Is Media Credible or Are Journalists Divorced From the Truth?

So, with reports earlier this week that Qaddafi’s son was captured but he emerged only a day later with a press conference, or original reports that Bin Laden used a woman as a shield does the public believe what they are told by the media?  Is the media solely dedicated to truth?

Owning 1 of the largest US PR Firms and working on a daily basis with the media I can tell you that journalists often have an agenda, and often create their own stories – and fill in the blanks with the narrative they want.  Salon today ran a story entitled “How celebrity gossip destroys journalism’s credibility”, and Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote in criticism of the “mainstream media” for “reposting a sloppy story.” Available at:

http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/feature/2011/08/24/will_smith_rumor/

Digital media has only made it worse with blogs allowing anyone to write anything – substantiated or not – half truth or no truth. Its only getting worse, as with instant deadlines media demands instant answers and relies on even fewer sources than before for fear of getting scooped.  

Just yesterday, a reporter called me for “immediate comment” on a story he had been researching for 10 days, and got angry with me when I couldn’t immediately comment (explaining that my client he’s calling about is on an aeroplane and we’d need a few hours.).  His story was filled with half-truths, and my client and I both had to cancel evening plans to explain why his story was inaccurate – and it didn’t run – but what happens if I didn’t answer my phone instantly when he called? Is that fair and ethical journalism?

  • This isn’t a new phenomenon – Remember the 1996 Richard Jewell story?  The Atlanta Olympic security guard originally regarded as a hero was outed by an anonymous source in The Atlanta Journal Constitution as “the focus of the investigation.” News outlets immediately picked up on the unsubstantiated story and for months the man suffered intense negative media scrutiny. Even after the government, months later issued a statement saying he had never been a suspect in the case the media damaged him tremendously. Friends of Jewell said that he never recovered from the public humiliation he suffered.
  • How about being misidentified as a child molester? Former NBA Player Eddie Johnson in recent weeks is dealing with a case of mistaken identity that shocked him and his friends and permanently affected his reputation.  Media reports that someone with the same name sexually assaulted a 8 year old girl. But some media reports about the alleged crime included his bio information and file photo linked on the Internet, his phone started ringing. “My name is everything,” he said. “I don’t fault the other Eddie Johnson for having that name. I think it’s a great name. He just doesn’t happen to be a great guy.” (Story in part at: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=2545984)

There are many more stories – unfortunately – where these came from.  Journalists often approach a story with their own bias and their own beliefs – forever changing someone’s life.  It’s callous, harsh and often unfair.

Salon said it well – “Somewhere along the way, the notion of printing everything as truth and letting the retractions and corrections come later has become the new standard — and not just for cheesy celebrity rags. Why? Because scandal means eyeballs, and everybody’s competing for the lion’s share.” And along with that comes the media’ divorce from the truth.

The media is often divorced from the truth, so when the journalists call put them on hold and get a crisis PR firm on the case – or be prepared to read about it negatively.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR 1 of the 25 largest PR firms in the US.

 

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