Making Up The News
To Embellish or Not?
We’ve all embellished things at one time or another, usually to persuade our parents to let us do something or to make a story sound more exciting when retelling it amongst friends. It’s one of those things which “just happens” in the heat of the moment or as part of a predetermined plan when it’s rooted in coercion. Often times those stories have us at their center, and many people have a predilection for making them sound more courageous, daring, tough, or cool. It’s usually not so drastic that it will be called out as unbelievable, but over time it can be cumbersome and annoying.
What we do in our personal lives is a decision we have to live with and if we are comfortable with bending the truth, then so be it. But, if you happen to be a reporter, news anchor, or spokesperson for a network, newspaper, or company, then it takes on a whole new meaning.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has been caught numerous times telling half-truths and sometimes outright lies. As recent as July of 2015 she was caught trashing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker with an outright lie about the Wisconsin middle class shrinking under his leadership, but when pressed she revealed that she used data from 2000, years before he was elected. In 2014 she embellished the story about the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in Iraq citing navigational mistakes of US Troops and made up heroism in order to spice up a story she was doing about captured traitor Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. In 2013 she also made wildly exaggerated claims about Ohio law abortion restrictions and invasive procedures. In 2011 she stated that the New Black Panthers decided the election for President Obama in an interview with David Letterman, in which she also stated that MSNBC was more concerned with accuracy than rival Fox News. Numerous other segments have been met with partisan skepticism over her career.
In 2013, ABC’s Jonathan Karl published a news story about Benghazi that was fabricated. The story was headlined as “breaking news” and it supposedly proved that the White House had direct involvement in editing talking points related to the death of four Americans in Libya. He falsely stated that ABC had reviewed e-mails that proved it, when in fact; the entire narrative was based on hearsay. Some say that Karl was a right-wing plant at ABC and was following orders from GOP leaders to damage the reputation of President Obama. The overall effect this had was the reputation of ABC news from a credibility standpoint was hurt, especially since Karl was often used as a “fact checker” across many other stories. Skeptical followers of ABC began to doubt many of the other stories the network provided.
Lara Logan of CBS in 2013 also aired a story about Benghazi on “60 Minutes.” Her primary source for the story was British security contractor Dylan Davies and the centerpiece of the piece. She reported that Davies had raced to the compound at the onset of the attack, scaled a twelve foot wall and fought off terrorists even the detailed downing of one with the butt of his rifle as he tried in vain to rescue the Americans including the U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens who were taking fire. The problem with the story was the contradiction between her report and the actual incident report Mr. Davies filed with his employer. Davies also recounted his clandestine visit later that night to a Benghazi hospital to view the body of Stevens. The Washington Post printed a story which detailed the incident report that detailed Mr. Davies as a contractor hired by the State Department to handle perimeter security. Davies wrote that he spent most of that night at his Benghazi villa. He did try to get to the compound but could not get anywhere near it as roadblocks had been set up. He learned of Stevens’s death the next day when a colleague came to visit him and to show him a cellphone picture of the corpse. Davies stated that he visited the still-smoking compound the next day to view and photograph the destruction. The State Department confirmed that Davies’s Sept. 14, 2012, report was legitimate.
Bill O’Reilly of Fox News has been called out for several incidents as well, including embellishing his war reporting stories while covering the conflict in the Falklands when he was a correspondent for CBS news. Some called it “grandstanding” when he claimed to have reported from active combat zones and survived a combat situation between Argentinian and United Kingdom troops, despite the fact the US press was not allowed on the island during engagements. O’Reilly insists that the unrest in Buenos Aires, where he was at, was considered a combat situation. On several occasions O’Reilly also stated that he heard the gunshot that killed George de Mohrenschildt, a friend of JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, who committed suicide in Florida in 1977. Bill O’Reilly originally made the claim in his 2012 book, Killing Kennedy and repeated it during an appearance on "Fox & Friends." Multiple sources can put O’Reilly at another location at the time the event happened.
Brian Williams holds the top spot as the biggest on-air fabricator, mainly because he had multiple incidents surface and the fact that he was a high profile news anchor at NBC, and the face of the entire News division. It all began when a story Brian Williams had been exaggerating where he supposedly came under fire in a U.S. Army helicopter during the Iraq war in 2003 was investigated by a reporter from the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. Originally Williams was going to talk to the reporter off the record to “smooth it over,” but in a huge surprise, Williams had gone on the record and admitted he hadn’t been telling the truth, not only on a news broadcast the previous week but also over the years at public appearances and on talk shows. This led to a six month suspension from the anchor desk and further investigation into his other stories. Rumors were that NBC brass not only knew about “lying-Brian” but encouraged him to embellish stories to keep their position in the ratings cemented at number one. Williams seemed to want to make his experiences more dramatic, colleagues said. He was the top news anchor in the country, but often pushed his stories beyond the limit. Reviewers put the number of stories at thirty two which has some degree of embellishment in them, including where he claimed to have flew into Baghdad with Seal Team Six on a blackout night mission and to have been mysteriously sent a piece of the fuselage of the blown up Blackhawk helicopter which was downed in the compound of Osama bin Laden during the raid in which bin Laden was killed.
Print journalism has a long standing tradition of competence, especially the leading publications such as the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Boston Herald. Facts are checked and re-checked for major stories as the integrity of the paper depends on it. Staff reporter Jayson Blair gave the New York Times a black eye when reports of plagiarism and journalistic fraud surfaced in 2003. Jayson was caught recreating events and reporting on stories from places he had never been about people he had never met. Of the thirty seven columns he wrote, thirty six of them came under fire being riddled with journalistic falsehoods. In 1981, The Washington Post printed a heartbreaking story called “Jimmy’s World” about an 8 year old boy who was a heroin addict, written by Janet Cooke. The story went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, which they were forced to return when news came out that the story was a complete fabrication. Stephen Glass, writer for The New Republic, Harper’s, and Rolling Stone was spectacularly successful in his early days, with amazing work that is now considered one of the most complex and elaborate frauds in journalism. In 1998, before the dawn of the internet age, Glass was making up characters, scenes, and often entire stories and events. He even took the bizarre steps of filling notebooks with fake interview notes, sending himself fake voicemails, and producing fake business cards from so-called contacts to legitimize his fabrications.
The list goes on and on and covers TV News, Newspapers, Magazines, and all corners of the internet and electronic media. Despite every station or publication claiming how objective or truthful they are, the facts speak otherwise. There is very little credibility in the world of news today, perhaps that is why people are rebelling and demanding better. Next time someone cites a news story as fact, perhaps you should do your own research from several sources before repeating it.
What's your take?
How much of "the news" do you believe?
I welcome any and all comments, just be civil is all I ask. I approve everything for objectivity sake. I'd love to hear what you think and offer my thanks for you taking the time to read this piece.