemail boxes work on TNR’s fact checkers. He even slipped under the nose of Slate Magazine reporter (and skeptic) Jack Shafer. In Glass Houses, Shafer wrote about how ridiculous it was that Glass could trick everyone when merely making a few phone calls or doing an internet search would expose him.

Ultimately, Glass' fabrications were revealed by Forbes Digital Tool, the fact checker. Forbes magazine informed Charles Lane of the discrepancies in Glass’ stories and informed him that they would go to press about it. Only after this happened did Lane issue a press release saying that TNR had fired Stephen Glass.

In the 60 Minutes piece, Lane said the responsibility lay with the magazine. He admitted that TNR failed to make sure that what was published was “good journalism.”

“The only thing I think you can say in defense of The New Republic was that we were up against somebody, at the time, who was really determined to deceive the magazine,” said Lane.

A Slippery Slope Made of GLASS

A 15-year-old boy, named Ian Restil, hacked into the computer systems of big-time software firm, Jukt Micronics. Inside the company’s system, Restil posted the salaries of all of Jukt Micronics employees on the company website as well as naked pictures and a caption for each that said “THE BIG BAD BIONIC BOY HAS BEEN HERE BABY.”

Sounds good right? Just wait. Instead of filing suit against the teen, Jukt Micronics decides it would be better if they hired him on as a security specialist, so Jukt’s people meet with Restil and his mother and his agent (hackers have agents), Joe Hiert, to negotiate his new job at the place where the National Assembly for Hackers was being held.

What would you do if a report that you worked with came to you with a story like this? Would you be skeptical or would you buy into it? It’s a great story. It meant that rebellion can be rewarded and stickin’ it to the man might actually pay off.

Unfortunately, not a single word of it was true. Jukt Micronics, Restil, his agent, his mother, and even the National Assembly for Hackers were all fabricated.

Everyone who worked at The New Republic in 1998 bought into it, and the story “Hack Heaven” was published in TNR on May 18, 1998.

At 25 Stephen Glass was the youngest reporter at TNR, and he made a decision that would change the rest of his life. He decided to lie, and figured out how to get past TNR fact checkers. He created phony notes, diagrams of conferences that didn’t take place, phone numbers and emails of people who didn’t exist, phony voicemail boxes and phony business cards, and even fake news letters.

You might be thinking “Why on Earth would any journalist in their right mind decide to do this?” In a 60 Minutes interview on August 17, 2003, it seems that Glass wasn’t in his right mind. What started as a few lies to bolster one story turned into completely fabricated whole pieces of journalism.

“I remember thinking, ‘If I just had the exact quote that I wanted to make it work, it would be perfect.’ (…) And I said to myself what I said every time these stories ran, ‘You must stop. You must stop.’ But I didn’t,” Glass said in the 60 Minutes interview.

According to the 60 Minutes interview, soon after joining TNR as an editorial assistant in 1995, Glass was assigned a story on a piece of Washington Legislation. He decided it needed a little “sprucing up.”

That was just the beginning of a career of lies. Glass became caught up in his lies because he loved the feeling he got from people liking his stories.

Unfortunately, we can't see any of Glass' other fabricated stories. A great compilation of most (if not all) of his fabricated stories once existed at A Tissue of Lies--The Stephen R. Glass Index. However, none of the stories are accessible, presumably because The New Republic and other publications took them all down. The site still exists as a reminder to all of the damage that one bad journalist can do to the entire industry.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The fallout from using fake documents

What happens when your newspaper gets caught using fake FBI documents?

It's simple: Your paper loses credibility with its readers. And it loses credibility with respected members of the journalism community.

Oh, and the other big papers/media entities get to do a whole bunch of fun reporting on the subject, showing exactly where your paper and the reporter goofed up.
It can't be fun working for a big paper that is getting smacked up by the competition like the New York Times and Washington Post.

Links to coverage of the Philips/L.A. Times debacle:

But the big question: Should the reporter who uses fake documents and gets caught keep his job? Apparently, the L.A. Times think so.
This came from one of the New York Times articles listed above:
"A spokeswoman for the newspaper said Mr. Philips, a Pulitzer Prize winner, would remain with the newspaper as an investigative reporter."

Chuck Philips defends his story

Chuck Philips, the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who used fake FBI documents to suggest that Sean "Diddy" Combs ordered the 1994 shooting of Tupac Shakur at a New York recording studio, defended his article in an Online chat one day after the story was published online.

In March 18 chat, Philips says: "I am very confident that I have reported accurately what my sources said. And I feel confident that they know what happened. The documents supported what I learned. I believe what I wrote can withstand any legal challenge."

Ten days later an online investigative magazine, The Smoking Gun, proved that the FBI documents used in Philips' story were fabricated.

Here's a link to Philips' online chat:

What do you think?

Did Puff Daddy set up Tupac?

On March 17, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on its Web site, and followed two days later with a shorter print version, about a 1994 attack on rapper Tupac Shakur.

The article, written by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Chuck Philips, appeared to provide new insight into the incident where Shakur was shot five times in the lobby of a New York recording studio and robbed for his jewelery, the same attack that is widely believed to have officially started the bitter feud between East and West coast rappers.

Shakur survived the New York shooting, later penning numerous songs about the attack and his plotted revenge, but was fatally gunned down in 1996 in Las Vegas. His murder remains unsolved.

