One of the most important qualities a journalist should possess is being trustworthy. To the public, they are looked to as a source of facts and truth. So when a reporter is dishonest, it casts doubt not only over the rest of his or her career, but the news organization they work for. Here are some of the most dishonest journalists to ever report the news.
10. Johann Hari
In 2002, Johann Hari started working as a columnist for The Independent in London, England. However, being a very talented writer and journalist, he also contributed to The Huffington Post, The New York and Los Angeles Times amongst other major publications. In 2008, he won The Orwell prize, which honors the best in British Journalism, making him the youngest recipient in the history of the award.
Then in 2011, it arose that Hari had lifted quotes from other people’s work. For example, when he wrote about an interview with Hugo Chavez, he would include quotes by Chavez from different stories and not reference them. People who defended Hari said that it was due to a lack of training he’s had, and that is was just a mistake. However, sourcing quotes isn’t something specific to journalism. High school students all over the world, in every discipline, learn the importance of sourcing information; if you didn’t say it, credit the person who did. Also, it’s not all that difficult, for example, all he had to do was “(interviewee’s name) said to the BBC that…” then put in the quote. It is a simple and basic rule of writing that someone of Hari’s caliber shouldn’t have broken.
Then things got a little weird, when people who disagreed or criticized Hari had their Wikipedia page altered by someone named David Rose. David Rose would also write great things about Hari on his page. Turns out David Rose’s ISP was the same as the Independent and it didn’t take long to trace it back to Hari.
Hari admitted to the “mistakes” he made and to altering people’s Wikipedia pages and wrote a long apology for his actions. Critics said the apology really didn’t say much and he didn’t make a mistake, he blatantly cheated and got caught. He acted spitefully, and immature and broke the basic rules of plagiarism.
After the controversy, Hari left The Independent to voluntarily take a training class in journalism, but was planning on returning to the publication. However, two months after leaving, he chose not to return and is now the producer and editor of the Russell Brand web series, The Trews.
9. Michael Finkel
Michael Finkel worked as a freelance journalist for 12 years where he wrote some pretty amazing stories for some of the biggest publications in the United States like Sports Illustrated, The Atlantic and The New York Times Magazine. The problem, which went overlooked for years, was that he didn’t use many quotes and his stories were hard to fact check because they were from different parts of the globe, like the Ivory Coast and Haiti. In one of his most famous stories, he travelled from Haiti, by boat, with a group of immigrants coming to America.
In 2001, The New York Times Magazine published Finkel’s articled called “Is Youssouf Malé a Slave?” The story was about a young boy from Mali who sold himself to a cocoa plantation on the Ivory Coast where he worked under brutal conditions for a year. The problem was that the main subject of the article wasn’t real, but a combination of young men. Finkel also lied about timelines, for example Youssouf Malé was a real person, but he only worked on the cocoa plantation for a month.
Finkel was confronted and admitted he altered this story and this story alone. The rest of his articles were all truthful, despite being quite outrageous themselves. He was fired, but then a really odd thing happened. A man named Christian Longo had been arrested in Mexico after he was suspected of killing his whole family. In Mexico, Longo went by the name Michael Finkel and said he was a journalist. Once in prison, Finkel visited Longo and as a result Finkel wrote the book True Story, which is being made into a movie staring Jonah Hill as Finkel and James Franco as Longo.
8. Tom Kummer
Starting in the 1980s and all the way through the 1990s, Tom Kummer was a Swiss entertainment reporter with the amazing ability to get deep, interesting interviews with some of the biggest celebrities at the time. His stories were picked up by some of the biggest magazines and newspapers in Germany.
What set Kummer apart from other entertainment reporters is that instead of the normal drivel of celebrity interviews where they pushed their new movie or album, he had people like Mike Tyson discuss Nietzsche. Tyson also talked about eating cockroaches between bread in prison to get more protein. Pamela Anderson gave her views on William Gibson’s hard-to-read novel Necromancer. Kummer discussed the philosophy of morality and sin with Bruce Willis. And that’s just to name a few of the two-dozen celebrities he interviewed.
The interviews he had were astounding. He said that his secret was that he needed a guaranteed 45 minutes with the interviewee so that they could delve into deeper topics. Editors at other magazines were giving their reporters a hard time. How was this young reporter from Switzerland getting all these A-list celebrities to open up in these profound ways?
Well, he wasn’t. He never met a single person he claimed he interviewed. It wasn’t until 2000 when he was exposed. It was after a rather intimate “interview” with Courtney Love, where she explained why she loved exposing her breast. The story was sent to Love’s people who adamantly denied even meeting Kummer; let alone Love even saying that stuff.
The thing is, Kummer never apologized for what he did. He didn’t think he did anything wrong, he was doing something he called “borderline journalism.” He said his stuff was so outrageous that his editors had to know it was at least somewhat fictional. After all, they never asked to listen to his tapes from the interviews.
