Teaching Notes

You must become the flame on the candle. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Shattered Glass

Who or what was to blame for Stephen Glass' deceptions making it into print, and what needed to happen to prevent it?

Please respond before class on Thursday, Sept. 18.


cfinn129 said...

There could be many factors that play into who are to blame for Stephen Glass's deceptions making it to print. One person may blame Glass for being an unethical journalist, and another person may blame the publication, or the editor for not being more on top of what their journalists are publishing.
The text talks about the first commandment in journalism and how it was violated by Glass. In reality he was the one investigating the stories and writing them so maybe he should be the one blamed. Also his inexperience in journalism could be another factor. The text touches on the fact that his inexperience in the journalism industry, could have attributed to him fabricating the stories. Glass could have also been trying to get recognized and make his name known in the industry.
Many actions could have been taken to avoid the print of Glass's fabricated stories. Glass may have not taken action himself because he was trying to induce fame, but something could have been done by one of the editors at the publication. If you think about it Glass doesn't hold much credibility so why didn't any of the editors check his sources, or evidence. Is double checking the work of one of their journalists not their job? Glass could have simply written an amazing factual story if he would have done it ethically, but he did it deceitfully and caused a mockery of the publication he worked for. The text refers to some of the remedies the American Journalism Review has come up with to avoid situations like the glass one. They state that handing out a code of ethics just isn’t enough anymore. There should be changes to make the newsroom more collaborative and not so cut throat, where the journalists work with each other instead of against each other. They also state that there should be a more stringent editorial oversight for everyone, even if they are a star, and create clearer guidelines when it comes to quotes and information obtained.

Nicole said...

In my opinion, I think that culture and the society we live in is the reason why Stephen Glass’ deceptions made it into print. In a world where everyone is trying to look better than the person they’re standing next to, Glass wanted to stand out. He said that he wanted to “deceive people into thinking better” of him, and he did that by writing lies that attracted many readers and attention. With the attention came popularity, which caused him to be recognized and become popular. It seems almost as if everything is a competition these days, even the smallest of things, and I’m sure that Glass felt that in order to come out on top he had to impress everyone. Unfortunately, I think he impressed his co-workers a little bit too much, because it seems as if no research was done on anything he submitted and that allowed his deceptions to be printed.

In order for this to be prevented, I think that research should have been done and facts had to be double checked before anything was published. That way the false information wouldn’t have been released and people wouldn’t believe the false information. Everyone just liked it because it was interesting and pulled the readers in. someone should have taken a step back and realized that some of the deceptions he was writing were a little extreme and maybe contained a little bit too much, and taken it from there to determine what to do about it.

ZK said...

Society of Professional Journalists Code or Ethics states "test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error."

In Stephen Glass' case, good journalism was compromised due to lack of epistemic responsibility and competition for publication.

In my opinion, no one single person can be blamed for Glass' deceptive stories making to print. Yes, we should blame Glass for fabricating his stories because he did not follow the main principle of journalism, which to the seek the truth and report it.

In the journalistic culture today, the pressures of writing a story that is not only truthful but also compelling and engaging can lead journalists to use deceptive sources in order to "stand out." That's what I believe happened in Glass's case.

We also have to consider Chuck Lane's role in this case and how his duties of a good editor were at fault. If Chuck had done a thorough check of Glass' sources and spoken to the subjects of his stories, then Glass's stories wouldn't never made it to print.

Glass's case could have been avoided if seeking the truth and not truthiness was his ultimate purpose as a journalist. He wanted to become a star, not a journalist. Unfortunately for him,the price of fame came at a great cost.

ZK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doron Tyler Antrim said...

Obviously, Stephen Glass is partly to blame for his lies making it into print. Journalists take a silent oath to seek the truth and report it, and Glass violated this foremost commandment. Therefore, he must take some responsibility for his actions.

Part of the blame can also be placed on Glass' editor, Chuck Lane. Although it is unrealistic for an editor to assume that his or her reporters are fabricating stories for the purpose of journalistic stardom, they must verify and reverify that what they're reading is the truth. That is their job.

I believe a system needs to be in place that encourages team-based, cooperative journalism rather than the single-reporter regime that is the industry norm today. This system would have prevented Glass from fabricating his stories because there would have been other journalists working with him on the same story.

katrina said...

