Ethical blunders question media integrity

by Destanie Martin-Johnson

Brian Williams used to be one of the most respected, well-known journalists and news anchors in the country. 
He’s definitely still well-known, but his respect from the public has crumbled. He may mostly be remembered now as the news anchor who made up stories and claimed them as memories. 
Williams’ reputation came into question after he was called out in February for telling the public that he was in a United States military helicopter that was forced down by enemy fire in Iraq in 2003 when he was actually in a different helicopter altogether. Whether Williams purposefully embellished his stories or honestly didn’t
remember them correctly isn’t clear. But Williams isn’t the only journalist who’s made similar mistakes. 
Rolling Stone magazine recently had to retract an article that lacked truth, attribution and sufficient fact-checking. Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote “A Rape on Campus,” a story about a purported fraternity gang rape at the University of Virginia. Although Rolling Stone did have a professional fact-checker interview the alleged victim, it “glossed over the gaps” and omitted important details through frequent use of pseudonyms under the guise of protecting identities. 
Although the alleged victim claimed she didn’t want to disclose her alleged rapists’ names out of fear, there was no evidence that her alleged attacker was an actual person.
But Erdely’s intentions were not tainted. Her goal was to spread awareness of rape on college campuses. She just tried to write the story without causing further harm to the alleged victim. 
The consequences of the failure to thoroughly fact-check the victim’s allegations, however, were severe. 
Journalism’s foundation lies on truth, accuracy and a loyalty to readers. If someone puts a crack in that foundation with a lie — even if it’s just a small crack — everything eventually falls apart. Why can’t people be more forgiving of journalists? We are all human; we all make mistakes.
The problem is trust. Once the public loses its trust of an anchor, reporter or journalist, it is nearly impossible to get back. How will they know whether you are really being truthful if you gave false information in the past? 
Some journalists should be able to get a second chance. Unless it’s proven that a journalist purposefully lied, fabricated or cheated, and only if they acknowledge their mistake and received a temporary suspension, they deserve the chance to earn the public’s trust back. 
In recent news, an investigation on Williams’ past stories have shown a potential 10 other instances in which he exaggerated or embellished his reporting experiences. In this case, it’s not just one mistake. The pattern of him “adding on” to his reports is unacceptable.
But in other cases it is not impossible to earn back respect, even with numerous accusations of plagiarism. Fareed Zakaria is still a prolific journalist despite being suspended from CNN in 2012 and being accused of continuing to lift material up until last year. 
Nobody can be perfect every minute of every day. But a passionate journalist deserves a shot at making things right, as long as they can earn back the public’s trust and continue to pursue the truth without swaying from it.