Since Tupac was killed, Philips and the L.A. Times have a written a number of controversial stories on the subject, including one where Philips uses unamed sources to report that New York rapper Notorius B.I.G., who was embroiled in a highly publicized beef with Tupac at the time, played a role in Tupac's death.
B.I.G., whose real name was Christopher Wallace, was killed six months after Shakur. His death, although rumored to be connected to Tupac's, also remains unsolved.
Here's a link to Philips' 2002 story where he reports that B.I.G. paid gang members to kill Tupac:,0,4647716,full.story
That particular story drew criticism from the Wallace family, which labeled Philips' reportage on the subject as one of the "most extreme examples of irresponsible journalism."
Link to Wallace family statement on Philips' reporting in 2002:,0,1325092.story

But Philips' most recent story on Tupac has come under a firestorm of criticism that could tarnish his personal reputation and that of his newspaper's indefinitely. In the story, Philips cited summaries of FBI interviews with an unamed informant that suggest Sean "Diddy" Combs set up the shooting against Tupac as a form of retribution. Philips never verified the validity of the documents with the FBI before writing his story.

The artilce, titled "An attack on Tupac Shakur launched a Hip Hop war," states:
"Now, newly discovered information, including interviews with people who were at the studio that night, lends credence to Shakur’s insistence that associates of rap impresario Sean “Diddy” Combs were behind the assault. Their alleged motives: to punish Shakur for disrespecting them and rejecting their business overtures and, not incidentally, to curry favor with Combs.

"FBI records obtained recently by The Times say that a confidential informant told authorities in 2002 that Rosemond and Sabatino 'set up the rapper Tupac Shakur to get shot at Quad Studios.'"

Link to Philips' entire story where he ties Diddy to Tupac's 1994 shooting:

Turns out that the documents used by Philips were fabricated by a con man serving time in federal prison. An award winning journalist covering the music industry for more than a decade and the fourth largest paper in the country got duped, it's that simple.
An online investigative magazine called The Smoking Gun first reported that the documents used by The Times were fabricated. The Smoking Gun points out a number of inconsistencies within the documents that simply didn't pass the smell test.
Link to the Smoking Gun story that exposed Philips and the Times:

Now, Philips and the L.A. Times are scrambling to make amends. The paper has since admitted the documents were fabricated, removed/retarcted the story from its Web siteand issued an formal apology to its readers.
Link to L.A. Times retraction and apology:,0,2043351.story,0,3600312.story

This isn't the first time that Philips' integrity as a reporter on the subject of Tupac and Biggie's killings has come into question. In 2005, Rolling Stone penned a 14,000 word article on the subject of Tupac and Biggie Smalls murders and raised questions about Philips' potentially close ties to Death Row CEO Suge Knight, the record label that employed Tupac, and Philips' apparently biased coverage of both murders.
Other journalists who have covered the murders also say that Philips has been less than fair in his coverage of the cases.
Link to the Rolling Stone and online magazine articles:

For veteran and budding journalists alike, the main issue raised in this situation is confirming the validity of documents before you write a story. This is not the first time a reporter has been duped by fake documents, just think about Dan Rather and you can begin to gauge how serious the issue is. This story didn't deal with the president, but it did deal with two of the biggest rappers ever and two of the most prominent unsolved murders in the past 25 years.
Philips' coverage of the Tupac and Biggie Smalls killings also raise interesting questions about the use of unamed sources and just how close of a friendship a reporter can forge with a source without compromising coverage.

More cool stuff to look at:
Link to the fake FBI documents that Philips used in his story:

Links to other stories Philips wrote about Tupac, Biggie and their associates:,1,4975394.story,1,1344417.story,1,1937735.story,1,406174.story

Tupac Isn't Dead, he's in Mexico

A March 17 article about the 1994 attack on Tupac that first appeared on The Los Angeles Times Web site, was partially based on fraudulent documents. The Smoking Gun Web site first broke the story. The Times article claimed that the attack on Tupac was perpetrated by associates of Sean Combes, a.k.a. Diddy, P-Diddy, Puff Daddy. The article used several anonymous sources and F.B.I. documents that were forged by an inmate named James Sabatino. According to The Smoking Gun Web site, Sabatino is an "accomplished document forger and an audacious swindler who has created a fantasy world in which he managed hip-hop luminaries." Why reporter Chuck Philips would use this person as a source is beside me.
The F.B.I. documents sourced in the article were found to be fabricated because they contained numerous spelling errors and acronyms that the F.B.I. doesn't even use. To make matters worse, the documents were written by typewriter which the F.B.I. hasn't used to create documents in 30 years. None of these documents could be found on the F.B.I.'s database. These documents were connected back to Sabatino because when compared with other court documents created by Sabatino while in prison, there were similarities in spelling and grammar mistakes.
The L.A. Times running this story has resulted in them having to print a retraction and for the two responsible for the story, Chuck Philips and his deputy managing editor Marc Duvoisin, to apologize. Another result is the embarassment this must have caused the rest of the L.A. Times staff.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What Blair Never Learned

The question of Jayson Blair’s moral incompetence started before he ever set foot in The New York Times newsroom. According to an article by the Baltimore Sun, Blair was accused of numerous counts of slipshod journalism while working as a reporter and editor for The Diamondback, the campus newspaper for University of Maryland College Park.
After an investigation by a veteran editor, the university reported several factual errors and misquotes in many of Blair’s stories he reported for the Capital News Service, a student-staffed wire service.
Blair raised his fair share of eyebrows before leaving the UM campus, where he actually never earned a degree. Comments from former staffers cited Blair as someone who lied blatantly, plagiarized and was an “elbows-out competitor.” After the controversy a group of alumni from the newspaper wrote a letter criticizing the school for not tuning in to the Blair’s warning signs.
In Blair’s case, not only did he ruin his own short-lived journalism career, but he brought down the integrity of the newspaper where he worked. As a result of the controversy two Times editors resigned.
The lesson to learn here is to take full advantages of the training while you’re in school. Blair failed to abide by basic rules of journalism. Don’t steal quotes, fact check and just do lie. If a collegiate journalist decides to make habits these it could possibly set a trend that can continue into a professional career. If Blair’s case was nipped in bud the media might have been spared one more irresponsible journalist.