I am on the same page that Doron's on, but I'm thinking more blame should be put on Chuck Lane. An editor is supposed to set standards for his or her staff. Lane was as seduced by Glass's stories as the rest of his staff, which I guess caused him to glaze over the fact-checking process. Because it seems that it's actually NOT that far off for editors to suspect fabrication, more source-verification needs to happen. I don't really think collaboration in reporting would be a solution, but having more editors on each story would help stop cases like this one.

Joseph said...

I do feel Stephen Glass’s situation is his own fault. I know that he was not the only reporter in history to have fabricated stories and have them published. However, their must be some type of self-control when dealing with matters of ethics. Ethics to me is like a submarine in water, the moment you shoot a hole through it, is the moment it sinks. I do agree that you can not pick and choose what you feel is the correct ethical decision. Glass knew very well what he was doing was wrong and if exposed would ruin him. There is much competition in the news field with more jobs being consolidated, but it does not mean you create the story to give your self an edge. Imagine if other jobs created or fabricated their own success? What would the world be like if police officers pretended to catch a criminal to make them self and the rest of their police station look good? It would be chaos. News papers should have stricter enforcement of what stories they publish. Information can be very dangerous, especially if it is a lie. Lives can be ruined and reputations destroyed. I don’t want to sound like its completely the news papers fault, but they are the last line of defense between the reporters story and the public. For people like Stephan Glass who has grown up in a culture that cheating was almost understood, there is a lot of work and struggle to correct this attitude. I honestly don’t see an overall solution, except that one day people will give the community the nation and the world its respect it deserves.

Zuri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zuri said...

The blame for Stephen Glass' deceptions falls on more than one shoulders.Glass is to blame obviously because he is the one who fabricated the stories. The publication also has some part in it because they printed not one or two but over 20 something of his fabricated stories. Nicole mentions that the "society and culture we live in" is to blame for Glass' action because we live in such a competitive world. I disagree. Glass chose to fabricate stories, maybe it was to be better than the next guy. But, lying to the publication's audience is not acceptable. "Seek the truth and report it" is what is expected of a journalist as well as news publications.

As far as what could have been to prevent it: Well maybe Glass should have taken an ethics course or undergone some sort of ethics training. The fact checkers that checked his stories should have been more thorough. Maybe Chuck and other editors need not focus so much on what story can attract more circulation and be more concerned with the context and practice of their journalists. Either way, I don't think there is just one clean cut answer that could have prevented Glass from doing what he did.

ChelseaC said...

Well clearly Glass is 100% responsible for his deceptions even getting considered to go to print because it was him in the first place that submitted it to his editor. But with that being said, I honestly think that Michael Kelly (Glass' first editor) is largely to blame here. It is an editor's job to make sure what their newspaper is printing is 100% fact and truth. Yes it is understandable that checking every single story printed for and lies within is a large job, but hey if you can't handle it don't be an editor!
I agree with Doron when he suggest the system for journalists to work together instead of alone. This way all members have to agree on what gets put into the article. Also, there should be on every newspaper staff a group of employees who's sole job is checking facts and sources for the articles before they are put to print.

Julie said...

There really isn't one specific person to blame for Stephen Glass' deceptions making it into print. You could blame both the editors Kelly and Lane for not throughly fact checking the articles before publishing them, if you had to blame anyone. It is their job as editors to make sure the articles being printed in their newspapers are accurate. We as readers depend on these people to give us news that is truthful. We believe most, if not all of what we read because we assume it has gone through the journalistic process of editing and fact checking before it is put out for the public to read and believe.

I would have to say that popularity, fame ,and money are to blame for Glass' decision to fabricate these stories. It was known that he was a young writer just out of college. While in college he was the editor of the school newspaper. Sometimes it can be hard for college graduates to adjust to the real world, especially after 4 years of living the same comfortable life where you are well known in the organizations you belong to. The pressure of being in the real world may have been too much for Glass. He wanted to succeed and he didn't want to wait to climb up the latter so he created these compelling fictional stories in order to get his name out there. Fame and fortune is something that deep down everyone wants, even if just for a day. And some people, like young Glass will lie and cheat and risk the reputation of their companies to get there.

