Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post has coined the term “serial fabrications” for the series of false articles written by former New Republic writer Stephen Glass. Vanity Fair magazine now reports that Glass had once written a piece abut himself, his own life as an “effeminate heterosexual,” including his knowledge of lipstick colors. It’s not clear if the story is true, but it never ran.

The term “serial fabrications” also applies to former Boston Globe columnist Patricia Smith, who was forced to resign after admitting to fabricating four characters in her column. That led to a review of all of her work. And the latest tally shows that 52 of her pieces are suspicious or cannot be substantiated. Consider the magnitude of her deception: she was apparently fabricating material for several years. She was making up people as well as quotations. For a while, after the scandal broke, Smith was cooperating with the Globe in an effort to separate fact from fiction in her columns. Now her attorney says she won’t assist any more.

The ombudsman for the paper, Jack Thomas, commented, “A reading of all 52 unverified columns reveals no pattern for her deceit, no persistent political agenda, not even a clue as to why she would make up characters and quotations other than the possibility that she was lazy, intellectually indifferent, or, as she said in her column of apology, because of her ambition to achieve too much in too little time. One thing is certain: Lacking traditional newsroom training, she seemed unable to grasp the discipline and standards that city editors drill into young reporters.”

Let’s dispose of this notion that she committed serial fabrications because she was too ambitious. That begs the question of where she could have gotten the impression that success was necessary at any cost. The answer may lie in Thomas’ comments about her lack of discipline and training. Without these attributes, how could she have risen in the ranks of journalism to a prominent position as columnist for the Boston Globe? The answer, unfortunately, may lie in affirmative action. As we pointed out in a previous Media Monitor, the Globe is one of the major liberal papers in the country, a publication devoted to diversity in the newsroom.

The evidence shows that Smith was hired away from a Chicago paper despite having been questioned about her writing back then. She had written a first-person account of a rock concert that she apparently didn’t attend. Nevertheless, she was hired by the Globe. The conclusion is inescapable that the Globe wanted a black woman as a columnist. They got her, and now she’s got them. But the Globe isn’t the only organization that has egg all over its face. The American Society of Newspaper Editors had given her its 1998 distinguished Writing Award. Now, that has been withdrawn.

But listen to this: Smith also was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize this year. The Globe claims that all of her columns which had been submitted for the prize had been found to be authentic. Perhaps. But how would it have looked for a serial fabricator to have taken home such a prestigious award?




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