Rather on suing CBS and more on the Killian files

Another example of Dan Rather controversy

Blair and Blatant Plagiarism

Jayson Blair, former reporter for The New York Times, was discovered guilty of numerous counts of sloppy journalism in 2003 dating back to his college days.

Former San Antonio Express-News reporter, Macarena Hernandez broke the story after she discovered vital components of her story had trickled into a Blair Times story.

"I'd torn his story apart, diagramming the similarities. There was no doubt about it. It was my story. The plagiarism was extremely obvious, stealing lines and phrases that I had written verbatim,” she told Gigi Anders with the American Journalism Review in 2004.

In April 2003, Hernandez wrote a story about a single mother whose only son was reported as missing in action in Iraq. In the story Hernandez recounted visits with the anguished mother and described key elements of the setting only to find the exact details reprinted later in a Blair article. She told Anders she knew for sure Blair had never interviewed the woman after he called her to supposedly double check a quote he said the mother had given in Spanish. Unknown to Blair, the woman didn’t even speak Spanish.

The discovery of the Hernandez story copy-cat led to investigations by the University of Maryland and The Times. In addition to lifted quotes, his college-day stories included warped information and factual errors.

Well, that's just "Rather biased"

Background on the Killian documents:
On Sept. 8, 2004, CBS’ 60 Minutes aired a feature “For the Record” exposing documents regarding President George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard. The documents were obtained from Lt. Col. Bill Burket and contained criticisms of Bush’s Guard service by his commander, late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian.
Dan Rather reported on the television program that the Killian documents were obtained from Killian’s personal files, and incorrectly asserted that the documents had been researched and thoroughly authenticated by CBS.
Immediately, the authenticity was challenged by typographers who said the documents could not have come from the time frame indicated because of the type face used in the documents. CBS had received a faxed copy of the documents from Burket, who when asked for the originals claimed he burned them after sending them to CBS.
CBS and Rather continued to defend the documents despite criticisms from analysts and competitor news organizations. Finally, after two weeks, CBS backed away from the claim that the documents were legitimate and fired several people including the producer responsible for that segment, Mary Mapes.
Dan Rather has been accused several times over the course of his career for having a "liberal media slant." The timing of the release of these documents came only two months before the 2004 Presidential election, which also presented itself as unfair accusations in light of an election.

What to learn from Blair

What should a young journalist learn from the events surrounding Jayson Blair?

1) If you say you went somewhere, go there. If you say you saw something, you better have seen it.

2) Don't lie.

3) Don't make up people, quotes and events.

4) There needs to be a conversation going on in the newsroom between all levels, so editors having a problem with a writer can let their superiors know what is up before the writer is promoted.

5) Look at the last few years. If you want to become a novelist, or at least write a book and make news with it... do something extrememly unethical. Then deny it over and over. And then write a book saying you did it, or this is what you would have done if you had done it. The only setback is, you have to be famous (like a hall of fame running back), or work for a famous place (like New York Times or New Republic) in order to make headlines.

TIME Magazine's take on the fallout of Blair

all from, Monday June 9, 2003
"Don't Blame It On Jayson Blair" - By JAMES PONIEWOZIK

When the New York Times's Jayson Blair was busted for plagiarism and fabrications--and then its star writer Rick Bragg was suspended and quit after claiming an intern's reporting as his own--the media lit up like the switchboard of a gossipy small town. Reporters investigated reporters. The Times newsroom erupted in finger pointing. Journalism professors raised themselves up on their suede elbow patches to tsk-tsk. Newspapers worriedly reviewed their policies. Collectively, we agonized: Will the public ever trust us again?

Don't sweat it! the public replied. We didn't trust you in the first place! That's the message, anyway, of a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll released last week. It found that only 36% of those polled believe the media generally "get the facts straight." But that number had not plummeted since the Blair scandal; in February, it was 39%, and in December 2000 it was 32%. In fact, only one-third of the people surveyed had even followed the Blair story.

The numbers may help explain why so few people had complained after Blair made up stuff about them--they assumed that that is just what reporters do. And the figures hint at why journalists are more fascinated by perfidy among our own than civilians are. Villains like Blair and their cut-and-dried crimes--lies bad, truth good!--are easier to deal with than the systemic problems with journalism that people really care about.

Journalists are nerdily literal-minded folk. When we say, "Does the public trust us?", we mean, "Do they think we're accurate?" The public has a more sophisticated definition of trust: Do the media respect me? Do they know how people like me live? Do they put news principles over the bottom line? Are they elitists, poseurs, sell-outs? Journalists think trust equals accuracy. But it's about much more: passion, genuineness, integrity.

In March, Gallup asked Americans to rate coverage of the Iraq war; 79% said it was good or excellent. But 38% said it was often inaccurate. Which means a fair chunk of the audience thought the media did a good, but inaccurate, job. Maybe they liked the media's wartime flag waving, were happy to see the media focus on a serious issue or understood that facts are always hard to pin down in war. Either way, the message is that truth is about more than facts. If people hate the media, it's not because Blair invented a tobacco field by Private First Class Jessica Lynch's house.

