August 28, 2006

Media Behaving Badly > Greg Mitchell's Truth Problem

This is turning into a record bad month for media. The big news has been the stream of newswire photos coming out of the Israel-Hezbollah war that were either Photoshopped, obviously staged, falsely captioned, or recycled from events months earlier. You can see an impressive roundup of the fakery at Zombietime.

Writing in Editor and Publisher, Greg Mitchell wrote a two part defense of photojournalism against blogger criticism of those questionable photos. (I'm linking to Mitchell's criticisms, a courtesy he didn't extend to the bloggers he rebutts.) Confederate Yankee posted a response to Mitchell's rebuttal, but Zombietime's annotated photos are really a more compelling response. Comparing those photos to Mitchell's account, it's easy to see how badly he's mis-stating the situation.

At that point it was just a matter of differing opinions. Then Confederate Yankee discovered that Mitchell had written a 2003 article admitting to faking some quotes for a news story.

After Confederate Yankee drew attention to the article last week someone at Mediainfo edited Mitchell's 2003 article to make it less damaging. Here's the first paragraph, with the changes in bold.

Since the press seems to be in full-disclosure mode these days, I want to finally come clean. Back in 1967, when I was 19 and worked for the Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Gazette (now the Niagara Gazette) as a summer intern, our city editor asked me to find out what tourists thought about an amazing local event: Engineers had literally "turned off" the famous cataracts, diverting water so they could shore up the crumbling rock face. Were visitors disappointed to find a trickle rather than a roar? Or thrilled about witnessing this once-in-a-lifetime stunt?

You can see the orginal article at Someone at Mediainfo changed the article by moving Mitchell's age and the fact that he was an intern to the first paragraph (those facts were stated in later paragraphs in the original) and added the fact that this happened in 1967. It isn't clear who made those changes.

There's still more

This past weekend Dan Riehl blogged about the discovery that Mitchell had mis-stated facts in his original 2003 piece. The story in which he falfsified quotes was published not in 1967, but in 1969, the year the water was diverted from Niagara Falls. Mitchell was 21, not 19. What's more, he wasn't an intern. He was a paid professional newspaperman.

"You never forget your first newspaper job -- especially when it's the only one you've ever had -- and in my case that's the Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Gazette, at the tail end of the 1960s when it was still owned by Gannett," he wrote.

And there are indications more of Mitchell's stories were changed this past week. Again, it isn't known who made the changes, but owes it to their readers to investigate.

To recap: Bloggers catch some photojournalists faking and staging war photos. Greg Mitchell rushes to their defense. Bloggers uncover Greg Mitchell's own dirty laundry. Someone at Mediainfo alters records to soften the blow. Bloggers discover the change, and uncover misstatements in the original confession. Bloggers win, game, set, match.

Posted by lesjones | TrackBack

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