Even humanity’s greatest novelists would be hard-pressed to compose a more poetic indictment of the Fake News media than a 500-page defense of journalistic integrity that turns out to be plagiarized. Next to absolute falsehood, this is the literary world’s most deadly sin.
The former executive editor of The New York Times just published a book scolding insurgent online media outlets and pleading for journalistic ethics and integrity… and it looks like she plagiarized and got facts wrong throughout the book, unfortunately named Merchants of Truth.
Jill Abramson is the very personification of the media establishment. She spent four decades on the mastheads of the oldest names in prestige news media: Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and more. She even has facsimiles of the big Harvard University “H” and the iconic, New York Times font “T” tattooed on her body in homage to “the two institutions that I revere, that have shaped me.”
Now, Abramson, who once taught journalism at Princeton, took it upon herself to give her “new media” competitors a book-length chiding that concludes with the charge that they don’t have “the expertise to compete on the biggest news stories.” Perhaps more fittingly, she wrote it from her new position as a creative writing professor at Harvard.
Michael Moynihan, an editor at VICE News, one of the new media targets of Abramson’s criticism, was initially just concerned with her wildly inaccurate portrayal of his company. By his own account, it was only when picking apart Abramson’s claims that Moynihan discovered she had lifted large sections of her book, whole cloth, from at least a half-dozen other journalists, journals, and even a college student.
Most amusingly, it appears that Abramson, as she lectured about journalistic ethics, plagiarized from the leading journalistic ethics journal, the Columbia Journalism Review.
Confronted with the identical passages, Abramson denied everything, only to reverse herself by the end of the interview and say she “will review the passages in question.” Publisher Simon & Schuster is signaling that something is going to be done, but the significance of this episode cannot be overstated.
We’re talking about Jill Abramson, first female chief of the Grey Lady, empress of the newsroom, and the supposed gold standard epitome of the “journalistic profession.” She took the same shortcuts and played the same dirty tricks that have undermined public faith in the great “institutions of American journalism” — whose line, in essence remains, “trust us, we’re the experts here.”
Something has been profoundly wrong in the journalistic community for a long time. In the Donald Trump-era — as Abramson herself seems to have noticed in one fleeting, lucid moment — the problem has grown out of control. One has to ask, given her apparently loose association with journalistic ethics, what other dishonesties were perpetrated by her during her time as the “paper of record’s” news chief? How many stories were massaged, distorted, or ignored. Inquiring minds want to know.
Establishment journalists have to ask themselves some hard questions. Is this going to be the turning point that forces them to realize that working at one of a few century-old, “prestigious” publications does not confer a monopoly on the truth or a free license to print opinion as fact? Or is it going to be just another occasion for the members of the old media club to circle the wagons in an effort to protect one of their own at the expense of the public they supposedly serve?
The answer will tell us all we need to know about what remains of the credibility of the mainstream media.