Hi 81 / Lo 73
|Volume 71, Issue 6,
Monday, August 29, 2005
Lourdes Castillo Tina Marie Macias
Paper's fabrication one more sign of dismal trend
The news media serve a vital role in a democracy, functioning as a liaison between citizens and power structures. Ideally, the Fourth Estate serves as an objective information source whose first loyalty is to the man or woman on the street.
In reality, overzealous reporters, political bias and the desire to placate advertisers often taint the public's trust in its news. Today, a single misstep could tarnish a newspaper's reputation for years. The Daily Egyptian of Southern Illinois University recently learned just how quickly that can happen.
Since May 2003, The Egyptian has run a series of stories about Kodee Kennings, a motherless 8-year-old whose father was fighting in Iraq. The only problem was that Kennings never existed.
The first story was by student Michael Brenner, who served a semester as the Egyptian's editor in chief before graduating in December. Letters and columns from the imaginary girl followed, in addition to well-orchestrated public appearances. Brenner apparently enlisted friends to pull off the hoax, which was meant to boost his career, though he claims the others involved tricked him.
The Egyptian discovered the truth last week and ran a retraction and explanation article.
The lesson in this story is, despite reporters' and editors' humanity, they must make superhuman efforts to ensure accuracy in their product. The occasional misspelled name or style error is to be expected, but more serious problems such as fabricated stories must be avoided at all cost.
The conception of the U.S. journalist has gone from the Woodward and Bernstein-style scrappy hero to the conniving, Stephen Glass-style liar. If this trend continues and the public eventually loses faith in its media, one of the most effective checks on power will be mortally wounded.
It's the media's job to turn this reputation around for the sake of one of the most important elements in a free society: an informed public.
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