Real Fake News: Liner Notes

I have a column up today at The Federalist, “The Boston Globe’s News Fabrication Scandal Is Nothing New For Journalism,” about a case of alleged fabulism that did not get a lot of attention in our nine-news-cycles-daily environment:

In the latest episode of alleged “fake news” in high places, the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen was placed on leave after hosts on WEEI claimed the columnist—part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news during the Boston Marathon bombings—falsely inserted himself at the scene of the terror attack.”

Most of my piece is an aggregation of various cases of outright journalistic fraud, which seem to erupt every few years, with the discovery of one fabulist often bringing heat on others.

For reasons of space, I didn’t get to dive more into the case of fmr Globe columnist Mike Barnicle.  But if you read Kenneth Tomlinson’s TWS piece (also linked in my column), there is more about how even a case that was not overtly political, some subtle forms of politics — and pressure from an advertiser — helped Barnicle survive longer than he probably should have.  Length also precluded me from discussing Jonah Lerner, whose downfall was due primarily to plagiarism, but who also fabricated Bob Dylan quotes for a book and bizarrely went out of his way to push the false story that Steve Jobs demanded Pixar’s headquarters have only two bathrooms.

I have written for various outlets for roughly a dozen years or so, and I’m a big fan of hyperlinks.  I used to be rather obsessive about it, as in the days of the old school blogosphere, I thought it was important to “show my work,” establish authority, or discuss things from a common factual basis.  I have become a bit less obsessive about it because — as anyone who uses social media now recognizes — the percentage of people who click on hyperlinks is fairly low.  Nevertheless, I find that including links imposes a discipline that helps assure people that I am not making things up, and that my source materials are properly identified with a link as one might do with a footnote in other types of writing.

Of course, that’s far more difficult to do with original reporting than with punditry or analysis — but recording technologies should go a long way to help (and perhaps recordings should be vetted more often by editors than I suspect they are).

The rule of “too good to be true” should always be a guide, but in an age where journalism is increasingly devoted to confirming the audience’s biases and hostile to ideological diversity, the rule of “too good to be true” often gives way to the glee of “too good to check.”

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