Why, then? Take your pick. There are the perennial charges of bias, which grow louder the more bitterly split the electorate gets. But there's also the problem that many big-media journalists are now cautious, well-paid conformists distant from their audiences and more responsive to urban elites, powerful people and megacorporations--especially the ones they work for. Hence the bland news anchors who verge on self-parody; magazines so commercial they're practically catalogs; timid pack journalism (We love dotcoms too! I mean, we never believed in them either!); local newscasts shilling for their corporate parents ("Up next: the hottest Survivor finale parties! Plus, the rest of the news!"); saturation coverage of trials-of-the-minute and movies we know will be lousy but will have big opening weekends. Yes, people watch and buy all this stuff. That doesn't mean they respect it. They see a profession that acts excited about a lot--Laci Peterson, The Matrix Reloaded, political horse races--but cares about nothing.

So it's not surprising that we've seen the runaway success of Fox News, which cares with a vengeance. Fox too is a big corporate entity that commits plenty of the above sins. But love it or hate it, Fox News also shows a passion for its job. Its pugilism and its high-decibel hosts' badly masked rightward leanings are journalistically incorrect, but they're not marketing (well, not just marketing). If Fox's political convictions often override its journalistic ones, at least it has convictions. Whereas when MSNBC slapped the flag onscreen and CNN hired Connie Chung for a shot of Fox-y tabloidism, it looked like the insincere opportunism that it was. Ironically, CNN brands itself the "most trusted name in news," and it has a deeper news bench than Fox. But CNN isn't the most watched name in news, perhaps because its definition of trust--"trust us to get accurate scoops"--is not the public's only priority.

The same goes for all of us. We can root out every error, every plagiarist, every bias--but it won't do any good if we replace them with a gutless inoffensiveness. We've spent a month being worried that our readers and viewers hate us because they think we're liars. Relax, brethren; they don't. They hate us because they think we're phonies.

Lessons of the Miller Affair

Lessons of the Miller Affair

By David Ignatius

Wednesday, October 5, 2005; Page A23

The warm tone of the letter from White House insider Lewis "Scooter" Libby to Judith Miller of the New York Times conveyed an essential reality of reporter-source relationships, which we in the media sometimes tend to play down: These are often relationships between like-minded people who care about the same issues and who become -- dare I say it? -- friendly.

"Your reporting, and you, are missed," began Vice President Cheney's chief of staff in his Sept. 15 letter releasing Miller from any pledge of confidentiality and urging her to testify in the Valerie Plame leak investigation. "You will have stories to cover -- Iraqi elections and suicide bombers, biological threats and the Iranian nuclear program. Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work -- and life.

It's obvious that Libby cares about Miller and wants her to return to reporting on issues they both see as important. That sort of personal connection between reporter and source may strike some people as sinister, but it's the mother's milk of journalism. That's why people tell us things: Because we listen, and often sound sympathetic. Just ask Bob Woodward. But the true measure of a great reporter, as Woodward has shown time and again, is a willingness to bite the hands that feed you. And the measure of a great newspaper is editors who insist on that ultimate separation of reporter and source, but we'll come back to that.

I have no idea what further investigation will reveal about the discussions in the summer of 2003 between Miller and Libby. But I wouldn't be surprised if the evidence showed what's already obvious -- that she and Libby both cared deeply about whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and were frustrated by the failure to find any. Miller had won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on biological weapons, and she had spent many weeks in Iraq with the weapons survey group in a fruitless search for those weapons.

Journalists come in two basic varieties, hot and cold. Miller has always been the former. I've known her for 30 years, and I have seen the intensity that leads her to throw herself into story after story. She's being flayed now on the left because her reporting on WMD was too credulous, especially of self-interested sources such as Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi. But Miller was also one of the few reporters in the world who got the Osama bin Laden story right before Sept. 11.

Passionate is good when you agree with it and bad when you don't. That's the conclusion I draw from recent praise for crusading, engaged, sometimes tearful coverage of Hurricane Katrina by journalists such as NBC's Brian Williams and CNN's Anderson Cooper. I've always admired the dry-bones approach more, but I understand why people want journalists to lean into the story.

The big lesson of the Miller affair, for me, is that editors are crucial in mediating the relationships between reporters and sources. Almost by definition, those relationships become incestuous -- with journalists and their sources chasing the same facts and often seeking to right the same wrongs. It's the job of editors to intervene in this process -- and demand to know, on behalf of readers, whether a story is really true. In Miller's case, she filed stories about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction based on what her sources had told her, but the crucial judgment lay in the hands of her editors.

This process of editorial intervention is even more important when it comes to making promises to sources about confidentiality. Reporters shouldn't be able to decide unilaterally to whom they will attach their newspaper's reputation. Editors should agree to absolute confidentiality only in the rarest cases. In my years as an editor, I often asked reporters to go back and tell an anonymous source that if we got sued based on what he had told us, we wanted the right to subpoena that source and his records, to defend ourselves. If the source refused, sometimes we would walk away; other times, based on the importance of the information to the public, we would extend the absolute protection he requested. Some version of that Miranda warning to sources seems essential to me.

When Miller emerged from prison, she urged passage of a federal shield law, and she's right about that. But while we're waiting for a media-friendly Congress, we journalists should look more closely at our own rules. Reporters and their sources shouldn't determine a newspaper's agenda, much less whether a reporter should go to jail in defiance of a grand jury subpoena. That's a job for editors and their publishers.

