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Ethically challenged profession

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One of the things we talk about around the YES! Weekly offices, when we’re not mainlining caffeine and debating modern comma theory, is the state of the journalism profession.

It’s a discussion that’s been running almost two years.

We were founded the year disgraced New York Times journalist Jayson Blair published his memoir Burning Down My Master’s House, a tome that defended his crimes of integrity that included plagiarism, fabricated quotes and even cooking stories from whole cloth.

In our very first year of publication we were treated to the Plamegate scandal, and we defended Judith Miller, again from the New York Times, when she chose to go to jail instead of reveal her source.

This was before we found out that Miller’s source, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, had signed a waiver allowing her to divulge his name to the grand jury, suggesting that perhaps Miller was going to jail not to protect her source but to avoid disclosing her own role in the affair.

Then we let her have it.

Because as we see it, journalism is an industry in crisis. Its ranks are populated in no small part by charlatans and spin monkeys. The product suffers from a decades-long trend of dumbing down the news and frivolous packaging. It’s under siege by the current administration, which criticizes the Times and other outlets for reporting on distasteful activity within its ranks. And it’s being eaten from within by fraudulent practitioners of the trade who give credence to the claim that we’re all a bunch of hacks.

Just look at this mess coming from Beiruit – not the fighting and the bombings, which are indeed a geopolitical mess, but the doctored photography being peddled by unscrupulous freelancers to some of our most reputable news organizations and being run as fact.

This recent and embarrassing trend started with Charles Johnson, a blogger with a site called littlegreenfootballs.com, and a picture of a recently bombed Beirut suburb taken by Reuters photographer Adnan Hajj. Johnson noticed in the published photograph the distinctive fingerprints of the Photoshop “clone” tool which in this case was employed to augment the amount of black smoke and the presence of devastated buildings in the scene.

The discovery called into question every shot that Hajj had filed throughout his career and subsequently ended his tenure as a Reuters photographer after other questionable images were discovered in his portfolio. And many bloggers began examining more photos from the war-torn region for evidence of fraud.

They found it: Now the Associated Press and, yes, The New York Times are coming under fire for running doctored or fraudulent news photos as part of their extensive war coverage.

To which we can only roll our eyes, shrug our shoulders and get back to the business of journalism, hoping that our commitment to the truth is still the relative norm rather than the exception.

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