To prevent Glass' deceptions making it into print the editors and other staff working at the magazine should have done more thorough fact-checking, as I mentioned before. I find it strange how the website given in "Hacker Heaven" wasn't even researched. It just seems obvious to me that a magazine editor would look up something like that, but perhaps Lane did not find it necessary. People who try to be positive and think the best of others probably wouldn't find it necessary to do in-depth research because they wouldn't want to believe that someone would lie to them. No one likes being lied to so some people just assume they are being told the truth all the time. What a wonderful world it would be if we could trust everyone to be truthful.

emma said...

Besides the fact that Stephen Glass' lack of professionalism and any sort of ethical thinking, I do agree with Nicole in that the pressure of our society plays a role. Competition is a good thing. I think it keeps us thriving, but there comes a point where it's been taken too far. The shock factor is what people want and journalists are doing what ever they can to obtain that.

Although Glass' editor definitely should have looked into his stories, who would think that his stories were so fabricated? Glass broke the oath that journalists should take about reporting the truth.

As for what can be done about such behavior, the remedies seem very idealistic. Thinking that any unethical journalists are going to just disappear or stop their current behavior is unrealistic. The competition is going to continue existing, creating a cycle that is going to be very hard to break.

Hopefully what can be done is to start pounding ethics into up an coming journalists. I think setting new precedents is what we can do. Although weeding out the already existing journalists that lack ethics, we can hope to not let more develop by truthful news environments that maintain their integrity by reporting responsibly.

emma said...

Besides the fact that Stephen Glass' lack of professionalism and any sort of ethical thinking, I do agree with Nicole in that the pressure of our society plays a role. Competition is of course a good thing. I think it keeps us thriving, but there comes a point where it's been taken too far. The shock factor is what people want and journalists are doing what ever they can to obtain that.

Although Glass' editor definitely should have looked into his stories, who would think that his stories were so fabricated? Glass broke the oath that journalists should take about reporting the truth.

As for what can be done about such behavior, the remedies seem very idealistic. Thinking that any unethical journalists are going to just disappear or stop their current behavior is unrealistic. The competition is going to continue existing, creating a cycle that is going to be very hard to break.

Hopefully what can be done is to start really emphasizing ethics to up an coming journalists. I think setting new precedents is what we can do. Although weeding out the already existing journalists that lack ethics may not be completely realistic, we can hope keep more from developing by truthful news environments that maintain their integrity by reporting responsibly.

Gina Marinelli said...

Stephen Glass’ work should have never appeared in any publication and I find it very disheartening and surprising that his lies were overlooked time and time again and presented to the world as truth. Ultimately, I believe that Stephen Glass is to blame for his own downfall, but it is the responsibility of an editor and an editorial staff to catch such major pieces of fiction that Glass presented as fact. Not only did Glass fabricate stories, but even planted fake mistakes for editors to catch. While editors caught these mistakes, how could they never catch the real factual errors? I believe that in the very competitive nature of media, the editors seemed to fail to do their jobs. As a New Republic staff member was quoted, “a hungry dog doesn’t sniff at his bowl before eating.” Michael Kelly and his staff seemed to have been too hungry for a story to inspect what was placed before them. In this case, Glass and Kelly are really both to blame. Both are responsible for the stories that appeared in the New Republic and neither seemed to be living up to any journalistic code of ethics.

Brianna said...

