By Chandler Claxton
Growing up, I always valued the truth, no matter how brutal it was. The truth is what first attracted me to journalism. The profession survives on the credibility and accuracy of media outlets and their reporters. Without the audience’s trust, news stories hold no water and the primary purpose of the news business is lost.
The integrity of Journalists and the profession itself are yet again under fire. The latest incident stems from “NBC’s Nightly News” anchor, Brian Williams, who has been suspended without pay for six months as of Feb. 10 due to an ongoing investigation into his continued exaggeration of an incident he reported in Iraq in 2003.
Williams and NBC have been telling the story differently from their original reporting since 2003.
The most recent inconsistency in his report went public at a Jan. 30 New York Rangers game. There, Williams paid tribute to retired soldier Sgt. Maj. Tim Terpak, claiming Terpak protected Williams and his camera crew after their helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. But Williams is not alone.
Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, Judith Miller and a number of others all fabricated or plagiarized stories during their careers and damaged the integrity of their fellow journalists.
Glass made up as many as half of his stories for The New Republic. Blair, an up-and-coming writer for The New York Times, was found to be a serial plagiarizer. Miller of the New York Times Washington bureau was involved in controversy after her coverage of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction program was debunked.
Because of their actions, these journalists have no accountability with the public and are no asset to any media outlet.
So what does this mean for future journalists like myself?
I respect journalism so, it is hard to take it lightly when a highly respected journalist, especially one who has won a Pulitzer Prize such as Williams, embellishes a story. The first thing any aspiring journalist learns about is ethics and the great importance of honesty.
The Society of Professional Journalists has gathered a list of ethics journalists should follow. It argues that ethical journalism should be fair and balanced.
Journalists should never plagiarize and always take responsibility for the accuracy of their reporting. Fraud should never be justified.
It is never acceptable for a journalist to disregard the relationship he has with his audience by reporting anything other than the facts. When journalists disrespect their audience, they should immediately be sidelined.
If a reporter fabricates a story, the public should be outraged. When reading a news story or watching a news segment, the reader places their trust in the reporter to tell the truth. This relationship puts a tremendous amount of responsibility on a journalist. If they cannot perform their job appropriately, they should step aside for a more ethical journalist.
In the wake of Brian Williams’ falsehoods, journalists now have to be more careful than ever about not only what they report, but what they say away from the news desk. It is vital that journalists are clear and precise in reporting and retain the audience’s trust.