Atrios Agonistes

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Power blogger Atrios wonders where is the journalistic outrage over USA Today fraudster Jack Kelley, who apparently faked tons of stories over an illustrious career (for background, see this).

Writes Atrios, with the Jayson Blair scandal in mind as a baseline:

It's just amazing how the fraudulent reporting of USA Today reporter Kelley has set off a firestorm in the media and blogging worlds. Not….

The thing about the Jasyon Blair story was that it didn't matter. Sure it was egg on face of the New York Times, but his fabrications were almost entirely harmless and trivial. Kelley's fabrications were frequently inflammatory pieces on inflammatory issues. And, while Blair's agenda was just preserving his career, Kelley possibly had a much larger one though I haven't read much analysis of his fabrications in that context.

When the Blair scandal came out there were endless ruminations about the poisonous impact of affirmative action on the newsroom, and many many people who declared solemnly that "of course" his race was a factor. People like the brothers Hack, Crazy Andy, etc…

What's their explanation for this guy, who got away with the journalistic equivalent of murder for years? We'll never know, because as a quick glance at their site shows—they don't care a bit.

While there's no doubt that the race/affirmative action angle helped to explain some of the big interest in the Blair scandal (an angle that Blair himself invoked almost immediately), I actually think The NY Times angle mattered more (including coverage by Andrew Sullivan, an outspoken critic of affirmative action and Howell Raines and the NY Times). So did the youth angle (more on that in a second).

If the Kelley story doesn't become as big a deal–and it's too soon to tell that, especially since it's still unfolding (and in a busier newscycle)–part of it is surely that USA Today isn't considered in the same league as the Times, which is the paper that most journalists love to hate and hate to love. Rick Bragg's simultaneous banishment , as well as the fall of the House of Raines, made the Blair scandal bigger news than, say, the largely ignored story of AP liar Christopher Newton.

The youth angle also made the Blair story bigger: When Ruth Shalit (last seen penning a profile in the new Details)and Stephen Glass (now a minor motion picture) were caught in their various machinations, it was big news not so much because of where they worked but because of their relative tenderfoot status. And any number of journalistic mavens ventured forth with psychobiographical analyses of those two, mostly of the "too much too soon" variety. Whether the story is girls gone wild or journalistic malfeasance, the youth angle always makes for better copy. (Though middle-aged sex-and-journalism scandals can grab column inches, too, as the widely discussed dismissal of Chi Tribune columnist Bob Greene attests).

I suspect that Kelley will get more ink in the weeks to come. The quality and quantity of the coverage may depend in part on whether he comes clean or offers up a public defense. At the very least, here's hoping that recently reinstated plagiarist Mike Barnicle–who grabbed more than a few headlines himself when he flamed out at the Boston Globe a while back–weighs in with something. If he does, just make sure to check the George Carlin Web site.

NEXT: Hentoff on Castro

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  1. I think Atrios’ outrage-over-lack-of-outrage is largely manufactured, just a way of retroactively attacking critics of Blair, Raines, and the Times as hypocrites. But as Nick writes, USA Today isn’t the Times, and hasn’t been (as far as I know) under scrutiny for editorial office shenanigans.

    And, of course, news stories that fit a theme tend to drift out of the limelight after a while: ”Somebody at a newspaper making up stuff? Didn’t we already read about that?”

  2. Okay, the sports pages. Any other reason anyone reads the USA Today?

    In terms of influence over the larger media and inside Washington, even the scholarly, responsible and sober-minded Atrios can see the difference between the two publications.

    Whoever the hell Atrios is.

    SMG

  3. I knew for a long time that USA Today tended to be frivolous in their coverage. When they ran “CHILDREN DRINKING TOO MUCH JUICE” as their top front-page headline, I made up my mind that I’d never buy another copy.

  4. There’s no outrage because no one is really surprised. The dirty little secret of the news business is that every journalist — every journalist — lifts and rewrites material.

    There’s not a correspondent on the planet who hasn’t rewritten the local press and sent it back home as if it were original. There’s not a reporter on the planet who doesn’t troll Lexis or other databases for previous clips in the guise of “research,” and then beat up that material for their own report. There’s not a newsroom on the planet where the desk isn’t feeding the early wire versions of breaking news to reporters to make sure they don’t “miss” anything.

    You think Crouse was bulshitting when he described the boys on the bus asking Mears what his lead was gonna be, so they could duplicate it? You think every paper in the country isn’t waiting for the NYT budget every afternoon to tell them what to put on the front page?

    Most good reporters know how to burnish the lifted material enough to stay out of trouble. But many bad ones — and often even the good ones who are just feeling lazy or safe — simply rip and use material verbatim, trusting that nobody will notice.

    Until the advent of the Internet, this rampant cribbing was a dirty little closely held in the journalism club. But technology now allows everyone to compare stories — and now that civilians are noticing, the news organizations are appeasing us with a few show trials in an attempt to prove these case are the exception.

    But they’re not the exception — they’re the rule. Three fifths of the industry couldn’t walk without the crutch of Lexis, other database libraries, wire and TV feeds. Take those away and they wouldn’t know where a story comes from…

  5. I would also suggest this dirty little secret is one of the reason mainstream journos are so scared of the blog culture’s creep into their world. Bloggers typically identify and link back to source material rather than burying it their copy as if it were their own….

  6. Mordant sounds like “The Perils of Pauline.”
    There she is strapped to the railroad track while the likes of us ignorant bloggers…

    “I hear that train a’comin’… Comin’ down the track…”

    Lots of folks root for “established” media for the sake of nostalgia. They should let it go.

    “Established” media never was going to look out for us, much less save us, any more than were politicians. In fact the two “establishments” link arms to fight for the same old custard pie.

