Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson’s new book Merchants of Truth was supposed to provide a remedy to a “crisis in trust that threatens the free press.” It is telling that the release of a book that was supposed to serve as a guide for responsible journalism in the Internet Age has been caught up in a plagiarism storm. The scandal gives further evidence of just how divorced from reality today’s media figures are.
Abramson has been deluged with damning proof of numerous instances in which she lifted material from other sources without attribution. The examples originally cited by Vice reporter Michael Moynihan are egregious, with wording so similar it’s hard to dismiss them as sloppy footnoting errors. Intellectual theft would be more accurate. Yet, in her statement on the matter, Abramson limply writes, “[t]he language is too close in some cases and should have been cited as quotations in text.”
The Abramson affair, while not earth-shattering in the grand scheme of things, is the latest milepost marking the modern crisis in journalism ethics. A chief factor for this calamity is the transformation of establishment media personages into play-acting “personalities” instead of reliable conduits of information. Some journalists today are driven more by how they want themselves to be seen and a desire to have the world fit into that self-absorbed narrative than they are about imparting factual information. The consequences when this narcissistic preening combines with personal political bias are far more severe than mere professional embarrassment. Real people are being hurt.
“There are not that many places left that do quality news well or even aim to do it at all,” Abramson writes in Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts. That she could write that sentence (assuming she didn’t steal it from somewhere else) as she was putting together a shoddy, error-filled tome speaks volumes about the disconnect between self-perception and performance in Ms. Abramson’s mind. She claimed for herself the mantle of defender of high-caliber journalism without even bothering to put forth an effort to do quality work herself.
But even beyond questions of journalistic impropriety, one must wonder if Abramson is regurgitating so much previously published material, of what great merit is her book? We know there was handsome personal benefit for the author. She received a $1 million advance. But Merchants of Truth has been touted as a “groundbreaking” and “gripping” account from a highly placed insider. The sad truth is that the actual substance she offers up to readers is of no importance. The presentation is the reality. Harvard lecturer Abramson gets to strut around as a mover of modern journalism because she has been declared to be just that. It is this posture-based “journalism” that is destroying all credibility the media have with the American people. And it comes at a terrible cost when innocent people get caught up in an over-amplified world in which professionalism does not matter.
Todd McMurtry, the lawyer for Covington Catholic high school student Nicholas Sandmann, is ready to call to account news outlets who smeared his 16-year-old client. Sandmann was virally assaulted by a hit-and-run media over a brief video clip that showed an encounter with a Native American activist. More detailed video footage later exonerated him of any wrongdoing, but by that time his reputation had been trashed, he and his family were threatened and his life had been completely turned upside down.
McMurtry, in an interview with Todd Starnes of Fox News, notes that it took him almost no time at all to browse the internet and discover that Sandmann was not guilty of anything whatsoever. Yet so-called working journalists were unable to do the same. This, of course, is because they did not care to find out the full facts on the matter. They had their view of events and they proceeded to weave their own “facts” to fit it.
“It does seem that the media and a lot of the talking heads – comedians like Bill Maher, [Sen.] Elizabeth Warren [D-MA], other people – just went with the way they wanted to interpret things, and the way they wanted to interpret things was just not true,” McMurtry told Starnes. “By ignoring the truth that was immediately available to nearly everyone, they made false statements against my client that have damaged his reputation.”
It truly is despicable. Our establishment media, a United States senator and many other prominent people rushed to join in on a rabid social media dogpile against a teenager without even pausing for breath to verify the accuracy of the accusations. “Imagine being the person subject to all of this hatred at age 16 … What they did to him is completely inexcusable. It’s a travesty and they all need to be punished and they need to pay a high price for what they did,” McMurtry said.
Jill Abramson’s reputation has been tarnished, but with what lasting consequences? The fake news media masquerade will only end when the irresponsible fabricators who are involved face serious legal repercussions. Let’s hope a 16-year-old Kentucky youth is the wrecking ball their dissembling world so desperately needs.