Pick the sin: plagiarism or bad reporting
: The other day, another numb-nutty journalist was fired for plagiarism, which is about the stupidest sin to commit (not the accidental repetition of a good phrase — these days, we call those memes — but the wholesale lifting of hunks of someone else’s work); it’s especially stupid in this day of online news and search. Whenever somebody gets caught their their hand on the control-V keys, they get fired quickly and publicly. OK.
But it occurs to me that the punishment for getting a story completely wrong — not Jayson-Blair-pull-the-fiction-of-of-your-ass wrong but wrong-headed, incomplete, badly reported, factually messy — is nowhere near as severe.
The message that gives the public: The press cares more about protecting the ownership of content than about getting stories right.
Now that’s not only heresy, it’s a wrong and rather ridiculous way to state the proposition and I know it: plagiarism is obvious theft with an easy standard to identify and writing a wrong-headed or sloppy story is not an easy standard to agree to. So I’m not saying that everybody who has a bad-story day should be shown the door (in fact, we need to make reporters bolder and more transparent and more conversation, not more timid and boring and faux objective). I’m simply saying that the contrast in the press’ treatment of each sin says something to the public. That’s all.