Who or what was to blame for Stephen Glass' deceptions making it into print, and what needed to happen to prevent it?
On the surface, and pretty much at the core of the entire “crime” against everything good journalism stands for, “who is to blame” is obviously Stephen Glass himself. The scarce details about his early career and then description of how others treated him at the New Republic in the text are little clues that paint a picture of what his personality/character were made out of. A probably-at-one-point-fresh-and-talented young campus-paper-editor with big eyes wide and a hunger for the truth, blah blah blah. This is 1994. Fast forward a few years when Glass is known as “the most sought after young reporter in the nation’s capitol.” Imagine if this description described you? Not only did he probably feel the pressure to keep pumping out these popular eye-catching stories to keep his it-boy reputation, but the boost it was giving to his popularity, and therefore ego, was probably somewhat addicting. In this sense, society and the media is to blame for making such a set standard in the American story-telling appeal—the more gossipy the story: the better. The more gruesome, the more messed up, the more catastrophic: the better. Glass knew how to feed society’s insatiable hunger for the “juicy” stories.
The very beginning of the chapter talks about how a “cheating culture is emerged” when people develop an “everyone is doing it” mentality- this is what Glass became comfortable, and even famous and praised for doing. Cheating. He did it so carefully and tactfully that he wasn’t even caught ‘til 26 BS stories later. Obviously, this brings up a whole slew of others that are to blame.
When someone questioned Glass’ first New Republic piece, in which he called the head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest a “national nag”, then New Republic editor Michael Kelly defended Glass by calling his accuser “a liar”. Mistake number one. If a new journalist’s credibility/facts are being questioned after ONE article, I think it is the chief editor’s duty to look into it- no matter how “highly acclaimed” this new young journalist might be. It’s only, um, the smart thing to do Mr. Kelly. Would you rather protect your entire paper’s reputation and credibility, or the word of this new young journalist? Not to mention the possibility of lawsuits that these fabricated stories could have invited. This is the point when Glass became invincible in his own mind, got comfortable “cheating” the very first and foremost clear code of journalism, and began to deceive everyone around him.
New Republic editor Chuck Lane sounds like he only pumped up Glass’ ego even further by going as far as to helping him name fabricated stories’ titles! Glass deceived everyone from the chief editor to the miniscule fact checkers- all of whom should have been doing a thorough job, but were instead sure that Glass’ word was as good as his reputation. There are several print editors, copy editors, and fact checkers who must have been screening these stories. It is pretty threatening to imagine none of them caught on sooner, since I personally usually trust the news. The “American Public” does not expect to be lied to. I mean, Stephen Glass is one tainted journalist. One of several. One who, fortunately, happened to get caught. Imagine now all the Stephen Glasses who don’t, and wont get caught…
The stories could have been prevented from going to the press simply had they been checked more thoroughly. If the people who were supposed to be really fact checking, and being alert when this hot-new writer was being questioned, less than 26 fabricated stories Should and Would have been released. Michael Kelly and Chuck Lane should have really made Glass work for their approval and admiration- instead of giving him the benefit of the doubt without ever having seen his true journalistic colors.
I don’t think anything could have prevented Glass himself from creating these kind of journalistic exaggerations and lies- its just the kind of ethics he practiced, was raised with, got away with… It was just the kind of person he was.

Jesse Ordansky said...

Fabricating news stories and parts of news stories is unacceptable behavior for someone who calls themself a "professional" journalist. Although Stephen Glass got what he deserved when he was fired, I do not believe that it is entirely his fault that his stories were published. Where blame could lie on Glass, Lee, or looming deadlines, I blame the business of journalism.

The newspaper business will always be a "business" before anything else - therfore, money and notoriety will always be important. The text explains that the New Republic had financial issues, staff members were looking for fame, and that competition was a common theme. If an inexperienced reporter gets placed in this type of environment, he/she might seek entertainment and "wow factor" over truth.

There is no doubt that what Stephen Glass did is wrong. But when the climate of his situation is analyzed, his actions can be understood.

Keeping deception out of journalism might only have idealistic remedies. A simple start is to make sure that the next generation of journalists understand ethics. An absolute method would be to somehow instil that money and fame are not as important as reporting true and relevant information to the masses.

Nick Guzman said...

Stephen Glasses actions are completely unethical, unprofessional, and warranting of the action taken by the New Republic. However, these actions are also understandable.
There is considerable value in being an “up and coming” journalist. Stephen Glass recognized this fact. By 25 he was, “The most sought after young-reporter in the Capital.” Glass, and other journalists that were caught lying, were just living the American dream. He worked an honest profession, but broke the rules a little bit, and got rewarded for his incentive. It is essentially the gear work of the free market at work, he got rewarded for his risk, and the more risk the greater reward.
Journalism isn’t the only profession where this is the reality, businessmen fake numbers on a balance sheet to get a bonus. Or some greedy bankers who would give a mortgage to a brick wrapped in an application, not because it was right, because it was profitable. Doctors who prescribe prescription drugs when they are not necessary, just to get their kick backs from the pharmaceutical industry. The point is that as long as there is reward in taking risks there will be a person who thinks the risk is worth it, no matter how unethical.
The only person to blame in Stephen Glasses story is Stephen Glass. People are faced with like decisions everyday in every field of business. It is not a reflection on the industry but the culture. Stephen Glass was a rare situation; he fabricated such eloquent lies, to go as far as to put noticeably false facts to throw off the fact checker. He had so much vested into the lie that as much effort into a real story would have given him the same amount of success. My point isn’t that Stephen Glass wasn’t wrong in what he did, he was. But that in any industry there is a Stephen Glass, willing to take the risk as long as there is reward.

