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Media Fabrication

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Media Fabrication

The pressure of meeting a deadline is a common theme for journalists. When several important articles need to be written the strain can be too much for some to bear. This is when some disobey the code of ethics and resort to taking desperate measures to finish a piece of writing.

Media fabrication is not talked about as frequently as plagiarism. It does share the same trait in dishonesty and is considered ethically wrong in the journalism world. Falsifying quotes and sources, omission of information, staging or altering an event and researching errors are all examples of this journalistic wrong doing.

Stephen Glass was an up and coming 25-year-old reporter for the The New Republic. He made up people in his stories, events that had not happened, quotes that were never said and organizations for his stories. To keep his editors from becoming suspicious he fabricated voicemails, faxes and websites. It became a process of lying to cover more lies until it piled up and became too much.

In an interview on CBS 60 minutes, Glass said "I remember thinking, 'If I just had the exact quote that I wanted to make it work, it would be perfect.' And I wrote something on my computer, and then I looked at it, and I let it stand. And then it ran in the magazine and I saw it. And I said to myself what I said every time these stories ran, 'You must stop. You must stop.' But I didn't."

Glass thrived on people reading his stories which compelled him to keep fabricating. For him it was like an addiction to see the positive feedback. By telling the truth in the beginning of his articles and then slowly making the facts more fabricated, readers were more likely to believe what they read.

By 1998, he was earning more than $100,000 and selling fabricated stories to Rolling Stone, George, and Harper's Magazine. Glass ultimately fabricated material in over 35 of his stories.

While it is important to have an editor check over a journalist's work, it becomes more difficult when the journalist knows the entire process in the newsroom. They can then deceive the editor by slowly building lies and backing them up as Glass did.

"I knew how the system worked. And I made it so that my stories could get through. I invented fake notes. I later would invent a series of voice mailboxes and business cards. I invented newsletters. I invented a website," Glass said. "For every lie I told in the magazine, there was a series of lies behind that lie that I told-- in order to get it to be published."

When editors are under the same pressure to meet a deadline, they can miss the fabrications or believe them just as a reader would.

One big contributor to this is the general attitude that a lot of journalists have. They want to be the first to break news and they want to break news that is innovative.

Chip Scanlan believes it is due to the competition among journalists. "Reporters and editors don't want to admit they got scooped by another paper, or they don't want or know how to conduct original research. The profession would rather perpetuate the myth of the journalist as Lone Ranger, collecting information single-handedly and weaving a seamless web of prose without any help from anyone," Scanlan said.

Journalists that are pressing a deadline sometimes look over their notes and may think the story needs an additional quote they do not have. Perhaps an additional event that did not happen would make it more appealing to the reader. These are often the times when fabrication is brought to life.



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