Darts & Laurels

Too many hoaxes and anonymous sources

DART to The Daily Mail, Gawker, and NBC, among others, for gleefully reprinting a story about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un having his uncle torn apart by dogs. It was lurid, provocative and—surprise—not true. China-based satirist Pyongyang Choi Seongho posted the “report” on microblogging site Weibo; news outlets snapped it up without verification. There isn’t much the Western media doesn’t think North Korea capable of, but surely some fact checking was in order—if only to confirm the juicy details.

And while we’re at it, let’s go over the list of hoaxes journalists have fallen for in the past few months. Remember Bachelor producer Elan Gale’s tweets about fighting with an angry fellow airline passenger over Thanksgiving, which went viral and sparked a debate over bullying and sexism? The tweets were fake, a prank played for Gale’s personal amusement? How about the viral video of a Google employee screaming at protesters who were angry about tech workers driving up the rent in San Francisco? Journalists reported it as a clash over rampant gentrification, but it was in fact “political theater” orchestrated by a union organizer. And Kanye West has claimed to be so many things—“Jimi Hendrix,” “a god,” “Shakespeare in the flesh”—that it’s barely surprising he would say he was more important than Nelson Mandela. Except that he didn’t. Even though satirical website The Daily Currant “reported” that he did. In the interest of sanity, we issue the following PSA: Journalists, pause before you post. Double-check your information.

DART to E! for nodding at the wheel during its Golden Globes coverage and informing viewers in a “fun fact” bubble that Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991. Fun Fact: Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease in no way constitutes a “fun fact.”

DART to MSNBC for interrupting a live interview with a former congresswoman and national security expert to go to news about Justin Bieber’s arrest, and another DART to CNN for painstakingly recreating the teen idol’s drag race with computer animation. Imagine if both outlets had devoted the resources lavished on Bieber to, say, reporting on climate change or the crisis in the Central African Republic.

The Huffington Post also deserves a DART for lifting an entire blogpost from Indiewire’s “Women and Hollywood” and reposting it as its own material. HuffPost didn’t ask writer Susan Wloszczyna’s permission to publish her article, or for the permission of “Women and Hollywood“‘s founder and editor, Melissa Silverstein. But at least HuffPost was good enough to credit Wloszczyna—with a bio and picture they lifted from her work on RogerEbert.com.

DARTS to Katie Couric and Piers Morgan for their cringeworthy attempts to interview transgender activists Carmen Carrera, Laverne Cox, and Janet Mock, respectively. “Your private parts, they’re different now, aren’t they?” Couric asked trans woman and model Carmen Carrera. Morgan was equally fixated on his guest’s transition, discussing her move from “boy’s clothes to girl’s clothes,” while the onscreen graphics read, “Janet Mock: Was a boy until age 18.” Apparently transgender people aren’t worth interviewing unless they satisfy the host’s unbridled curiosity by answering invasive questions about their genitals. Morgan also said Mock reminded him of Beyoncé.

Anyone interested in treating trans people respectfully could listen to Christina Kahrl, who deserves a LAUREL for her piece chastising Grantland for its “Dr. V” debacle. Written by Caleb Hannan, “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” outed a golf club’s inventor, Essay Anne Vanderbilt, as a transgender woman. She committed suicide prior to the story’s publication. Because of the damage Hannan’s article had done, “we owe it to the ruin wrought in its wake to talk about the desperate lives that most transgender Americans lead and the adaptive strategies they have to come up with” to survive, Kahrl wrote.

A LAUREL too, to Argentinian newspaper La Nación for creating Declaraciones Juradas Abiertas, the first data application in Argentina that makes information on public officials’ assets available to citizens.

DART to Bath Magazine for plagiarizing Boston magazine’s cover dedicated to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Bath Magazine copied Boston’s design—dozens of running shoes arranged in a heart shape—and used it to promote the British city’s own half marathon. Let’s hope it was due to “not fully realising [the cover’s] connotations in the States,” as Bath publisher Steve Miklos said. And not because they thought no one would notice.

LAUREL to The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman for decrying the media frenzy surrounding actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death and outlining rules for covering celebrity deaths respectfully. The Daily Mail posted a video of Hoffman’s partner as she tried to organize his funeral, and another of his children crying as they left home to go to their father’s wake. In response, Freeman advised journalists to follow the golden rule, and treat a celebrity’s grieving relatives as they would wish their own families to be treated.

LAUREL to Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon for criticizing the abundance of anonymous sources in stories where it isn’t warranted. What was once reserved for sources in grave danger is now being doled out to NFL coaches who wish to speak “honestly,” journalists mocking other journalists, and people afraid of offending their rich friends. And no, fear that your friends might not like you anymore isn’t a valid reason for anonymity.

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Edirin Oputu is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu