Slate is no tool of the “vast right wing conspiracy,” for sure (and neither is its parent company the Washington Post), so it is pretty amazing to see a Slate contributor take his fellow liberal journalists to task in so stark a manner. But, for once, Slate is dead right on this one, folks. The “Journalism” biz never takes their plagiarizing miscreants to task and never makes them pay, but Jack Shafer sure did last Friday.
This time Shafer’s ire is leveled at writer Michael Finkel who is famous for having invented a story that appeared in National Geographic about the slave labor of a small boy purportedly living on an Ivory Coast cocoa plantation. Yet here he is getting work once again in the MSM as if he was a trustworthy and professional writer even after an admission of his lies.
Shafer rips Finkel to pieces saying at one point, “If I had the constitution of a hanging judge, which I don’t, I’d have sent Finkel directly to the gallows for his [slave story] lies.”
But, more important than his ripping of writer Finkel, Shafer gives us a great reference to a study that proves that hardly any writer caught stealing others’ words or making stories up out of whole cloth ever gets held to account in the MSM.
Despite its self-image as a profession that excommunicates and banishes those who violate its ethical codes, journalism routinely grants its miscreants second chances. For example, a 1995 Columbia Journalism Review piece about plagiarism documented the low price Nina Totenberg, Michael Kramer, Edwin Chen, Fox Butterfield, and 16 other journalists paid after being accused of nicking the words of other writers.
Author Trudy Lieberman found that nearly all of them were still in the business, and some of them had even kept their original jobs. As it turns out, not many publications force journalists to pay their debts to their profession and their readers. Often, they don’t even send the bill.
If this doesn’t prove that the media cares more about the agenda and the message than the truth, what does? And, if it doesn’t prove that, it certainly proves that the word “professional” should never appear in conjunction with “journalism”, nor that what they present should be trusted in any way.
In the past, Jack Shafer has claimed to be of a libertarian viewpoint and he has written about the failings of the media, so this attack on journalism isn’t too far out of the ordinary, at least for him. Still, what he has to say here is something that we should see more often. On the other hand, maybe wide reporting on plagiarism in the media is something we should see less of because the media would consider truth and originality as an important concept?
Well, we can dream, can’t we?