Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

February 20, 2013

House of Burgess: Hey, liars, stop writing now

Unscrupulous journalists should be banned for life

— Last August, I wrote a column called “Journalism’s new crime lab” in which I outlined the misdeeds of several less-than-truthful writers including Mike Daisey and Jonah Lehrer. In that piece I wondered why modern journalists would risk plagiarizing when things like Google exist. For Daisey and Lehrer, the answer seems to be: Because even when caught red-handed, the embarrassment itself can become fodder for future projects. Daisey first came to my attention when parts of his one-man show called “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” were used as the basis for a January 2012 episode of the radio show “This American Life”. The episode detailed Daisey’s “firsthand” accounts of meeting with workers in China employed in making Apple products. Two months later, the show officially retracted the episode.

“Host Ira Glass tells listeners we can no longer stand behind the reporting in the recently aired episode ‘Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory,’” reads the show description for the episode “Retraction”. “He explains how Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz tracked down Daisey’s interpreter in China — a woman named Cathy Lee — who disputes much of Daisey’s story. And Ira talks about how Daisey lied to [us] during the fact-checking process, telling Ira and our producers that Cathy was not her real name and that she was unreachable.”

Now Daisey is back with a new one-man show. Guess what it’s about.

“Next month, coincidentally one year after ‘This American Life’ issued a retraction, Mr. Daisey will perform a new monologue called ‘On Lying and the Nature of Magic’ at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theatre,” reported Kara Bloomgarden-Smote of the New York Observer on Feb. 13.

Wait. What? How does he keep getting to make stuff in public? Daisey is a monologist first and was only shoehorned into the journalism field as afterthought. He did wrong, sure, but storytelling by any means necessary was his first concern. On the other hand, Lehrer was one of the most respected science journalists in the country before his fall from grace. Last July quotes attributed to Bob Dylan in Lehrer’s book “Imagine: How Creativity Works” were found to be completely made up. This turned out to be only the beginning as Lehrer’s years-long streak of falsehoods and thievery were exposed. After he lost his gig at the New Yorker last July, I thought that might be the end of his career. How wrong I was! On Feb. 12, he was paid a whopping $20,000 for speaking in front of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to “transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts,” according to their website. In his speech, Lehrer had the audacity to suggest he would return to journalism in the future after implementing a “standard operating procedure” to help him avoid his previous misdeeds.

“If I’m lucky enough to write again, then whatever I write will be fact-checked and fully footnoted,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a book or an article or the text for a speech like this one. Every conversation with a subject will be tape recorded and transcribed. If the subject would like a copy of their transcript, I will provide it.”

Oh, wow. Way to go above and beyond, man. If he thinks this is some new technique, I shudder to think what he was doing before.

“There is, of course, nothing innovative about these procedures,” he continued. “The vast majority of journalists don’t need to be shamed into following them. But I did, which is why I also need to say them out loud.”

How dare you, sir? As a journalist, the only reason anyone believes anything I write is a blind trust that I’m telling the truth to the best of my abilities. When people like Lehrer and Daisey are allowed back into the game, they dilute the public’s trust in journalism itself, and by proxy everyone else who practices it. I can control what I do, but if we let these people back into the fold, where is the consequence? So, Jonah Lehrer and Mike Daisey and everyone like them: If you do have to write, there’s this wonderful genre called fiction in which you can write whatever you want without regard to facts or reality. You can make your own truth. That’s what liars like James Frey and Stephen Glass turned to after it all came crashing down for them. Pete Rose and Lance Armstrong have been banned from baseball and bicycle racing for life for cheating. Why can’t we do the same for deceitful journalists?

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robaburg.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Columns
  • DAN COATS: New Harmony marks its 200th anniversary Situated between St. Louis and Louisville, New Harmony is a small town in southwest Indiana smaller than 1 square mile in area. Fewer than 1,000 Hoosiers call this serene Posey County community home.Despite its size, the town has monumental significa

    July 31, 2014

  • Rob Burgess House of Burgess: Let's put lethal injection to sleep

    It was only a matter of time before this happened again; and I’m sad to say I’m not surprised at all.
    On July 22, the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for the killing of Arizona death row inmate James R. Wood III, who had filed suit requesting a delay until the state revealed the details of the drugs that would be used to end his life.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • ANDREA NEAL: Fleeting canal era had lasting impact on state Editor’s note: This is one in a series of essays leading up to the celebration of the Indiana Bicentennial in December 2016. In 1825, the Erie Canal was completed to great fanfare. Cannon fire, parades, balls and speeches celebrated the speed and ski

    July 30, 2014

  • TOM LoBIANCO: Pence, Bayh crowd field with questions In the 2016 political landscape, a pair of the state's political big dogs -- Republican Gov. Mike Pence and former Democratic U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh -- have potential candidates holding their breath and waiting on them. Until Pence says otherwise, he's

    July 29, 2014

  • JEFFREY McCALL: All things Hillary are not news, just distractions This column has nothing to do with who should or will win the presidential election in 2016. It has nothing to do with partisan politics of any flavor. This column does, however, assess how television is oversaturating the "news" agenda with countles

    July 29, 2014

  • BRIAN HOWEY: World is rising up to meet Putin's thuggery Any illusions I had about the progressive nature of Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime quickly dissipated when I returned to my Moscow Grand Marriott room in August 2007. Upon opening the door, I was greeted with the spectacle of my papers and note pads

    July 28, 2014

  • DICK WOLFSIE: A trip to end all trips My wife is planning a very exciting vacation to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. This was a big surprise to me. Not the vacation part, but the 35 years. I thought it was 34. Right now she is on the back porch, the patio table stacked high with

    July 28, 2014

  • ED VASICEK: Happy marriages do not just happen My wife, Marylu, and I met through a mutual friend. My wife had been involved with Campus Crusade at her university, where my friend, Norman, also attended. One Christmas break, Norman invited his friends from church (including me) to a party — along

    July 27, 2014

  • MICHAEL HICKS: Truth about inflation Almost nothing in economics seems to confuse people as much as monetary inflation. That confusion leaves an intellectual void into which some of the least credible ideas of the modern world crawl.Goods and services typically have a price dictated in

    July 27, 2014

  • RAY DAY: Some laws will do us in In my opinion, we have made laws that are contrary to what they were intended. And this writer is going to let you in on his thoughts about them. One of the things that has been processed incorrectly is the child abuse law. When you tell the parent h

    July 26, 2014

Latest news
Featured Ads
Only on our website
AP Video
Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Obituaries
Poll
Kelly Lafferty's video on Tom Miller