Journalism

Sources Lie to Reporters—All the Time

And not just about big things.

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That's the ticket.
Saturday Night Live

Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, reporter Rona Kobell reacts to the recent scandals at Rolling Stone and New York magazines by writing about the time, early in her career, that she found out too late that a source had lied to her; and how that taught her to check every claim, no matter how small. Here's the core lesson she learned from all that fact-checking:

People lie to reporters. They tell a lot of little lies, and sometimes they tell big lies. They claim degrees that they never earned and jobs they never held. They lie to their friends, and they lie to themselves.

Full disclosure: Rona's my wife. I watched her uncover all that petty (and sometimes more than petty) résumé-stuffing, and I learned a lot from it too. Her article includes her best story about encountering a liar—it culminates with the guy confessing to his deceptions while being wheeled into an emergency room—but I can attest that there were many more incidents as well.

People have an enormous capacity for dishonesty, and their lies aren't limited to extraordinary claims like the ones in New York and Rolling Stone. They're broader and deeper, a great big sea of shaded truth that we all walk around in every day.

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  1. People lie.

    /house

    1. It’s not lupus.

      /house

  2. People lie all of the time. Part of being a professional is learning how to tell when they are and making sure you check the facts before you act. Try being a lawyer sometime. Clients always lie to their lawyers and seem to think if they can just lie and convince their lawyer of their case they will somehow win in court.

    The reason why we have “reporters” instead of just having the people who witnessed and event write down what they say and publishing it is to hopefully weed out the lies and print the truth.

    There is nothing that your wife is saying that is wrong Jesse. She is just saying something that should be obvious to anyone even casually acquainted with journalism and should be Gospel to any professional journalist. The fact that she got taken in by liars early in her career is a complete indictment to her teachers at journalism school or if she didn’t go to her professional mentors.

    The writer of the Rolling Stone article was over 40 years old and has been a professional journalist for 20 some years. This article is probably the most effective indictments of her I have read. Yeah, people lie and any journalist who doesn’t understand that and act accordingly is not fit for the profession.

    1. People lie all of the time. Part of being a professional is learning how to tell when they are and making sure you check the facts before you act.

      I think the Automotive industry stands at the top of the list when you make this statement. I’m lied to -every- day, to varying degree. Whether it’s a customer, tech… Fuck, even the cars lie to me.

      1. No customer ever did anything wrong that would have caused the problem with their car. Didn’t you know that anon? That car just stopped working. The customer could never have ignored the low oil pressure light or not changed the oil for three years and caused the thing to break down.

        1. My ex-wife was like that. She wore out three sets of rear brake pads before the fronts wore out. But she never! drove around with the parking brake on. She also had multiple fender benders with every car she ever owned, totalling one, but she was a good driver!

          1. My wife backseat drives and swears I am not a good drvier. Meanwhile, I haven’t so much as scratched any car we have ever owned. Her in contrast, not so much. But I am the bad driver.

            How is the 911 coming? I keep seeing the prices of air cooled 911s and the only problem with your car is that it is going to be too valuable to drive by the time you are finished.

            The 911 bubble has gotten so bad, even my lowly 996 4S is starting to appreciate, though I drive it so much my car in particular is probably not.

            1. My ex said I was the bad driver, too. Riding with her at the wheel, I could just feel that she didn’t have a sense of the car. Too hesitant and jerky, never smooth. When she told me she was afraid the car would “fall over” on a curve (not skid, slide, roll over..”fall over”) it was clear she just wasn’t in tune with the car.

              The 911 is almost done. It should be coming home in a week or two, I will re-install the interior.

              You are right about valuations. Sometimes I’m tempted to sell, since this might be a peak. Then my current wife reminds me that I would hate not having it, regardless of the money. Stuff like that is why I think a first marriage license should have an expiration date, so you get one free do-over. Now I have a wife who’s telling ME to keep the Porsche…cool.

              1. My wife is happy for me to keep mine as well. It is better than a mistress you know, though probably more expensive.

                I used mine in the snow storm Tuesday. The roads were brutal. I passed multiple stuck cars. But my car was a snow beast, absolutely unstoppable with winter tires.

                1. + 1 rear weight bias.
                  Oh wait…yours is AWD ? yeah that would be unstoppable.

                  BTW, I drive my Mustang year round. A set of Blizzaks and 60lbs of sand in the trunk. Surprises alot of people.

                  If you want a pic of my 911, I think my e-mail is in my handle ? I can reply with a pic.

                  1. It is AWD and the only thing that will stop it is its low clearance. It would bottom out.

                    And I would love to see a pic. Your email is your handle @???

  3. “Full disclosure: Rona’s my wife.”

    Hang on, I need to fact check this. People Lie.

    1. Well my wife is…. Morgan Fairchild. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  4. To pollsters, as well.

    Especially Millenials.

  5. I propose we make lying illegal. That’ll stop em!

  6. People lie to reporters. They tell a lot of little lies, and sometimes they tell big lies. They claim degrees that they never earned and jobs they never held. They lie to their friends, and they lie to themselves.

    That has not been my observation. My observation is that reporters don’t actually listen to what’s said, have almost ZERO desire to be accurate and will sacrifice accuracy to hype a story or make a deadline. I’ve seen reports on issues, where I am a subject matter expert, and half the shit they spew is outright wrong and I know for an absolute positive fact that what was reported was not what was relayed to the reporter.

    Sorry Ed, to you and your wife, but 9 times out of 10, shit is wrong because the reporter has no inclination to ensure it’s right.

    Reason is much better than most, but you still have your moments.

    1. Oops, sorry Jesse. Credibility shot.

      But I did a retraction. 😉

      1. It’s not your fault. It’s a man’s duty to make his wife take his name. WHAT ARE THESE TWO TRYING TO HIDE?

        1. It’d be kind of confusing if they were both named Jesse wouldn’t it?

    2. Sorry Ed, to you and your wife, but 9 times out of 10, shit is wrong because the reporter has no inclination to ensure it’s right.

      Sometimes they don’t even check the byline on a post they’re replying to!

      1. Ah, you beat me to it.

    3. People lie. Reporters are people (after a fashion), therefore reporters lie.

    4. But if a reporter refuses to divulge their source – and that is looked upon as sacrosanct – no one else gets to look into if the reporter was lied to, or not.
      Reporters can also lie about, even having, a source, refuse to disclose who it is, and get way with that.
      My point being that we have a set of laws that treat reporters as having some kind of super-freedom, when they are lumped together with the rest of us, in the first amendment, and that shouldn’t be the case.

  7. “Sure, baby, I’ve been tested.”

    1. “This will only hurt a little”

      “I’ll only put the tip of it in”

      “This is just a temporary tax increase”

      1. It’s only a cold sore.

      2. “No, I don’t smell anything.”

  8. “I’m an excellent driver President.”

  9. The rule I’ve heard is this. If a source tells you that your mother loves you….check it out.

  10. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.jobsfish.com

  11. You can say Rona expresses an obvious truth if you wish. I think it’s a an excellent, courageous article. I’m generally impressed by folks with the guts to admit errors, esp. professional errors. Bravo.

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