This is the editorial that was published in the New York Times when Miller was sent to jail. The paper stood behind the reporter and believed Miller was guarding journalists' basic principles.

Published: July 7, 2005

This is a proud but awful moment for The New York Times and its employees. One of our reporters, Judith Miller, has decided to accept a jail sentence rather than testify before a grand jury about one of her confidential sources. Ms. Miller has taken a path that will be lonely and painful for her and her family and friends. We wish she did not have to choose it, but we are certain she did the right thing.

She is surrendering her liberty in defense of a greater liberty, granted to a free press by the founding fathers so journalists can work on behalf of the public without fear of regulation or retaliation from any branch of government.

The Press and the Law

Some people - including, sadly, some of our colleagues in the news media - have mistakenly assumed that a reporter and a news organization place themselves above the law by rejecting a court order to testify. Nothing could be further from the truth. When another Times reporter, M. A. Farber, went to jail in 1978 rather than release his confidential notes, he declared, "I have no such right and I seek none."

By accepting her sentence, Ms. Miller bowed to the authority of the court. But she acted in the great tradition of civil disobedience that began with this nation's founding, which holds that the common good is best served in some instances by private citizens who are willing to defy a legal, but unjust or unwise, order.

This tradition stretches from the Boston Tea Party to the Underground Railroad, to the Americans who defied the McCarthy inquisitions and to the civil rights movement. It has called forth ordinary citizens, like Rosa Parks; government officials, like Daniel Ellsberg and Mark Felt; and statesmen, like Martin Luther King. Frequently, it falls to news organizations to uphold this tradition. As Justice William O. Douglas wrote in 1972, "The press has a preferred position in our constitutional scheme, not to enable it to make money, not to set newsmen apart as a favored class, but to bring to fulfillment the public's right to know."

Critics point out that even presidents must bow to the Supreme Court. But presidents are agents of the government, sworn to enforce the law. Journalists are private citizens, and Ms. Miller's actions are faithful to the Constitution. She is defending the right of Americans to get vital information from news organizations that need not fear government retaliation - an imperative defended by the 49 states that recognize a reporter's right to protect sources.

A second reporter facing a possible jail term, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, agreed yesterday to testify before the grand jury. Last week, Time decided, over Mr. Cooper's protests, to release documents demanded by the judge that revealed his confidential sources. We were deeply disappointed by that decision.

We do not see how a newspaper, magazine or television station can support a reporter's decision to protect confidential sources even if the potential price is lost liberty, and then hand over the notes or documents that make the reporter's sacrifice meaningless. The point of this struggle is to make sure that people with critical information can feel confident that if they speak to a reporter on the condition of anonymity, their identities will be protected. No journalist's promise will be worth much if the employer that stands behind him or her is prepared to undercut such a vow of secrecy.

Protecting a Reporter's Sources

Most readers understand a reporter's need to guarantee confidentiality to a source. Before he went to jail, Mr. Farber told the court that if he gave up documents that revealed the names of the people he had promised anonymity, "I will have given notice that the nation's premier newspaper is no longer available to those men and women who would seek it out - or who would respond to it - to talk freely and without fear."

While The Times has gone to great lengths lately to make sure that the use of anonymous sources is limited, there is no way to eliminate them. The most important articles tend to be the ones that upset people in high places, and many could not be reported if those who risked their jobs or even their liberty to talk to reporters knew that they might be identified the next day. In the larger sense, revealing government wrongdoing advances the rule of law, especially at a time of increased government secrecy.

It is for these reasons that most states have shield laws that protect reporters' rights to conceal their sources. Those laws need to be reviewed and strengthened, even as members of Congress continue to work to pass a federal shield law. But at this moment, there is no statute that protects Judith Miller when she defies a federal trial judge's order to reveal who told her what about Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as an undercover C.I.A. operative.

Ms. Miller understands this perfectly, and she accepts the consequences with full respect for the court. We hope that her sacrifice will alert the nation to the need to protect the basic tools reporters use in doing their most critical work.

To be frank, this is far from an ideal case. We would not have wanted our reporter to give up her liberty over a situation whose details are so complicated and muddy. But history is very seldom kind enough to provide the ideal venue for a principled stand. Ms. Miller is going to jail over an article that she never wrote, yet she has been unwavering in her determination to protect the people with whom she had spoken on the promise of confidentiality.

The Plame Story

The case involves an article by the syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who revealed that Joseph Wilson, a retired career diplomat, was married to an undercover C.I.A. officer Mr. Novak identified by using her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Mr. Wilson had been asked by the C.I.A. to investigate whether Saddam Hussein in Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger that could be used for making nuclear weapons. Mr. Wilson found no evidence of that, and he later wrote an Op-Ed article for The Times saying he believed that the Bush administration had misrepresented the facts.

It seemed very possible that someone at the White House had told Mr. Novak about Ms. Plame to undermine Mr. Wilson's credibility and send a chilling signal to other officials who might be inclined to speak out against the administration's Iraq policy. At the time, this page said that if those were indeed the circumstances, the leak had been "an egregious abuse of power." We urged the Justice Department to investigate. But we warned then that the inquiry should not degenerate into an attempt to compel journalists to reveal their sources.

