Reporters ‘love’ to tell the truth
Courtney Love and I were discussing journalism ethics recently, and as you might imagine the conversation was fairly one-sided.
The rock ‘n’ roll chanteuse cradled her head in her hands of the darkened Manhattan bistro where we clandestinely met. This was shortly after her notorious shirt-lifting appearance on David Letterman’s show and her subsequent arrest for allegedly striking a fan with a microphone stand.
I was ranting about Jack Kelley, the disgraced former USA Today correspondent who either plagiarized or fabricated portions of many reports he filed for the newspaper. Even the story for which Kelley was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 — a gripping account in which he claimed to have witnessed a suicide bombing in Israel — was phony.
Kelley is the latest in a seemingly endless spate of journalists to be uncovered engaging in invention. He was dishonorably discharged faster than you could say Jayson Blair, who resigned from The New York Times last year after committing similar transgressions.
If he follows Blair’s lead, Kelley will remain unemployed only until signing a lucrative book deal to explain that socioeconomic forces beyond his control forced him to betray his chosen profession.
“When journalists get caught making up things, they don’t just hurt themselves,” I told Love. “The entire industry wears their blemish, because the public trust in any newspaper diminishes each time these deceptions occur. Do you see my point?”
“Ohhhhhh,” the hard-partying punk priestess moaned softly. “I don’t feel so good.”
“Neither do I,” I said. “Because the bad example that Kelley and others before him have set ultimately could influence an entire generation of up-and-coming reporters. They might get the mistaken impression it’s easy to fabricate their work and dupe their editors for years. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Urp,” Love belched.
“Let me give you an example,” I continued. “After seeing what Kelley and Blair got away with for so long, what’s to stop some metro columnist somewhere from inflating his ego and his readership by publishing unverifiable one-on-one conversations with supposed celebrity acquaintances?”
Crack! Love went face-first into the table. It had to have hurt.
“He couldn’t expect to get away with it forever, of course,” I said. “But even after being unmasked as a fraud, there is ample evidence to suggest he could earn a lot of money and even greater recognition just by writing a book about his deceitful ways. Unbelievable, isn’t it?”
Love responded by sliding under the table in a semi-conscious stupor. It was all for the best, I suppose. I had a red-eye flight to catch to Jerusalem, where I would witness the head of a suicide bomber rolling down the street after blowing up himself and a pizzeria.
I stuck my own head under the table to make sure Love was still breathing.
“Can I call you a cab?” I asked.