The Fate of Serial Perpetrators

December 7, 2007 • Ethics and Quality • by

Schweizer Journalist Nr. 10 + 11, 2007, 74

A student group at Columbia University has targeted the journalistic blunders that have hit the headlines. The students tried to find out whatever happened to the field’s “black sheep”, those journalists who duped their readers with forged articles and plagiarism – often in a serial fashion, over long periods of time. For their study, they focused on seven such serial perpetrators – among them Janet Cooke, winner of the Pulitzer Price for a fake story for the Washington Post about a boy living as a heroin-addict; and Jayson Blair, author of at least 36 “faulty” articles, written between October 2002 and May 2003, for the New York Times.

The good news is that not one among those worthwhile popular journalists in the US has ever managed to return to serious journalism – unlike Swiss journalist Tom Kummer, for example, who after having been caught red handed was granted a second and even third chance to keep up the bad work, both in Switzerland and Germany. Moreover, all papers involved in such scandals have reacted by implementing additional control mechanisms. What remains unanswered by this study, however, is the question that would qualify as the “truly” investigative one: what happened to the bosses? Have they suffered any negative consequences because of their failure to act as efficient supervisors? What we do know is that Howard Raines, editor-in-chief of the New York Times, had to leave his post in the wake of the Blair scandal. About Matthew V Storin, who as the Boston Globe’s former editor-in-chief was responsible for overlooking not less than two spectacular cases of plagiarism, we are told that he is currently teaching journalism. Regretfully, he admits that he should have set up a system that would have prevented any such case. Unfortunately, he omits to tell us how such a system would look like…

Reference: “After the Falls”, Columbia Journalism Review, May/June 2007, pp. 14-17
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