Anonymous said...

I think Stephen Glass is the ONLY person to blame for his deceptions making it to print. He was hired to be a journalist and I think that, alone, comes with its own assumptions. Doesn’t your editor ASSUME that you are researching and reporting on events or issues that are really going on? Your fellow journalists aren’t sitting around waiting to find something that doesn’t make sense in YOUR stories. Everyone assumes that you are following the code of ethics and being the ideal journalist. If someone else was to blame for his articles making it to print then that means individual positions within a news organization have to change. For instance, your editor is now responsible for making sure your story not only makes sense, is interesting, sounds good, but is also TRUE!? As a journalist aren’t you supposed to be your own reminder (as opposed to your coworkers or editors) that you are there to report what is really going on, not some crap that’s easy to put together and sounds good? That would mean that if I ever become an editor I’m going to have to keep an eye on reporters to make sure and remind them that they are writing real stories? Isn’t that implied when you get hired?
What needed to occur in order for his deceptions to not make it to print is that he should not have written them. I think that he was just an ego-tripping, liar who really didn’t know or care what was expected of him as a journalist. I don’t think there was a way of really preventing it, if there weren’t any suspicions within the office. I can sit here and write that the editors should have been checking on him but I don’t think that really happens and don’t think it’s the way to crack down on all journalists who fabricate stories. I think that would take away from any pleasure that an editor gets from his job. It doesn’t seem like anyone working with him thought he was making these stories up so how would they have prevented it.
Maybe if once he got hired they reiterated what was expected of him and what was not in any way, shape or form acceptable, it wouldn’t have happened. I don’t even know if I believe that would have really worked. It just sounds like he was...an unethical person.

Thereal2008 said...

I believe that it was no one’s fault other than Stephen Glass’ for his dishonesty being published. At the same time you really can’t blame the guy! You’re taught from a very young age to outdo and be better than your competition, and therefore that’s exactly what he wanted to do, be remembered and stand apart from the rest. Sure it was lies that got the reader’s attention but at the same time what is that to say about the readers.
Glass could have gone about this in another way though. Like for one his research could have been much tighter. In fact, his research was really bad if any at all.
Some people say that someone should have looked into this and double checked his research, so the deception could not have made it in to print, but my question is who? He was given his dead-line which he met and trusted that his story and research decisions were made ethical.
What’s the point in hiring a person if you have to go behind them and double check their work….?

Howie Good said...

The real2008 raises an interesting point when she/he suggests that being professional means doing what's right even when no one's watching to see that you do. Hey, that's kind of a definition of an ethical person! Are ethics and professionalism synonymous? Not in the real world, but in an ideal one, I think so.

JoshWhite said...

Obviously, Glass is responsible for making false stories, but he was not the only one who got lazy. The fact checkers and editors did not do their job. A main reason this was allowed to happen was the trust that people at the New Republic had in Glass. The stories were excellent and made a lot of people smile, so his co-workers took him at his word.

Laurent said...

I think competition in the news media drove Glass into deceiving himself that he was being honest with his readers. The New Republic was suffering huge losses and Glass took it upon himself to boost sales. Glass loved the attention he got when he shared his story ideas with his co-workers. As co-workers described him in the book, Glass was a “very confused soul.” He wanted to make himself “look better by deceiving people,” but he ended up disgracing the newspaper.

Both his editors did not catch on because I think Glass made a hard sell on his stories. Lane did not question Glass’ honesty at first because he believed that Glass had good moral character. Lane should have done fact and source checks to make sure the stories were not fabricated. However, we tend to trust people we like and take their word for face value.

Lane tells Caitlin toward the end of the movie, “If this were a stranger, you’d dig and you’d bury him.” It is always easier to challenge an enemy than to expose a friend. Is our commitment to our friends or to society? I agree with the real2008’s comment that “we should be doing what’s right when no one is looking.” Glass, however, won his co-workers and bosses over so that he didn’t need to worry about “doing what’s right.” In his celebrity status, “he got a free pass” to shape journalism into “the great American novel.”