After Kummer was exposed, a number of people at the magazines he contributed to were forced to resign. Kummer now lives in Los Angeles teaching paddle tennis.
7. Judith Miller
In 1977, Judith Miller was hired by the New York Times to work at its Washington Bureau. In the 1980s, Miller was moved to the Cairo bureau and eventually go on to be an expert on the Middle East and would talk about things like terrorism and the danger of weapons of mass destruction.
After the September 11 attacks, Miller was a reputable source from which to get information. She was an expert on the Middle East at one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world. So when Miller came to the editors with a story about the interception of metal tubes that were heading to Iraq, they believed her and went ahead with the article. According to her article, there were unnamed sources that were officials with American intelligence said that these tubes were used to enrich uranium. She also said that officials with the Bush administration, again unnamed, said that Iraq was actively pursuing materials to make nuclear weapons.
The problem was that after 9/11, the Bush administration was trying to build a case to go to war against Iraq. Miller’s article was often pointed to as evidence that Iraq was planning to go nuclear. Then after the war was launched, Miller said on a number of occasions that she was being led to believe that American forces found evidence of WMDs.
However, as history has shown, Iraq did not have any WMDs, nor were they developing them. So where did Miller get her information from? Well, she refused to give up her sources, although the Times did admit that some information they used relied heavily on one source – Ahmed Chalabi. Chalabi was an Iraqi living in America before the war in Iraq and was lobbying for the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. So the information about WMDs he gave both American government and the American press that wasn’t exactly true.
6. Michael Gallagher
Michael Gallagher was an investigative journalist who was hired by the Cincinnati Enquirer. In 1998, he published an 18-page long story about produce company Chiquita International. Gallagher and a partner had worked on the story for over a year and they claimed they visited seven countries and interviewed a number of people, including executives at Chiquita International.
The story detailed a number of crimes perpetrated by the Chiquita. This included bribery in Columbia. Also, they apparently controlled a bunch of small, independent banana companies to avoid laws regarding land ownership. Finally, there was the accusation that their boats were being used to smuggle cocaine. Chiquita denied all the allegations.
Two months later, The Enquirer retracted the story, printed a front-page apology and agreed to pay Chiquita International $10 million. Turns out Michael Gallagher had the codes that allowed him to log on to Chiquita’s voicemail system. So while the information may have been true, how the information was acquired was illegal. He pleaded guilty to criminal charges and was given five years probation, which was expunged in 2012.
The amazing thing is that the story was actually fairly accurate. However, because of the dubious practices, Gallagher came out being the bad guy and the apparent drug smuggling bribers got $10 million. Gallagher is now an editor of a weekly newspaper in Saugatuck, Michigan.
5. Jayson Blair
The New York Times hired Jayson Blair in June 1999, before he even finished college. By November of that year he was given the position of “immediate reporter” where he covered crime. For the next four years, he had a number of amazing stories published in The Times.
In 2003, he was transferred to the national desk. Once there, fellow workers at the Times were starting to question the integrity of his stories. Thirty people signed a letter asking the editors to look into some of his stories because they found four major mistakes.
It wasn’t until April 26, 2003, when things fell apart for Blair. Turns out Blair had copied a story from a reporter named Macarena Hernandez, who had been an intern for a short time at The Times and worked with Blair. Hernandez wrote a story for The San Antonio Express-News about Edward Anguiano, who was a 24-year-old army mechanic who went missing after the fall of Iraq. Blair copied her work and claimed it was his own, original material.
The Washington Post exposed the similarities and it soon became clear that Blair had lied about a number of stories. Many times he’d say he was somewhere, but he was really in his apartment in New York, writing stories by stealing from other people’s work. In total, out of the 72 articles that Blair wrote for the national desk at the times, there was questionable material in 36 of them.
The result was that Blair was forced to resign and two editors at The Times resigned over the scandal. Blair wrote a book about his experience called Burning Down My Master’s House and he is now a life coach.
4. Stephen Glass
By the time he was 25, Stephen Glass was one of the most sought after and successful journalists in Washington DC. He had a full time job with The New Republic. On top of that he had articles published in Rolling Stone, Harper’s, George, The New York Times Magazine and Mother Jones. His articles were exciting and incredibly popular, hence the amount of work he was getting. However, with each of his articles, there were detractors who would say there was something off about his stories. This went back as far as his very first story with The New Republic. Yet, he continued to work and get contracts for stories.
In 1998, 26-year-old Glass gave his editor at The New Republic a new article called “Hack Heaven”. In the article, Glass told the story of a 15-year-old hacker who broke into the network of a big software company, called Jukt Micronics. He apparently posted everyone’s salary and nude pictures on their website, along with the words “Big Bad Bionic Boy was Here!” After the hack, instead of fighting the hacker, Jukt Micronics wanted to hire him on for computer security. In order to do that, they had to speak to his agent. The agent apparently specialized in representing hackers, calling himself a “Super-Agent for Super-Nerds”. In addition to that, there was a whole underground community of hackers who meet in secret and after landing the deal they had a big party for the young hacker. The story was too good and reporters at Forbes started to look into the story and realized it was complete fiction. At first, they thought it was possible a hacker or a group of hackers duped Glass.
