Defending the indefensible

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If you’re a reader of Confederate Yankee or Little Green Footballs, you no doubt recall the Class B brouhaha over Editor & Publisher editor Greg Mitchell’s defense of fake news. (See here and here.) Those articles got Confederate Yankee searching and he came up with a reason that Mitchell might be sympathetic to fake news — Mitchell had done it himself as a 21-year-old reporter at the Niagara Falls Gazette.

In the grand scheme of things, this was not a big deal — it happened more than 30 years ago and it was an otherwise meaningless feature story. However, it does tell us something about Mitchell’s character. I’ve done these sorts of stories in my career, and frankly they can be tough for a young reporter. Most reporters have no problem talking to police watch commanders or elected officials or most of the other people you deal with on a daily basis. However, talking to complete strangers at a street fair can be a little bit intimidating. I got over it pretty quickly because it was my job and I had to do it. Mitchell took the easy (and ethically wrong) way out all those years ago. It’s about character.

And, in the days after Confederate Yankee’s post, Mitchell too recognized it was wrong as Mitchell’s 3-year-old confessional was changed to emphasize that Mitchell was 19 years old and an intern. It turns out Mitchell got that wrong too — the falls were shut off in 1969, making Mitchell 21 years old and not an intern.

Into this now-settled history steps Andrew Kantor, a technology writer for the Roanoke Times times who also writes a column for USA Today.

At this point you should check out Charles Johnson’s reply to the article over at LGF.

What really got my dander up was this statement by Kantor in his column: “Calling it “staging news” or saying Mitchell “faked a news story” was a bit off the deep end, and neither accusation would have gotten by a professional editor.”

A little miffed that someone would try to minimize and whitewash the journalistic sin of making up quotes, I went to Kantor’s site and posted the following statement:

Andrew, it’s “journalists” like you that give the rest of us a bad name. I’ve worked as a reporter, editor, page designer, copy editor and photographer for more than a dozen years and I’ve never, NEVER, made up quotes even for a silly feature story. (Except for the time I “interviewed” racing pigs at the Santa Barbara County Fair. However, unlike Mitchell’s fictional tourists, the pigs were at least real. I also suspect that most of my readers figured out that I really don’t speak pig.)

In your USA Today piece you said: “Calling it “staging news” or saying Mitchell “faked a news story” was a bit off the deep end, and neither accusation would have gotten by a professional editor.”

I call Bolshevik Storytelling. And, as a previous commentor pointed, in the wake of the Jack Kelley scandal at USA Today, your claim doesn’t hold water. Let’s look at what Mitchell’s assignment was all those years ago: Niagra Falls are being shut off, go down there and ask tourists what they think about it, having travelled whatever distance they did to see the falls. So Mitchell hops in his car and goes down there, sits on a bench and MAKES UP PEOPLE AND QUOTES FROM WHOLE CLOTH.

Now tell me, if Mitchell didn’t “fake a news story,” then exactly how would you describe what he did? You seem to be saying that he was merely “fabricating quotes,” but in this case, THE QUOTES ARE THE STORY.

Seriously Andrew, take a walk around the Roanoake Times there and ask editors if they think that fabricating quotes is no big deal as long as it isn’t “staging news” or “faking a news story” – if you can even get them to discern a difference between the three things.

Journalism. Wound. Self-inflicted.

And journalists continue to wonder why we’re held in such low esteem.

0 Responses to "Defending the indefensible"
  1. Andrew says:

    You’re making a fallacy here. Just because I said that making up quotes isn’t the same as making up a story DOESN’T mean that I think making up quotes is acceptable.

    I you call a thief a murderer and I point out that you’re inaccurate, that doesn’t mean I condone theft. It means I disagree with your characterization.

  2. JD says:

    Yes, Andrew, but if you say a thief is not a thief, you are wrong. You are twsting Mr. Hoy’s point which is that:

    Making up quotes is fabricating news.

    In this case the journalist was reporting statements which were never made by people who did not exist. That is the very definition of fabrication: making something up which is not true.

    I know it is difficult for most people to admit they are wrong, but please accept reality. You are wrong.

  3. Jon says:

    Andrew, you have repeatedly said that making up quotes is not the same as making up news, but you have never defended that statement logicly. Merely making the assertion is not that same thing as explaining it. I honestly believe that making up quotes to put into a news story, however trivial, is the same thing as making up news. Please EXPLAIN to me what the difference is. Do not merely tell me there is a difference.

    CC to Andrew’s blog

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