Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fabrications and Journalistic Standards 

Embedded Daily Princetonian reporter Wesley Morgan (see my earlier post here) reports (hat tip to Glenn Reynolds) that one story he had written up turns out to have been largely made up by the soldier:
An update on the story of the specialist at FOB Rusty: she took me for a ride. I'm pretty sure now she fabricated much of what she told me, which I'm pretty pissed about; when a soldier invents a story, no matter why, they denigrate the real sacrifices of their comrades, and through my gullibility I was complicit in that. Several soldiers of 2nd BCT, 2nd ID have raised very serious doubts about her story; apparently she has a tendency to do this. I'm on my way home right now and will not be able to visit the FOB to look into this further. Suffice it to say that the specialist, like many other soldiers, went through a lot, but not all that she said. I apologize for relaying the story -- I was so dumbfounded by it that I tried to convey the experience even though it was a passing conversation and not part of an embed, which I should not have done.
There are two lessons here.

First, no reporter is totally free from the normal human desire to believe stories that reinforce our view of the world. This sometimes reduces our skepticism about what people tell us they have experienced or observed in person.

Second, we readers want to be able to rely upon the reporters and news organizations that serve as our sources of information. We know that people and organizations make mistakes. No one is perfect. What is critical is how those mistakes are handled. Morgan understands that such mistakes must be promptly acknowledged and corrected. Unfortunately, all too many of those who claim to be professional journalists have resorted to sham defenses like "fake, but accurate."

I wrote earlier that
The openness and detail in reporting provided by Morgan stands in vivid contrast to the discredited Scott Beauchamp stories published by The New Republic.
Morgan's candid acknowledgment of his mistake makes that contrast even more vivid. I continue to commend Morgan's blog reports, such as those here and here. There is no better source of information about our soldiers than first-hand reports from Iraq.

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