By Christina Mears
Journalist work in a competitive field, (Robertson, 2005) which means they have to constantly walk the line between right and wrong. However it is the journalist job to report the truthful and be able to back up their stories with truthful facts as stated in the Canadian ethic guidelines (Committee, 2011). There is no real excuse for journalists to exaggerate or fabricate their stories and the end result if they do can ultimately destroy their career with little to no chance of redeeming themselves.
In the late 1990s a journalist name Steven Glass (HOUPT, 2014) who had become well known, was caught for writing and publishing 41 articles which turned out to be fabricate stories. He was fired from his job, which became the end to his career as a journalist. He made an attempt to write a book but the book was not successful. Nearly a decade after his journalism career ended, he attempted to switch careers into practicing law and in January 2014 he was denied his license (Dolan, 2014) because of his history he would not pass the “moral character test” even though he passed his bar exam. He is not being given an opportunity to redeem himself.
When journalists are considered reliable and credible in the public perspective, the public needs to be able to trust that journalists are telling the truth, but when journalists are caught in a lie that trust is broken and may also cause the public to question the organizations integrity as well. In February 2015; Brian Williams (SOMAIYA, 2015) who was the number one news anchor for NBC News, admitted to exaggerating his Iraq helicopter story, which has resulted in NBC suspending Williams for six months. Even though he was a popular person at NBC and a well known journalist; the chances that he will be able to establish himself again is minimal. His credibility has been compromised and when and if he returns to his position or journalism career, the public may not accept him as a reliable source anymore.
Most journalist that are caught fabricating or exaggerating stories either deny the claim or come up with excuses such as they made a mistake or were miss informed, which neither of those excuses are a good reasons they need to be accountable for their actions and ensure that the information they write about is correct before it is published. It is interesting that when the proof that the accusations against the journalist are proven true; they ruin their integrity even further and try to regain it by apologizing, which typically doesn’t work to gain back trust from their fans or the industry itself. In May 2013, Francois Bugingo (Smith, Canadian Journalist Francois Bugingo Suspended, Accused of Fabrication, 2015) who is a French Canadian journalist, was accused of fabricating his stories and was suspended from the organizations that he worked for. At first he denied the accusations, and claimed he was “stunned by this attack” and “I will defend my integrity” as written in an article by Sydney Smith. I don’t know what actually motivated him to come forward and Admit (Press, 2015) , but he chose to create a Facebook post that stated that he made an error in judgement by “romanticizing” his stories. In June 2015, which was two weeks after the initial accusation, Bugingo turned in his “membership card” and Quit his positions at the various organizations he was writing for. (Smith, Canadian Journalist who Fabricated Quits Journalists Group, 2015). His career as a journalist is most likely over.
On the other hand there could be some journalists who manage to maintain their careers as journalists after exaggerating or fabricating their stories, however, I was not able to locate any information to back this up. Maybe because the journalists who manage to keep their careers are not well known and maybe only the journalists who have made a name for themselves have their error in ethical conduct made public. Though I did find a small amount of information about journalists who have been caught plagiarized, like Lloyd Brown (Bailey, 2012) who originally was the editorial page editor for a newspaper, when he was caught plagiarizing he did lose that job, however, he was able to obtain jobs since which he resigned from, but as of 2010 he is working for small publications (Bailey, 2012). So it can be possible for journalists to recover their careers, but it can hold back their potential of furthering their career.
I chose to only mention three of the larger known cases which pertains to the issue of fabricating stories and exaggerating, but this issue has occurred in a lot of other cases, and I am sure that their will be future cases. With Technology changing it is becoming easier for people to verify information and check the credibility of the content written. It is interesting that even though the result of exaggerating and fabricating stories seems to be with the journalist losing their credibility and ruining their careers, journalists still do it. It seems that choosing to go against this ethic code is not worth the repercussions when the truth comes out, why do some journalists choose to take that risk? To avoid these issues, stick to the journalists ethical codes. Journalists “story must be true” by making sure to check the reliability of their sources, confirm information with research, make sure they have the right facts to back up their stories, and prove that their stories are honest and not add any extra information even if it is logical (Buttry, 2011). Once the credibility is gone, so is the trust…and everyone knows that it is hard to earn that back.
Bailey, J. (2012, August 21). 5 famous Plagiarists: Where are they now? Retrieved from Plagiarism Today: http://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2012/08/21/5-famous-plagiarists-where-are-they-now/
Bugingo, F. (2015, May 29). François Bugingo. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/francois.bugingo/posts/10152824187285496
Buttry, S. (2011, October 31). Our cheating culture: Plagiarism and fabrication are unacceptable in journalism. Retrieved from The Buttry Diary: https://stevebuttry.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/our-cheating-culture-plagiarism-and-fabrication-are-unacceptable-in-journalism/
Committee, t. C. (2011, June). Ethics guidelines. Retrieved from The Canadian Association of Journalists: http://www.caj.ca/ethics-guidelines/
Dolan, M. (2014, January 27). Stephen Glass, ex-journalist who fabricated stories, can’t be lawyer. Retrieved from Los Angeles Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2014/jan/27/local/la-me-ln-stephen-glass-ruling-20140127
HOUPT, S. (2014, January 7). Stephen Glass, ex-journalist who fabricated stories, denied license to practise law . Retrieved from The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/stephen-glass-ex-journalist-who-fabricated-stories-denied-license-to-practise-law/article16530205/
Press, T. C. (2015, May 30). Quebec journalist François Bugingo admits to fabricating numerous stories. Retrieved from Thestar.com world: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/05/30/quebec-journalist-franois-bugingo-admits-to-fabricating-numerous-stories.html
Robertson, L. (2005, September). Confronting the Culture . Retrieved from AJR archive: http://ajrarchive.org/Article.asp?id=3933
Smith, S. (2015, May 23). Canadian Journalist Francois Bugingo Suspended, Accused of Fabrication. Retrieved from iMediaEthics: http://imediaethics.org/canadian-journalist-francois-bugingo-suspended-accused-of-fabrication/
Smith, S. (2015, June 5). Canadian Journalist who Fabricated Quits Journalists Group. Retrieved from iMediaEthics: http://imediaethics.org/canadian-journalist-who-fabricated-quits-journalists-group/
SOMAIYA, E. S. (2015, February 10). Brian Williams Suspended From NBC for 6 Months Without Pay. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/11/business/media/brian-williams-suspended-by-nbc-news-for-six-months.html?_r=2
This blog was created by Christina Mears as part of a course requirement for JRNL 1160 at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.