We mainly had Mr. Novak in mind then, but Mr. Novak remains both free and mum about what he has or has not told the grand jury looking into the leak. Like almost everyone, we are baffled by his public posture. All we know now is that Mr. Novak - who early on expressed the opinion that no journalists who bowed to court pressure to betray sources could hold up their heads in Washington - has offered no public support to the colleague who is going to jail while he remains at liberty.

Ms. Miller did not write an article about Ms. Plame, but the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, wants to know whether anyone in government told her about Mr. Wilson's wife and her secret job. The inquiry has been conducted with such secrecy that it is hard to know exactly what Mr. Fitzgerald thinks Ms. Miller can tell him, or what argument he offered to convince the court that his need to hear her testimony outweighs the First Amendment.

What we do know is that if Ms. Miller testifies, it may be immeasurably harder in the future to persuade a frightened government employee to talk about malfeasance in high places, or a worried worker to reveal corporate crimes. The shroud of secrecy thrown over this case by the prosecutor and the judge, an egregious denial of due process, only makes it more urgent to take a stand.

Mr. Fitzgerald drove that point home chillingly when he said the authorities "can't have 50,000 journalists" making decisions about whether to reveal sources' names and that the government had a right to impose its judgment. But that's not what the founders had in mind in writing the First Amendment. In 1971, our colleague James Reston cited James Madison's admonition about a free press in explaining why The Times had first defied the Nixon administration's demand to stop publishing the Pentagon Papers and then fought a court's order to cease publication. "Among those principles deemed sacred in America," Madison wrote, "among those sacred rights considered as forming the bulwark of their liberty, which the government contemplates with awful reverence and would approach only with the most cautious circumspection, there is no one of which the importance is more deeply impressed on the public mind than the liberty of the press."

Mr. Fitzgerald's attempts to interfere with the rights of a free press while refusing to disclose his reasons for doing so, when he can't even say whether a crime has been committed, have exhibited neither reverence nor cautious circumspection. It would compound the tragedy if his actions emboldened more prosecutors to trample on a free press.

Our Bottom Line

Responsible journalists recognize that press freedoms are not absolute and must be exercised responsibly. This newspaper will not, for example, print the details of American troop movements in advance of a battle, because publication would endanger lives and national security. But these limits cannot be dictated by the whim of a branch of government, especially behind a screen of secrecy.

Indeed, the founders warned against any attempt to have the government set limits on a free press, under any conditions. "However desirable those measures might be which might correct without enslaving the press, they have never yet been devised in America," Madison wrote.

Journalists talk about these issues a great deal, and they can seem abstract. The test comes when a colleague is being marched off to jail for doing nothing more than the job our readers expected of her, and of the rest of us. The Times has been in these fights before, beginning in 1857, when a journalist named J. W. Simonton wrote an editorial about bribery in Congress and was held in contempt by the House of Representatives for 19 days when he refused to reveal his sources. In the end, Mr. Simonton kept faith, and the corrupt congressmen resigned. All of our battles have not had equally happy endings. But each time, whether we win or we lose, we remain convinced that the public wins in the long run and that what is at stake is nothing less than our society's perpetual bottom line: the citizens control the government in a democracy.

We stand with Ms. Miller and thank her for taking on that fight for the rest of us.

Jayson Blair

Courtesy of Washington Post

Judith Miller - New York Time Article and Timeline

Writers Don Van Natta Jr., Adam Liptak and Clifford J. Levy cover the Judith Miller case beginning to end.

A Timeline of the events surrounding the Judith Miller case

The Global War on Plagiarism: Fighting the Pirates of the Press

By Roy Peter Clark (more by author)
Senior Scholar, Poynter Institute

I've been tracking plagiarism cases in journalism for more than 20 years now; my first take was a 1983 Washington Journalism Review article titled "The Unoriginal Sin."

Every editor I talked with back then had a serious plagiarism story to tell, with malefactors suffering all kinds of fates, from suicide to firing to, strangest of all, consignment to the copy desk.

Thank you, Mr. Fox, you are now in charge of the henhouse.

The journalism world is cratered with plagiarism cases, the latest coming at The Seattle Times, where a business columnist has resigned and a Poynter trouble-shooter, Bob Steele, has been flown in to conduct revival meetings.

The word plagiarism means "kidnap," and each word-snatch has its own peculiar characteristics. But some patterns repeat themselves time and again.

  1. Almost all cases of serious plagiarism are intentional.
  2. Serious plagiarism by adults is a moral flaw, not an ethical one.
  3. Not all cases of plagiarism are equal.
  4. With guidance, supervisors can exercise discretion and match punishments to the severity of the crime.
  5. There are special cases in journalism that require special attention, the articulation of standards and practices, and, yes, training.
  6. The Internet complicates all of this. Veteran journalists from Spain complained to me of younger reporters who practiced a kind of cut-and-paste journalism from the comfort of their computer chairs.

Suzy Hansen reports in The New York Times that 40 percent of college students admit to Internet plagiarism.

So what's an editor to do?


  1. Announce to your staff that plagiarism is a serious problem in all of journalism, and that you assume there will be cases in your newsroom.
  2. Insist that serious plagiarism is a firing offense.<>
  3. Develop some protocols around the gray areas listed above.
  4. Publish these, review them every year, make them part of any orientation of new staffers.
  5. Develop training sessions on "the tools of originality," with particular attention to note-taking, file-keeping, methods of attribution, and the Internet.
  6. Without creating a "rat squad," let staffers know that they can blow the whistle on malpractice in confidence.
  7. Train editors how to act on such complaints from both inside and outside the newsroom.
  8. Consult with a company about using computer technology to conduct random plagiarism checks on reporter's work.
  9. Pray.
  10. Pray.
  11. Pray.
  12. Pray.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article reported that Stephen Dunphy was fired by the Seattle Times. In fact, as Times editor Michael Fancher reported Sunday, he resigned.


