Every now and then a newspaper, magazine or a TV reporter gets caught with his (or her) professional pants down.
Readers/viewers can and do forgive mistakes. But when the person with the high-profile byline or perfect hair makes things up — as in flat- out lies — that is unforgivable. Usually a firing offense.
The Washington Post had to give back a Pulitzer Prize, but didn’t fold, after reporter Janet Cooke invented a news story about a child heroin addict who didn’t exist.
The New York Times continued publishing after reporter Jayson Blair faked a series of high-profile stories.
CBS, minus a once-top anchor, is still going strong despite an embarrassing, and wrong, “exposé ” about President George W. Bush’s military service.
The New Republic is still considered by many to be the in-flight magazine of Air Force One despite a string of fabricated stories by reporter Stephen Glass. It was so bizarre that Hollywood made it into a movie called Shattered Glass. It a good movie for anyone. But for people in the journalism business it is chilling.
Still, people mostly forgive and forget. Even if someone slips on Dancing With The Stars. Except…
When somebody in a federal agency makes a mistake or, worse yet, intentionally does something stupid or wrong, the whole outfit is tainted. Often by the media seeking to capture the most eyes and ears with a sensational headline or bold sound bite.
A group of IRS workers in Cincinnati go after conservative groups and suddenly the entire IRS — all 90,000 of them — is tainted. What the few apparently did is horrible. Everybody is scared of the IRS. Even Congress. And if they did it with a wink and a nudge from Washington, it is worse still. But the lady who OK’d your refund, or the guy who let you work out a payment plan weren’t in on it.
We journalists are in high dudgeon following disclosures that the Justice Department, without bothering to go to court, got the home and office phone records of at least 20 Associated Press reporters , looking for a leak. Congress and the White House say it was wrong, shouldn’t have happened and it will be fixed. But journalists — and current and future sources — got the message: It won’t happen again. Until it happens again!
Which brings us to this email, from an IRS employee that sort of says it all. Which is: When we make a mistake, we apologize and go on. And mostly you accept it. But when a small group of federal workers goofs, the whole organization — sometimes the entire federal workforce — is tainted. Here’s the email from a D.C.-based federal worker:
“I heard the female afternoon anchor on your sister news station refer to the IRS as “scandal-ridden.” That’s pretty insulting to the majority of us 90-some thousand employees who work throughout the country to do the best job we can and who had nothing to do with the alleged shenanigans regarding certain non-profit applications. Either she has no concept as to what the term she used means or she purposely chose to use hyperbole to slander the entire agency. Man, it doesn’t take long for the bloom to wear off the week after Public Service Recognition Week. Ha! Got you there! What recognition? Certainly nothing positive!
“Oh and P.S.
“Implying all IRS employees are corrupt or involved in scandals is like saying ALL of the news media plagIarizes because ONE New York Times reporter prints a story based on facts she made up.”
It would cost $478.9 billion to construct the U.S.S. Enterprise, according to a (very detailed) spending estimate by Gizmodo. That’s about 12.59 percent of the federal government’s total 2013 budget.
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