America’s Journalism Scandals Can Be Divided Into Three General Categories

Photo by Bob Mical

Now that the facts have been laid bare, “A Rape on Campus,” published in November, joins America’s rogues’ gallery of journalism scandals. For ease of reference, the scandals can be divided into three general categories (excluding the recent phenomenon of television figures telling tall-tale war stories).

The first two are straightforward. There is pure fabrication, for which high-profile culprits include Jayson Blair (The New York Times), Stephen Glass (The New Republic) and, going back a little further, Janet Cooke (The Washington Post). And there is the act of plagiarism (culprits too numerous to list).

“A Rape on Campus” falls into a third category: lack of skepticism.

It is the most complicated of the three, and in many ways the most insidious. It is a crime no single journalist — reporter or editor — can be completely inoculated against committing.

—Jonathan Mahler, writing in The New York Times about the newly released report dissecting Rolling Stone’s story about campus rape, which the magazine has now retracted. The 12,600-word report was commissioned by Rolling Stone and authored by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

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