Accuracy in Media

USA Today has reported that former USA Today reporter Jack Kelley “fabricated substantial portions of at least eight major stories, lifted nearly two dozen quotes or other material from competing publications, lied in speeches he gave for the newspaper and conspired to mislead those investigating his work.”  That’s quite a record, and Kelley has resigned.  But Al Neuharth, founder of the paper, has wondered in print why no one else has been given the boot.  In an April 15 column, he wrote, “Many of you keep asking how former USA Today star reporter Jack Kelley got away with exaggerated or fabricated stories from around the world for so long.”

Neuharth didn’t have an answer to that.  Instead, he wrote that publisher Craig Moon recently received a report and recommendations from a blue-ribbon outside committee investigating “the Kelley capers,” and that Moon has promised a “new environment” to correct the problem.

Let us give you an example of a fake story that keeps recurring in such newspapers as USA Today.  This story is 18-years-old.  It’s the story of how Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s so-called “adopted daughter” died in 1986 when the U.S. bombed Libya.

There was never any evidence that Gadhafi had a daughter.  A photo of his family before the bombing showed that he only had sons.  But the claim about the “death” of his adopted daughter was advanced after the bombing to generate sympathy for Gadhafi.  Foreign affairs reporter Barbara Slavin of USA Today was in Libya at the time, and she set the record straight.  She recently told us, “His adopted daughter was not killed.  An infant girl was killed.  I actually saw her body.  She was adopted posthumously by Gadhafi.  She was not related to Gadhafi.”  Yet we found a story from January 25th of this year, posted on the USA Today website, that referred to the 1986 attack, which “killed 37 people, including Gadhafi’s adopted daughter?”  One of the amazing things about this story is that the age of Gadhafi’s daughter keeps changing.  She has been described as 18 months old or 3-years-old.  We found a story by Roland Flamini of UPI that referred to her being seven-years-old.

It’s as if the media simply don’t care.  It’s obviously the case that many reporters simply regurgitate what has been reported elsewhere.  It means that most reporters are not consciously lying but are negligent or lazy.  But the effect is still the same?people are misinformed and misled.

At first glance, a CNN.com story seems a little better, saying that, “?a child said to be Gadhafi’s adopted daughter died in the U.S. strike.”  But said by whom?  This clever device only serves to obscure who is making the claim.  A story by Greg Hilburn on TheNewsStar.com put it more accurately, noting that “Gadhafi said his adopted daughter was killed.”  So it was Gadhafi himself who made the claim?  And this notorious liar and killer can be believed?  It’s a sad commentary that Gadhafi as the source of the claim has disappeared from many stories and that the media simply report this “death” as an established fact.  It’s no wonder our media are held in such low esteem. How many more years will it take to get the story straight?




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