American Pie 05.06.03

Not unexpectedly, in the aftermath of the scandals at The New York Times, once America’s most prestigious newspaper, the US public’s trust in the media has plummeted. It’s at its lowest for decades. According to new polls, trust in the media has dropped from 54 per cent in 1989 to a low of 36 per cent today. It’s not just the Times scandal – which is still receiving yards of coverage in US papers – but a whole series of scandals going back to the early Eighties, when The Washington Post had to return a Pulitzer Prize when it was discovered that one of its reporters, Janet Cooke, had fabricated a story about an eight-year-old heroin addict. In fact, one website here, called The Black Table, has even compiled what it calls “The Disgraced Journalists Club”. There are no fewer than 12 journalists on the roster. One of the surprises of the latest surveys is the number of people who now say that when they have figured in a news story they inevitably found minor errors in the reports. Yet very few ever complained – mainly, most of them said, because they didn’t believe the papers would carry a correction about minor mistakes. As for plagiarism, digging in my files I found a feature from the Washington Journalism Review entitled “The Unoriginal Sin: How Plagiarism Poisons the Press”, with examples – including a story about a New York Times reporter who filed a story from Cambodia that was subsequently discovered to have been lifted from an André Malraux novel. The date of the WJR story: March 1983.

What did the reporters in Baghdad do when the bombs were falling? Listen to music in the bombshelter of their Palestine Hotel headquarters according to a report in Editor and Publisher, Press Gazette’s US counterpart. Music was a major diversion for the 300 or more foreign reporters in the Iraqi capital. It took their minds off what was happening and sometimes drowned out the sound of the falling bombs. That’s why heavy metal music was especially popular. Other than that, what did most of them listen to on the portable players? Sean Smith, a photographer for The Guardian, said his favourites were Dionne Warwick singing Walk on By, Burt Bacharach’s Say a Little Prayer and Johnny Cash’s album Live at Folsom Prison. Monica Garcia of Spain’s El Mundo listened to Mozart’s Requiem and Handel’s Dixit Dominus. Bob Graham of the Daily Mail preferred Mozart’s clarinet quartets and anything by violinist Nigel Kennedy. Craig Nelson for Cox Newspapers, who conducted the musical survey, said his choice was Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heavens Door and Shelter from the Storm. Both very appropriate, he admitted.

Animal rights activists are not letting up on Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who refuses to give up wearing furs and eating meat – even after one protester dumped a dead animal on her table during lunch at one of Manhattan’s most fashionable restaurants. Now, animal rights body PETA is planning to plaster New York with posters with her picture which declares “Fur is Worn by Beautiful Animals and Ugly People”. It also plans to hand out leaflets with her direct telephone number and e-mail outside the headquarters of Condé Nast in the hope it can disrupt the company’s computer and telephone systems. None of which is likely to persuade the British newswoman to become a vegetarian. In fact, according to New York Magazine, she was spotted in a local chophouse just the other night. Her order: a 22oz Porterhouse steak, well-done.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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