Quick now, tell me the names of two winners of the Pulitzer Prize this year.
So do I. I don't remember anyone who won a prestigious Pulitzer.
But I can tell you Jayson Blair is the most famous reporter in the nation today. The New York Times reporter has been discovered to have made up facts and details in his reporting. He even lied about where he was when he wrote stories ranging from a rescued POW to the sniper spree. And he plagiarized stuff from other newspapers.
This is unthinkable in this business that deals in truths, or what we hope are truths.
It's even more unthinkable that it happened at the New York Times, the world's greatest newspaper. The Times prints something and it's taken at face value as the truth around the world.
Oh, there have been other disgraced newspeople. Remember when the Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke wrote about Jimmy, an 8-year-old heroin addict, that was pure fiction. Until the truth was revealed Cooke had a 1981 Pulitzer Prize.
The Boston Globe's former columnist Mike Barnicle was defrocked as a Globe reporter for making up stories. He wrote great copy, as we say in the business. But it wasn't always true.
To be sure, there have been celebrated cases of news reporters who dealt in fiction. But until the last few days the New York Times seemed to be above all of the deception.
Again, this business is about telling the facts. Newspapers leave fiction to the novels. And that's drilled into reporters' heads from the first day in high school journalism class. Just the facts, please.
Sure, there have been classic cases of non-truthtelling over the years when the hoaxes didn't result from a reporter's fertile imagination.
Come to think of it, the New York Times was duped a few years ago when somebody made up the name of a college and kept calling in the "school's" sports scores until the hoax was discovered.
Sadly, The Brainerd Dispatch has had its own famous hoax.
Remember 1984 when we detailed the exploits of what we thought was a 14-year-old female hockey player from Russia who was working out at Chuck Grillo's summer hockey camp here?
It was a great international story in our own backyard. But it turned out she was a runaway from Braintree, Mass., who was having emotional problems. We had emotional problems of our own after that one.
Newspapers try to keep their guards up for untruths. But it's clear from the Jayson Blair saga that even the world's greatest newspaper can fall victim to deception. And now the credibility of all newspapers has suffered a black eye.
What do you do? On papers big and small, including The Dispatch, you have to trust your reporters. You don't have a battalion of researchers at your disposal to check out every statement of fact that crosses your computer screen.
But with limited editing resources you check stories and question apparent mistakes the best you can. And you do what you can to drive home the point that accuracy comes first.
Fortunately, our reporters know that. They know their mission is to report the news, not create it, not embellish it.
And there's something else that needs to happen.
The obviously maligned subjects in the New York Times' stories apparently didn't speak up. They didn't appeal for corrections in an effort to set the record straight.
Readers can play a role in this process, too. Let us know if our reporting falls short. Let us know promptly if there are errors in our stories. Help us in our effort to tell the truth, even if the truth sometimes is stranger than fiction.
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