After “Hack Heaven”, the rest of Glass’ work was looked into and they found that quotations were created out of thin air, people were invented and he claimed that fictional events really happened. What is even more amazing about Glass’ story was it took an incredible amount of work to cover his lies. After a story is written, it goes to an editor or fact checker who looks over the article. Glass always appeared to have evidence to back up his stories. He had faxes, emails, memos, voicemails and websites amongst other things. However, Glass created all of the evidence; he faked everything. He printed fake business cards, set up fake phone lines and even created web pages. Another time he had his brother pretend to be a source when he was being called out on a story. He was so diabolical that he would do things like purposely make mistakes so that the editor would catch those mistakes, but miss the bigger picture – that the articles were made up.
After that, he was pretty much banished from journalism. In 2014, he tried to become a lawyer, but the state of California ruled that he wasn’t trustworthy enough to be a lawyer. His story was made into the 2003 film Shattered Glass.
3. Jack Kelley
For over 20 years, Jack Kelley was a foreign correspondent for USA Today. He was one of the first reporters hired on, in 1982 when the paper was first founded. A favorite of the founder of the newspaper, Kelley was given the position of foreign correspondent in 1988. He covered major news events all over the world and he would deliver amazing stories. In Kosovo, he found a diary of a young girl, who was like Anne Frank. Other times, he narrowly avoided death on the battlefield and was threatened by the Russian mob. His work was so good that in 2002, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
However, his stories were a bit too outrageous for some. Come the mid-1990s, suspicions were raised around him from his colleagues and they kept a file about him. There were articles that had lines that were very similar to lines in other articles, from different publications.
It wasn’t until 2004, when another journalist, Jayson Blair was exposed, that Kelley’s editors started looking into his work and found a problem with his 1999 story “Yugoslav army, three-ring notebook.” The immediate problem, according to USA Today, was that Kelley used a woman who wasn’t involved with the reporting as a translator. He reigned January 6, 2004, and his own paper began looking into a sampling of work. From there, they hired an independent fact checker and it turned out that for over 10 years, he lied about more than 20 major stories and stole over 100 quotes from competitors.
Since being exposed as a fraud, Jack Kelley hasn’t worked again in journalism.
2. Janet Cooke
Janet Cooke worked for The Toledo Blade before getting a job with The Washington Post in January 1980. On September 28, 1980, The Post published an article called “Jimmy’s World” by Cooke. The story was about an 8-year-old African American boy who was a heroin addict living in the inner city. He had been doing heroin since he was 5, and wanted to become a dealer so he could buy a dog and a bike. The story shocked the city; a search was conducted for the boy involving thousands of people, including police officers and social workers. Mayor Marion Barry claimed he knew of the boy and they were looking after him.
The story had such an impact that renowned journalist, Bob Woodward, nominated it for the Pulitzer, which it won on April 13, 1981. The problem was the whole story was fictional.
What caused her downfall was when former colleagues read her biography for the Pulitzer. It said that she had a degree from Vassar and a Masters in Journalism from the University of Toledo, when she only had a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toledo. So other journalists looked into Cooke and within two weeks of winning the prestigious award, she was confronted about the authenticity of her story. She admitted that the whole thing was a hoax. She resigned from the Post and had to return her Pulitzer, along with the prize money.
1. Walter Duranty
From 1922-1936, Walter Duranty was Moscow Bureau Chief for The New York Times. It was during that time he interviewed Joseph Stalin and reported stories from the Soviet Union. In 1932, he won the Pulitzer for a series of stories he wrote about the Soviet Union.
The big problem about Duranty’s reporting was when it came to the Holodomor, which was the intentional starvation of Ukrainians from 1932-1933. Duranty toured the area and reported back to The Times that the reports of famine were overblown. In fact, The Times published a story on March 31, 1933 that said “Russians Hungry, but Not Starving.” Which was not true at all, because millions died.
Duranty basically told The Times exactly what Stalin’s government wanted him to. By doing so, he’d get better access to the Stalin government and exclusive stories. So he kept defending and rationalizing actions taken by the Soviets, despite how awful conditions were in the Soviet Union.
However, The Times kept Duranty on as a correspondent until 1941. In 1980, the Times started to acknowledge that Duranty’s coverage wasn’t accurate. He simply took what the Stalin government said at face value and reported it.
There have been two calls to withdraw his Pulitzer, but they have been denied. His work has been called some of the worst reporting in the history of The Times. Duranty passed away in 1957.