Tell the truth: Journalists who lie undermine media

By Chandler Claxton

Growing up, I always valued the truth, no matter how brutal it was.

The truth is what first attracted me to journalism.

The profession survives on the credibility and accuracy of media outlets and their reporters. Without the audience’s trust, news stories hold no water and the primary purpose of the news business is lost.

The integrity of journalists and the profession itself are yet again under fire. The latest incident stems from “NBC’s Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, who has been suspended without pay for six months for exaggerating an incident he reported in Iraq in 2003.

Williams and NBC have been telling the story differently from their original reporting since 2003.

The most recent inconsistency in his report went public at a Jan. 30 New York Rangers game. There, Williams paid tribute to retired soldier Sgt. Maj. Tim Terpak, claiming Terpak protected Williams and his camera crew after their helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.

But Williams is not alone. Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, Judith Miller and a number of others all fabricated or plagiarized stories during their careers and damaged the integrity of their fellow journalists.

Glass made up as many as half of his stories for The New Republic. Blair, an up-and-coming writer for The New York Times, was found to be a serial plagiarizer. Miller, also of The New York Times, bungled much of her reporting on Iraq’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction program. Because of their actions, these journalists have no accountability with the public and are no asset to any media outlet.

So what does this mean for future journalists like myself?

I respect journalism, so it is hard to take it lightly when a highly respected journalist such as Williams embellishes a story. The first thing any aspiring journalist learns about is ethics and the great importance of honesty.

The Society of Professional Journalists set high ethical standards. Stories should be fair and balanced. Journalists should never plagiarize and always take responsibility for the accuracy of their reporting. Fraud should never be justified.

It is never acceptable for a journalist to disregard the relationship he has with his audience by reporting anything other than the facts. When journalists disrespect their audience, they should immediately be sidelined.

In the wake of Brian Williams’ falsehoods, journalists now have to be more careful than ever about not only what they report, but what they say away from the news desk. It is vital that journalists are clear and precise in reporting and retain the audience’s trust.

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