Kilani L. said...

I don't think there is a single factor or person to blame for the deceptions that made it to print. I think that it was a number of things. First and foremost, Glass is obviously to blame because he is the one who fabricated the stories and submitted them to his editor, knowing that they were in fact completely false.

Secondly, Chuck Lane who contributed titles to Glass' work was seemingly caught up in the pieces written and didn't take the time to do a background check on all the work. I know some may think that the editor shouldn't have to do this extra work to verify journalists' sources and stories, but this is the job of the editor; to go above and beyond what the journalists/writers have done.

The public is also to blame. As the public and consumers of news, we crave that what borders on gossip and sensationalized material. Glass must have felt the need to fulfill the public's wants. He created these stories probably to popularize himself and his writing.

I don't know if there was any one way to prevent this. When Lane was appointed to the editor position, he should have immediately met with all the journalists under him and discussed the ethics and high standards that all newspapers should have for their writers. As I said before, Lane should have taken the time to verify everything.

ChrisDT said...

It's hard to blame Stephen Glass alone for his fake stories making it into print, but in the end after all the measures he went through the majority of the blame rests on his shoulders. He broke every rule in the book. He betrayed the trust of his audience by writing completely false stories. Every budding journalist hopes for the day that they will see their stories in print, but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth of many who've witnessed this mockery of their passion.

There are some that are saying the pressure from society as a major role, but enough to make a person create a fake website to cover their tracks? That kind of flat out blasphemy is quite an accomplishment.

I believe the editor is at fault too. Not alone for hiring him, but for the lack of stringent fact checking. I remember we had 3 copy editors fact-check every story for my high school newspaper. If they could spot a fallacy in an entire print it was because it was checked three times over. There is no excuse for his fallacies making it to print.

To prevent actions like these, I believe that editors need to be as careful as they possibly can in hiring new writers. Copy editors need to be on their game because fact checking isn't a joke.

Jess said...

I think that Stephen Glass himself is solely responsible for the fabrication of stories that he wrote for the New Republic. As a journalist, you basically sign up and take an oath to report the truth and the facts. The fact that he took this oath so lightly and perhaps even as an option, not as a rule degrades the whole media industry.
It was his morals and ethics that were questioned daily, and in my opinion he should have known the difference between right and wrong, fact and fiction. Yes, unfortunately, scandal and juiciness in a story does in deed sell more copies but as a journalist, it is their duty to refrain from it.
In this situation, Glass was to blame, but I do think that his magazine or co-workers could have made sure his facts were actually true, when he wanted to print these lavish stories. It I just as unethical to be the one doing something wrong, as it is to turn the other cheek and look away when you know something is wrong.

tthomp said...

Seek the truth and report. It the foundation of journalism, and how we learn to report.

Stephen King's sever blunder of journalism ethics as well as his own moral compass is his failure alone. He found it easier to fabricate stories that to do the work, and find the sources.

Prevention might included him getting off his ass, and doing the work. Plus, as a new reporter he should have been working closely with an editor to insure he was meeting guidelines of ethical integrity.

The issue of the paper and its supervisors' ethics, therefor, also come into focus for concern. I mean who just prints, without checking even the slightest detail.

rosalyn said...

In Chapter 3 about Stephen Glass an article by Eric Pooley in Time Magazine was quoted saying that the New Republic exemplified a "youth-happy journalism industry" that "catapults reporters into the big leagues before they have learned the fundamentals of their craft." A youthful Jayson Blair repeated such a deception a few years later at the New York Times. In the article referred to in the footnotes, "Mirror of the Times " by James W. Carey in the May 29, 2003, issue of The Nation he cites the following. "In hiring and promoting Jayson Blair, the paper violated its long-professed policy of farming out young journalists to apprenticeships at small papers, where their errors can be corrected and their character scrubbed with steel wool without inflicting much damage on the community.... Flaws in character are quickly revealed and grasped in the intimacy of a small organization; the incompetent and pathological can be weeded out before graduating into the more anonymous atmosphere of the metropole. Instead of following this apprenticeship policy with Blair--though he did spend time at the Times-owned Boston Globe--the Times accelerated him into the ego-driven race to capture a place on the front page. Telling the youngest kid in town to sink or swim clearly taught that the institution values aggressiveness and star quality rather than the mundane virtues of truth and proportion."