Interview with Dallas Morning News Reporter Macarena Hernandez

In April 2003, she gained national attention when former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair plagiarized her work. This is an excerpt of an interview with about her experience.
What have you learned about being the subject of frenzied media attention? Has Jayson Blair's misdeed helped or hurt your career?

Macarena Hernández: I learned a lot from that experience. And I was reminded of people's generosity. Politicians, celebrities and all the other media seekers are fair game. Given that the press gets such a bad rap, it is amazing average folks still trust us, because we do make mistakes. I now understand what some people mean when they say they've been misquoted. What a source says is not necessarily what they mean. And sometimes we -- the media -- chew on a story way longer than we need to. Ay, like this one. Hijo, it seemed like it was never going to go away. For a while after the storm, I considered leaving journalism. Once you've seen the restaurant's dirty kitchen, the food no longer tastes the same. If you bumped into Jayson Blair tomorrow, what would you say to him?

Macarena Hernández: I've been asked that question so many times, and still don't have an answer. I don't think about Jayson Blair, although folks occasionally bring him up. "So tell me, how did that Jayson Blair thing happen." Just like the Macarena song -- this too shall pass.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Here's a story CNN ran earlier this year about European newspapers reprinting the cartoons depicting Mohammed with a bomb in his turban after arrests were made in relation to plots to murder the cartoonist who made the original drawing.

This quote really says it all from the article:

"We are doing this to document what is at stake in this case, and to unambiguously back and support the freedom of speech that we as a newspaper always will defend."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A look at the case

A look behind the scenes of the Judith Miller case:
New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who worked at the paper for 28 years, went to jail in 2005 for refusing to testify before a grand jury about the information leak about a CIA agent's identity. Miller refused to reveal her source who had knowledge about the leak case.
Here is what happened:
The CIA agent was Valerie Plame, whose husband openly criticized the administration and published an opinion piece in the New York Times. Plame's identity was revealed shortly after. Miller had received evidence about the leak investigation form an official source. Her source, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby - former chief official of Vice President Dick Cheney - let Miller know after 85 days in jail that she could testify.
The case received national and international attention, and heated the debate about ethics in journalism.

Sources: CNN

Judith Miller Video

Naming your Sources?

Should journalists name their unnamed sources if they are told to? Or should they keep the information confidential to protect the person's identity? Journalists often face the dilemma to decide between these options. Judith Miller, a former reporter for the New York Times, decided to protect reporters' rights to keep unnamed sources' identities to themselves. She spent 85 days in jail. A public discussion erupted about ethics in journalism. Should Miller have given in? Every reporter must answer these questions to the best of his or her ethical knowledge. Every situation is different. First of all, confidential sources should only be used if they fear for their lives or jobs after the story would be published. Reporters should always talk to their editors about using unnamed sources. They should also call ethics hotlines and take the SPJ Code of Ethics as their standard. Is it really necessary to use a confidential source? The public usually wants a name in the story - give them a good reason if you do not use it. If you make the promise to keep the information, keep it. But maybe it would be good to sit down with your sources and discuss how far you are willing to go for them.

Interesting website.

This website is a great companion for our ethics post about the cartoon images of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. Just thought everyone might like to see this. It is a database of all the different ways that the prophet Muhammad has been visually depicted over the years.

Muhammad Image Gallery


(click the cartoon for a link to the ones published in the Danish newspaper)

In September of 2005, a conservative Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Not much was made of the caricatures at first, but when Muslim leaders called attention to the images in 2006, it set off a thunderstorm of rioting.

The cartoons originated when an author of a children's book on Muhammad could not find an illustrator unafraid of the backlash that publishing a photo of the prophet would cause. The Danes decided it was time to stop being censored by Islamist extremists and held a contest asking for people to send in depictions of the prophet. Did they have any idea what the response was going to be? They must have known how controversial the publishing of those images would be.

Overall, 100 people died during violent protests. The Danish embassies in Syria, Lebanon, and Iran were burned. European buildings were stormed.

Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten's culture editor, had this to say:
The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is of minor importance in the present context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him.
So what was at stake here? Freedom of expression and the press? Were they just "poking the bear" unneccesarrily? After all, only a few thousand of the billion Muslims around the world rioted. Should newspapers cowtow to the noisy minority? But after all, it was Islamic leaders who called attention to the cartoons several months after their publication.

The case study on the Society of Professional Journalist's website says:
It could be argued that deciding not to publish the cartoons is not cowardly self-censorship but considered good judgement. After all, they were readily available on the Internet. A responsible journalist's intent should be to inform, not to offend.
Hmm. Hmm indeed.

See also Andrew and Todd's post.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Where do they find the gall?

Jayson Blair, a former New York Times writer, quit in 2003 amid the discovery of possibly the biggest blunder the New York Times has ever seen on their own paper. The New York Times reported in their "Correcting the Record" issue that he "fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He lifted material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not."

Allen Siegel, an assistant managing editor of the paper, headed the Siegel committee to investigate how many stories Blair had fabricated information in. They discovered 36 of his 73 stories he had written since October 2002, or as The New York Times said "since he started getting national reporting assignments," were questionable.
36 out of 73. That is just barely under half of all the stories he wrote in the time he covered national assignments for The New York Times.

