Journalism Students: It is easy to smear someone just by being careless.

This video is a great teaching aid for journalism students.

The South Bend Tribune once snapped a picture of a strip joint just to have a file picture. In the picture were two people walking on the sidewalk innocently. The picture implied,  not with intent, but with carelessness, that the two ladies were going to the strip club. The ladies got upset and the Tribune, to their credit, made it right with them.

In this case, Fox News did a similar thing. Watch the video and before you read below see if you can spot what their producer who put this clip together did wrong.

At the 45 second mark Fox shows several clips of people on YouTube asking people to donate. Notice the word “scam” is under the clips. One of the clips belonged to the man below. His full clip can be seen HERE. His link went to the United Nations World Food Program at which is legit.

One can honestly say that Fox News painted him in the light of a scam artist, a criminal. It is doubtful that they had intent and the language they used in talking about it does mitigate any claim of intent. What likely happened here is that a producer or an intern  just did a search on YouTube for “donate Haiti” and pasted in the first three clips he could find.

As a result this man was made to suffer. Needless to say he was very upset and he is right to be upset.

Now before the campus crazies go all nuts trashing Fox News it is important to remember that unintentional smears like this are not uncommon. In fact every news organization who has been in business for a while can likely point to such a gaffe they have made. This is why journalism text books usually point this kind of mistake out. If you do make this kind of mistake apologize and run a visible retraction ASAP.

As a journalist, you are going to screw up sometimes. When you do just apologize and make it right. No one expects you to be a saint, they just expect you to make a best effort to be fair.

Too many journalists like to smear. An example is this story that came out accusing Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh of secretly hiring actors to call in. FM “Morning Zoo” shows often use a service to have an actor call in with a crazy story everyone can laugh at.  Anyone who has worked in radio knows this. So a reporter decided to take this known service and accuse them of calling political news/talk shows with no evidence whatsoever. Said reporter never even called the company who has the service for comment, nor did the reporter call Limbaugh or Hannity to even ask the question. Instead the reporter just made the allegation.

The story gets worse, the story is from Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), allegedly from the finest teaching journalism professors in the country;  journalism teachers who cannot follow the basic ethics rules found in any j-school textbook. CJR is partially funded by George Soros.

While this may make your editor’s day in a highly ideological news room, as most are, be careful. If a reporter ever pulled a stunt like that on one of my clients I would have that reporters face on 100 blogs,  make them the butt of jokes and make their dishonesty a viral blog story. Many publicists and press secretaries make a list of what reporters are honest and who is not. If you aren’t you will find that people will stop talking to you. is finding this out the hard way. Lately the quality of the journalism there has been going down and it has become more tabloid/smear like Slate.  People on the inside have told us that Politico is aware of this problem. Now it seems that Politico’s planned first presidential debate on May 2, 2011 is not going to happen as Palin and Bachmann have both made it clear that they have no interest in helping Politico’s business model or in helping them regain their credibility. Now that seems to be taking a similar editorial view it appears that the debate is not going to happen, or will have so few candidates there that it will be irrelevant. You brought it on yourselves guys.

UPDATE – MSNBC lefty talker admits he used hired actors coached by Congressional Democrats as callers.

His excuse is lame. When my radio show started we had nothing and I built it up with hard work and talent to beat the competition. I never used staged ringers as callers. A good host should be ready to go an entire show filled with great content and never have to take a call. The most obvious reason why is that at times technical difficulties will prevent you from taking calls. People do not listen to a show to hear callers, so callers are not that important. That is why I never took very many calls on my show.

What will CJR say now?

About Chuck Norton

Political issue strategist and communications professional. I write about politics, education, economics, morality and philosophy.
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