Both Stephen Glass and Jason Blair could be labeled sociopaths. One more paragraph from Carey's article pulls it all together. "The gap between ideals professed and practices encouraged is precisely what a sociopath exploits. Such characters are peculiarly adept at taking advantage of the weakness and vanity of organizations and individuals, of knowing who needs to be flattered and in what way, and where corners can be safely cut. They recognize the power of a well-kept secret: The culture of journalism professes loyalty to truth, thoroughness, context and sobriety but actually rewards prominence, the unique take, standing out from the crowd and the riveting narrative. Sociopaths believe they are only giving their superiors what is secretly desired and deserved. The supply of such journalists is likely to increase in the world we are creating."

Who or what was to blame for Stephen Glass's deceptions? It is the institution of journalism flooded with the 24/7 broadcast cycle and the internet meeting maximum profits for the news media companies. What needs to happen to prevent it? What about every journalist wearing a lapel pin that signifies "I have read, understand and will follow The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics".

Brittany O'Hara said...

Stephen Glass is the only one responsible for fabricating his stories. I do not agree that he was falling to society. The society that we live in puts a lot of expectations on us.It is up to the person to decide if it is going to make them or break them. Stephen choice to have no morals and no ethics when it came to his writing.

When you are a journalist you are expected to be honest and report only truthfulness to your readers. Stephen broke the cardinal rule when he decided to fabricate his stories for the New Republic. When we are children we are taught to know right from wrong and some issues may be questionable for some people but this one is a straight and narrow road to wrong.

I realize that more juicy stories sell better but when a journalist lies to their readers and they find out they are ruining there paper and their own reputation. I think that his co-workers and boss should have checked his sources from the get go and they would have never had to deal with this problem. I blame the newspaper for being lazy in that aspect.

Stephanie said...

The obvious person to blame for Stephen Glasss' deceptions making it to print is Stephen Glass himself. He was lazy, unethical, and obviously had no interest in the well being and reputation of the magazine he worked for. To have dedicated yourself to a this field of work means that you must have some kind of interest in seeking truth and finding stories and facts to share with the world. Apparently Stephen Glass had different reasons for entering this line of work. I also think that the fact checkers are also to blame because they were obviously not doing their jobs thoroughly enough. Fact checkers should be able to prove every fact in a story, and if every fact Stephen Glass was writing about was fake, then why did it take so long to find it out? I think the only was this could have been prevented is if the fact checkers did a better job, or becoming a journalist became a harder job to get because you needed some type of licensing.

Is Media Ethics Education DOA?

It sounds like a joke Jay Leno would tell during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show. Hear about the graduate students at the prestigious journalism school? They got caught cheating on an ethics exam. Ha ha ha. Except that’s actually what happened at Columbia University in late 2006.

Students had been given 48 hours to sign onto a Columbia Web site to take the final exam in a required course called “Critical Issues in Journalism.” They then had 90 minutes to answer two essay questions.

The students were warned to not discuss the questions with each other, but apparently they did. As the headline over a story reporting the scandal put it, “Ivy J-Schoolers Fail Ethics, Ace Irony.”

No one admitted cheating despite pressure from the school’s administrators and pleas from classmates, who feared the scandal would damage the market value of their degrees. Meanwhile, the teacher of the course, New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman, refused to comment. But if the disgruntled posts on RateMyProfessors.com are any indication, his students hadn’t exactly been soaking up knowledge. “Maybe he could e-mail his ‘speeches’ to the students instead of making everyone suffer through the most wasted class in j-school. . . ,” one read.

There’s an old cowboy saying that goes, “When your horse dies, get off.” Journalism ethics education is a dead horse. Or else those aren’t vultures circling in the sky.

A Question for Socrates

The question of how ethics is learned, or even if it can be, is as old as Western philosophy. In Plato’s dialog Meno the title character asks, “Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?” Of course, Socrates, being Socrates, resists giving a definite answer. But we can’t. The sad fact is, students had better get an effective ethics education now or they may never.

