July 01, 2005

A Record of Journalistic Fraud?

As my last article about Beth Quinn's editorial "Proof is in the Memo: Soldiers Died for a Lie" shows, what constitutes unethical journalism for one person does not necessarily constitute unethical journalism for another. To me, Quinn clearly crossed the line. Her Executive Editor Mike Levine, feels Quinn was within her rights

So what constitutes Journalistic Fraud?

According to Wikipedia:

Journalistic fraud includes practices such as plagiarism, fabrication of quotes, facts, or other report details, staging or altering the event being putatively recorded, or anything else that may call the integrity and truthfulness of a piece of journalism into question.

So what is this?

What has become known as the Downing Street Memo is a report on a meeting between Rycroft and the White House in July 2002 - a good seven months before Bush invaded Iraq. The memo says Bush had already decided to attack. It also says Bush knew there were no WMDs in Iraq, but that "the facts were being fixed around the policy."

Quinn states that the Memo was "a report on a meeting between Rycroft and the White House in July 2002." This is factually wrong. As a matter of record, this document was an internal document of the British government; no element of the U.S. government was ever involved at all. Quinn fabricated this statement, presumably to bolster her editorial's premise.

Quinn further alters history:

"The memo says Bush had already decided to attack."

This also is not what the document states, and is another fact misrepresentation by Quinn in the justification of her narrative. The document cites the opinion of a character called "C", who says:

There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.

Beth Quinn would present the opinion of a foreign intelligence officer, based upon hearsay, as incontrovertible fact. This seems like a clear case of the "fabrication of quotes, facts, or other report details" mentioned in Wiki's definition of journalistic fraud.

As the Wiki definition also indicates, "staging or altering events or report details" also constitutes fraud. Does willfully leaving out material that directly contradicts your story's main premise fall under this part of Wiki's definition?

Some of the other Downing Street documents, the Iraqi Options paper and the David Manning Memo in particular, show other options were indeed on the table other than military force. So does this Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, which concluded that the Bush Administration did not influence the intelligence findings. In particular, the committee noted that it "found no evidence that the IC's mischaracterization or exaggeration of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) capabilities was the result of political pressure." In other words, the Senate found that that Administration didn't try to interfere with or "fix" intelligence. But Quinn refuses to mention these documents that dismantle her premise.

For all these reasons, Quinn's polemic seems to quite clearly cross the line into journalistic fraud.

I can only hope that the officers at Ottaway Newspapers also find this a serious offense.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at July 1, 2005 01:00 PM | TrackBack

The first big case of fraud that I became aware of was an America hater at the NYT (natch) winning the Pulitzer for a bunch of lies about Stalin almost 70 years ago. Ther have been several Pulitzers awarded to America hates for fabricated lies in the last 70 years. The most recent America hater to get one was Diana Griego Erwin.

Posted by: Rod Stanton at July 2, 2005 08:21 AM

Molly hates America so much it is hard to believe she has not won a Pulitzer. She seems to me to have told enough lies defaming America to earn one.

Posted by: Jo macDougal at July 2, 2005 05:48 PM