The newspaper reported a year before Blair finally resigned, Jonathan Landman, the metropolitan editor, wrote to the paper's administrators telling them that they "need to stop Jayson Blair from writing for the Times. Right now." And after Blair was warned and took a leave of absence due to personal problems, the Times said their two top editors (who resigned soon after Blair's departure for their own role regarding Blair) thought his writing improved again soon after he returned. A few months later he was promoted to cover national stories. The paper reported that public officials and his colleagues were beginning to challenge his stories the same month he was promoted to the national desk, yet he stayed on until May when he finally quit.

"I don't know today whether Blair just had a bad source," Robert Horan, Jr., a prosecutor in Fairfax County, Virginia, said in a press conference denouncing Blair's reporting of the sniper attacks in Washington D.C. "It was equally probable at the time that he was just sitting there writing fiction."

Here is a link to the New York Times story exposing Blair.

works cited:
The New York Times article "CORRECTING THE RECORD; Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception"

The fall of Dan Rather

Here is a video of Dan Rather and the story that ruined his career

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Game of Shadows

A book entitled “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the steroids scandal that rocked professional sports," was published in early March 2006. It focused on the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, (BALCO) owned by Victor Conte.
Allegedly, Conte developed multiple designer steroids, steroids that would not be detected in the modern day steroid testing. Everything began in 2003 when an anonymous source told the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that a steroid existed that was undetectable. Conte was named as the provider of the steroid. Later that year, collaboratively, the IRS, FDA, USDA and San Mateo Narcotics Task Force investigated the BALCO laboratories. Multiple athletes in various sports were listed as BALCO customers. The following year, Conte admitted on ABC’s 20/20 to contributing to Olympic records revealing "the whole history of the games is just full of corruption, cover-up, performance-enhancing drug use." (1)
Throughout this entire process, Patrick Arnold, who was employed by BALCO as a chemist, implicated among others such as Bonds and Gary Sheffield as professional athletes receiving a steroid simply titled "the clear."
Conte and Greg Anderson, a personal trainer and supposed friend of Bonds, pled guilty to steroid distribution and money laundering.
Although Conte and Anderson were now found guilty, the spotlight was shined on Bonds. During his 2003 testimony, Bonds stated he had received and used "the clear" and another cream steroid from Anderson during the 2003 baseball season. He claims he was told they were nutritional supplements. On December 4, 2003, Bonds was confronted with more steroid allegations stating he took human growth hormone, a claim he denied.
Documents exist that implicate Bonds from 2001 to 2003 detailing a long list of steroids used, all of which he has denied.
Although this grand jury testimony is now information that we readily have, it would not be without the courage of the writers of "Game of Shadows." The authors compiled this information from court documents, confidential statements by athletes and trainers, grand jury testimony, audiotapes, BALCO documents, and interviews from over 200 sources. A good deal of this information although true was illegally obtained.
In October 2006, Fainaru-Wada and Williams were served with subpoenas to appear before a grand jury to reveal the source who, leaked Bonds name and testimony. They refused to reveal the source and were sentenced to 18 months in jail. In February 2007, the sentence and charges were dropped after Troy Ellerman, once legal council for Conte, admitted to leaking the information and pled guilty to disclosing grand jury testimony.
Williams stated:
"I'm supposed to keep my promises when people help me and take me at my word. I do despair for our country if we go very far down this road, because no one will talk to reporters."
Phil Bronstein, San Francisco Chronicle Executive Vice President and Editor, stated "It's a tragedy that the government seeks to put reporters in jail for doing their job."


Summary of "Game of Shadows"

For years, in the shadowy reaches of the world of sports, there were rumors that some of our nation's greatest athletes were using steroids, human growth hormone, and other drugs to run faster, jump higher, and hit harder. But as track starts like Marion James blazed their way to Olympic medals and sluggers such as Mark McGwire brought fans back to baseball with stratospheric home runs, sports officials, the media, and fans looked past the rumors and cheered on the athletes to ever-higher levels of performance. The, in December 2004, after more than fifteen months of relentless reporting, San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams broke the story of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, a tiny nutritional supplement company that according to sworn testimony was supplying elite athletes, including baseball MVP Jason Giambi, with banned drugs. The stories, exposing rampant cheating at the highest levels of athletes, shocked the nation as sports heroes were brought low and their records were tainted. The exposes led to congressional hearings on baseball's drug problems and a revived effort to purge the U.S. Olympic movement of drug cheats.

Now, in "Game of Shadows," Fainaru-Wada and Williams tell the complete story of BALCO and the investigation that has shaken the foundations of the sporting world. They reveal how an obscure, self-proclaimed nutritionist, Victor Conte, became a steroid Svengali to multimillionaire athletes desperate for a competitive edge, and how he created superstars with his potent cocktails of miracle drugs. They expose the international web of coaches and trainers who funneled athletes to BALCO, and how the drug cheats stayed a step ahead of the testing agencies and the law. They detail how an aggressive IRS investigator doggedly gathered evidence until Conte and his co-conspirators were brought to justice. And at the center of the story is the biggest start of them all, Barry Bonds, the muscle-bound MVP out-fielder for the San Francisco Giants whose suspicious late-career renaissance has him threatening Hank Aaron's all-time home run record.

Shocking, revelatory, and page-turning, "Game of Shadows" casts light into the shadows of American sports to reveal the dark truths at the heart of the game today.

Works Cited:
Fainaru-Wada, Mark and Williams, Lance. Game of Shadows, Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports. 
Taken from the synopsis of Game of Shadows.