Last summer I conducted an ethics workshop for some reporters and editors at the Poughkeepsie Journal, a small daily in upstate
New York owned by Gannett Co., Inc. The woman in charge of organizing the workshop had supplied us with several case studies to examine. I remember one dealt with a classic conflict of interest, a copy editor who moonlighted at a local radio station.

But what I remember most is the air of defeat that clung to the staff as we sat on hard plastic chairs in the break room discussing the cases. I could hear in their voices the bitterness and cynicism of employees forced to follow corporate policies they despised. Recently, for example, the paper had started running display ads on the front page and section fronts, a much more grievous ethical lapse, their mumbled asides suggested, than anything the case studies might have to offer.

I don’t want my students to ever wear the gray, defeated expression I saw that day on the faces at the Journal. But given the downward direction in which the media are moving, and fast, how in the world can I prevent it from happening?

Teaching Media Ethics by Telling Stories

A friend of mine who teaches at a big Midwestern university recounts in class the events of her first week as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was sent to Duluth to cover Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on the campaign trail. When they were introduced, Humphrey vigorously shook her hand. “Oh yes, Susan,” he said, “I read your stuff all the time.” He couldn’t have read her stuff, though; she hadn’t written anything yet. “Just a few words,” she explains to her students, “but words that taught this fledging reporter a great lesson about pols and the little lies they tell.”

I usually find occasion during the semester to quote I. F. Stone’s dictum, “Every government is run by liars and thieves, and nothing they say should be believed,” to make the same point. But Susan’s story makes the point better. That’s because it has existential force. Her story vividly captures in a way a secondhand quote can’t the realities of a reporter’s life.

Some might think telling “war stories” is a waste of precious class time. I’ve a colleague who didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of regaling students with stories ad nauseam (“which, let’s face it, is easier than teaching or grading,” he said). So one semester he kept track. When he toted it all up at the end, he was surprised that he’d used less than an hour - out of 45 – talking about his newspaper experiences. And yet, he admitted, it was his stories that students seemed to remember most.

“Stories teach us how to live,” Daniel Taylor said in his essay, “The Ethical Implications of Storytelling.” What he meant was that stories preserve our experience for contemplation and evaluation. Although not all stories carry a heavy message, there’s an entire category of stories, so-called “exemplary tales,” that are told to convey a moral.

Our war stories are potentially just such tales. They can provide evidence, in ethicist John Barton’s words, of “how real human beings live through various crises and trials and remain human.” My colleague who kept tabs on his storytelling has described his stories as cautionary. Most, he said, deal with “screwups I learned from.”

But sometimes the storyteller and the audience can’t agree on what exactly the moral of a story is.

When Susan was a cub reporter on the Tribune, she interviewed the Beatles, who were on their second tour of the States. She got into their hotel room by dressing up as a waitress in an ugly, mustard-colored uniform and accompanying an actual room service waiter upstairs. Ringo took one look at her little plastic name tag – it read “Donna Brown” – and snorted, “What kind of name is that?” The waiter nudged her in the side. “Tell them what you real name is,” he urged. She did, as well as her reason for being there. Rather than throw her out, the Beatles politely answered her questions. They even let her phone for a photographer. The next day her story ran on the front page, with a photo of John sitting at a table and looking up at her and laughing as she poured coffee in his cup. She still has a glossy print of that photo somewhere.

Many of Susan’s students think she’s nuts for not having the photo hanging up in her office. They also think she’s nuts for saying she’d never participate in the same kind of stunt today. To her celebrity-struck students, disguising herself as a hotel waitress to get an interview with the Beatles seems soooo cool. They lose all sight of the fact that it wasn’t a story of vital public interest that demanded undercover methods.

Susan intends one lesson when she talks about her hard day’s night, but her students, living in a paparazzi-saturated culture, draw another. “It may be a lost cause,” she remarked to me.

Or maybe not. Negotiations over what the point of a story is can be part of the point of the story. In the process of negotiating, we test different interpretations, try out different themes. This is helpful. This is educational. Lawrence Kohlberg, the Harvard psychologist famous for his research on the stages of moral development, contended that “the teaching of virtue is the asking of questions. . . not the giving of answers.” Stories don’t necessarily have to yield clear moral rules to be of value. It’s enough sometimes if they just give us something to think about.