    What will save us is exchanging the tinfoil hat for the thinking cap. And, still, casualties will be humongous, but that’s “a good thing.”

  7. Good grief — who cares — it is too late anyway. Look back the last 6 years – how much real reporting have we received – how much have been made up.

    I now get my news from bloggers — you are all my heroes. At least you are all honest about your “leanings” – whereas the establishment news is so suspect it is scary – either much of it is made up – or is so over the top that it makes you wonder how stupid they think we are.

    So thanks to bloggers everywhere.

    Sara/
    seattle

  8. http://www.cheatingculture.com/morecheatingjour.htm

    This site gives a list of such events a short description.

  9. I’m not sure why “Atrios” thinks that Kelly represents a counter-argument to the charge that the Jayson Blair scandal was the result of affirmative action. The proper way to disprove that theory is to dig up a substantial number of white NYT journalists guilty of widespread fraud and plagiarism, and establish that, as with Blair, the higher-ups at the NYT knowingly allowed them to continue with their activities.

  10. “I’m not sure why Atrios thinks that Kelley represents a counterargument to charges that the Jayson Blair scandal was the result of affirmative action?”

    Uh, because Atrios is stupid and frivolous?

  11. Atrios is full of it as usual. The Blair story was building for weeks before it got really widespread acknowledgement. Seeing as the Kelley scandal has hardly been in the public eye for more than a few days it’s pretty early to say the guy is getting off easy compared to Blair.

  12. George,

    They got paid to be Jewish?! Why didn’t anyone send me a paycheck.

    Stupid George, don’t you know that we own the media, know where you live, and are heading over there right now in a big powder blue Cadillac? Please leave the porch light on or make sure the cross is lit so we don’t trip over the garden hose.

  13. How easy it is for us to forget MILLER, BROOKS, SAFIRE at NYT. The big liars got away–why?–cause their Jewishness–and they got paid to do it!Notice all the big crooks in stock fraud are the same. Mafia is small potatos,to these creeps!

  14. Please tell me you’re joking, george.

  15. Barnicle had been known for decades as the Globe’s resident idiot. What will they do without him?

  16. I think Atrios is jumping the gun. The story was on the front page here in Baltimore on Saturday and is a major topic of discussion among the working reporters I know.

  17. I like USA Tidday cuz’ of dem perty colors and typt’ words in the columns. UH-HILT!

  18. george,

    I was all set to bring up the Judith Miller-MEF connection, and conflicts of interest in her coverage of Richard Clarke.

    Then I saw your post.

    There’s a certain neocon troll on these boards who automatically (and very irritatingly) takes any critcism of neocons, Israel, etc., as code for “the [stage whisper] J.E.W.S. run everything!” But in your case, the reaction would be appropriate. People like you, who really do believe the Jews run everything, just give him ammunition and cast undeserved suspicion on all other critics of neoconservatism or Israel.

  19. I think the point of the post is to start the process, not bemoan the fact the process hasn’t started.

    Then why is he bemoaning the fact that the process hasn’t started? You have to spin a sarcastic sentence like “It’s just amazing how the fraudulent reporting of USA Today reporter Kelley has set off a firestorm in the media and blogging worlds. Not….” pretty hard for it to NOT come across as a complaint that the story is being ignored.

    If Atrios wanted to “start the process”, he would have posted about Kelley — instead, he posted a lengthy whine about how other bloggers are ignoring Kelley.

    “I’m not sure why “Atrios” thinks that Kelly represents a counter-argument to the charge that the Jayson Blair scandal was the result of affirmative action.” It doesn’t, and he doesn’t claim it does.

    So you’re claiming that even though Atrios denied that affirmative action was the cause of the Blair scandal, continues to deny it, and concedes only that people like “the brothers Hack, Crazy Andy, etc” believe it, and that even though Atrios is now demanding “what’s their explanation for [Kelley]” — he’s not trying to refute the affirmative action story? Yeah, whatever.

  20. Did you know that Barnicle once made a black character, who explained to him the difference between a black man and a n****r? No kidding.

    Was it Chris Rock? Because he does that in his stage act. No kidding.

  21. I’ve seen this debate raging on a number of blogs, and not once have I seen someone bring up the following fact: Howell Raines publicly admitted that he went easy on Blair, in part, because Blair was black.

    If one of the bigshots at USA Today were to come out and say, “We went easy on Jack Kelley because he was a white man,” I think this story would be getting a lot more attention, don’t you?

  22. Eric, “Seeing as the Kelley scandal has hardly been in the public eye for more than a few days it’s pretty early to say the guy is getting off easy compared to Blair.” I think the point of the post is to start the process, not bemoan the fact the process hasn’t started.

    “I’m not sure why “Atrios” thinks that Kelly represents a counter-argument to the charge that the Jayson Blair scandal was the result of affirmative action.” It doesn’t, and he doesn’t claim it does. He isn’t bemoaning the fact that Blair got tagged; he’s bemoaning the fact that Kelley, thus far, hasn’t been tagged, and wonders why the double standard.

    garym, the Globe fired Barnicle years ago. Did you know that Barnicle once made a black character, who explained to him the difference between a black man and a n****r? No kidding.

  23. It’s probably worth noting that this story has just surfaced as Instapundit went on walkabout for a few days. That at least should explain the lack of blog commentary – Let’s face it, lots of stories simmer without Reynolds’ intervention, but none of them really catch fire until he notices.

  24. I am happy about this story for one reason: this is another nail in the coffin of the traditional news media.

    Web sites, blogs, live journals, and all of the other forms of people-to-people news are more difficult to slant the way the traditional mainstream news sources have been slanting news for years.

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