Accuracy in Media

Remember that much-publicized Jayson Blair case at the New York Times, in which a coddled reporter was found to have been making up facts for his newspaper stories?

Jayson Blair’s actions were greatly deplored and led to his firing and the resignation of his editor.

Now, the Sacramento Bee in my hometown, finds that it has had on its staff a columnist whose journalistic inventions over her twelve years of employment may dwarf those of Jayson Blair. 

The liberal Sacramento Bee reported on Sunday, June 26, that its investigation of columnist Diana Griego Erwin’s politically correct, three-times-a-week, human-interest columns reveal that they have been peppered with people, places, and events whose existence cannot be authenticated.

Diana Griego Erwin came under suspicion when an assistant editor found that Diana could not verify the existence of a bartender and a bar mentioned in a recent column.  A check of some of her other recent columns found that she had written about other people, places, and events that also could not be verified.

Because of the national publicity given to the Jayson Blair case at the New York Times and the recent loss of the public’s trust in much of the mainstream media, the Bee’s executives apparently figured that they’d better get to the bottom of the Griego Erwin situation.  Executive editor Rich Rodriguez assigned several prize-winning staff reporters to check out the writer’s other recent columns and “found 43 cases in which individuals named by the writer could not be authenticated as real people.”

When the liberal columnist’s columns of the past 16 months yielded so many unverified and unlocatable people, places, and events, the editors looked back into Griego Erwin’s work since she joined the staff in 1993.  And guess what?  They found even more apparently bogus names and incidents in earlier columns about the little people
and local victims of society.

The Bee reports that the people named could not be found in voter registration rolls, property records, telephone books, identity databases, or through scores of phone calls.  The director of editorial research ran the names ‘‘through California People Finder and Accurint, databases that provide addresses and phone numbers going back years.’’  He also searched county property records, public documents such as court records, the newspaper’s archives, and old city directories.  The names were often used in connection with themes related to current headlines, such as wildfires, prison brutality, school shootings, murderous road rage, or a high-profile trial.

When pressed to verify people named in some of her questionable columns, Ms. Griego Erwin stalled for many days, and then finally tended her resignation on May 11 “for personal reasons.”

Readers now suspect that the columnist could have been inventing people and stories—many of which underline a liberal, politically correct outlook on life—for much of her twelve years of writing at the Sacramento Bee.  While Jason Blair’s fictional reporting of events covered a relatively short period of time, Griego Erwin’s inventions of material may have been running rampant for over a decade.

The Bee’s report on Sunday about the newspaper’s investigation of the case asks:  “How could Griego Erwin’s work have escaped editorial scrutiny for so long?”  Executive editor Rodriguez explained that “there are several reasons, beginning with her elevated status as a columnist and her journalistic credentials.”

Rodriguez noted that at age 25, Griego Erwin worked on a project that won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for public service for the Denver Post, and she has received other writing awards.  “With a high-profile columnist, especially with the credentials present in this case, it is not first nature or even second nature to ask them if the person they’re writing about actually exists,” Rodriguez said.  “Columnists are given more latitude in their writing style.  It’s more personalized.  They share their voice and their views with the community.”

But journalistic abuses such as the Griego Erwin and Jayson Blair cases, and Dan Rather’s fake National Guard memos, may have taught the Bee a lesson.  Rodriguez reports: “Our editors are asking tougher questions of our reporters.  I hope that the reporters will take it upon themselves to understand that the public trust has been violated here and so they will readily provide the information.”

Well, let’s hope so.

To read the Bee’s report on its Griego Erwin scandal, go to:
http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/13132312p-13976421c.html


Guest columns do not necessarily reflect the views of Accuracy in Media or its staff.



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