American Pie 15.05.03

Which is worse? Plagiarism or fabrication. US magazines and newspapers have had a plague of both lately, including even The New York Times. One of its up-and-coming reporters, Jayson Blair, who joined the Times four years ago, has resigned following the revelation that he lifted several large chunks of interviews with the families of war in Iraq casualties that appeared originally in a paper in Texas. The plagiarism came to light when the editor of the Texas paper complained to the Times. It was then discovered that the parents of two more war victims, who were quoted in other Times stories, had never met or spoken to the reporter. That was followed by revelations that some of the stories the reporter filed about last year’s sniper rampage in Maryland included fake quotes – and quotes lifted from other papers.

A closer look at the 27-year-old reporter’s work revealed that since joining the Times the paper had carried no less than 50 corrections to stories he had written. Times editor Howell Raines, ordering a full investigation including the reporter’s telephone records, said: “It’s really stricken all of us.” But then added: “No paper anywhere is set up to monitor for cheats and fabricators.” Nevertheless, this week, the Times carried an unprecedented page-one apology – and followed it with a four-page detailed catalogue of their reporter’s journalistic misdeeds, even inviting readers to let the paper know of any other examples of his misreporting. Meanwhile, in another case, Washington journalist Stephen Glass, who for several years filed phony stories for the New Republic magazine and was fired five years ago, has written a book – a thinly disguised novel – based on his misdoings. A Hollywood movie is also in the works. Altogether Glass, now 30, admitted fabricating details in 27 articles.

Consistent with the drop-off in interest in the war in Iraq, sales of most big US papers are flat again. Some have even lost circulation. Notably newspapers like The NY Times (down over 5 per cent) The Washington Post (down 2 per cent) and the Chicago Tribune (down 1 per cent). USA Today clings to its lead as the biggest-selling paper with an increase of just under 2 per cent. But the biggest gainer has been Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post which has posted a gain of more than 10 per cent.

The decision by Wal-Mart, America’s largest supermarket chain, to ban the sale of Maxim, as well as other lads’ mags Stuff and FHM, has not overly fazed Dennis Publishing – although the chain has been accused of “double standards” in continuing to display and sell some almost-as-racy women’s magazines. Also such men’s magazines as GQ, Esquire and Rolling Stone whose contents, Felix Dennis contends, are just as provocative. The ban is not likely to have much effect on overall sales as Wal-Mart, big though it maybe, accounts for less than 3 per cent of news-stand sales of Maxim and the other magazines. It’s all part of a growing campaign, a lot of it directed at records and CDs with racy lyrics, many of which have also been banned from Wal-Mart stores. Even magazines such as Sports Illustrated have been targeted. Last year’s annual swimsuit issue was removed from the racks because one single picture offended customers. Nothing to do with Wal-Mart, but both Stuff and Maxim are coincidentally getting new editors. Greg Gutfield, who has edited Stuff for the past three years, is stepping down and is being replaced by Mike Hammer, executive editor of Maxim, whose place in turn is being taken by Greg Williams, formerly editor in London of Arena.

by Jeffrey Blyth

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