The Decades Biggest Journalism Blunders

As the end of Brian Williams six-month suspension from NBC Nightly News approaches, I’ve started to think about the biggest blunders to hit the journalism world over the past decade.  There have been a good amount of scandals within the profession, but I’ve put together a list of the most notable ones in recent years.

Brian Williams Lying Scandal

Brian Williams has always been a much loved journalist for his professionalism and dry humor, but earlier this year this much respected journalist found himself in hot water when allegations of fabrication of stories came out.  Williams was accused of embellishing his involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq when he claimed to have been in a helicopter that had been hit by a missile.  As it turns out, it wasn’t Williams’ helicopter that was hit but the one in front of his.  He was immediately put on a six-month suspension from his role as anchor of NBC Nightly News pending an investigation.  Within weeks, Williams was accused of fabricating or embellishing 11 more stories that he had reported over the past decade.  It’s unclear whether Williams will return to NBC as the network hasn’t publicly acknowledged their plans for the disgraced anchor.

Bill O’Reilly Lying Scandal

While Brian Williams battled his own lying scandal earlier this year, Bill O’Reilly was quick to point out the shortcomings and failures of his embattled rival.  But as O’Reilly was busy pointing the finger at Williams for his failures some of his own unethical reporting came to light.  O’Reilly was accused of lying about his claim of reporting on the 1982 Falklands War for CBS News, when in reality he was more than 1,000 miles away at the time. Colleagues also question O’Reilly’s story about saving an injured cameraman during a violent anti-government rally in Buenos Aires.  O’Reilly, a political commentator on The O’Reilly Factor for Fox News, disputed the claims and remains in his position with Fox News.

Wall Street Journal’s Intern Fabrication

While it might seem egregious to include an intern in this list of journalism scandals, the fact that an intern could get away with false reporting for one of the most well respected publications in the nation makes it a contender.  Liane Membis started her internship in the summer of 2012 at the Wall Street Journal and was given the opportunity to do some reporting.  Membis was accused of making up quotes for a story about the re-opening of the 103rd Street pedestrian bridge in East Harlem that was published in the Journal in June of that year.  As it turns out this wasn’t Membis’ first time fabricating details of a story.  The Journal pulled several other stories that she had reported on and past publications that she had written for had to publish long lists of corrections.  The fact that such a celebrated publication didn’t catch these blatant errors garnered the Journal some negative press.

Lara Logan’s Benghazi Blunder

Lara Logan, respected war correspondent for CBS News and 60 Minutes found herself in hot water in 2013 when a source that she relied heavily on while reporting had, as it turned out, fabricated portions of his story.  Logan was asked to take a six-month leave from 60 Minutes.  When she returned to the show after her leave was up she went to Liberia to report on the ebola outbreak.  She found herself in hot water again when she didn’t bother to interview any Liberians and ended up self-quarantined in a luxury South African hotel with four other CBS employees.

Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus”

Rolling Stone published an explosive feature claiming that several fraternity members viciously raped a women as part of their initiation in 2014.  As other publications started to investigate the claims in the piece discrepancies began to arise.  Rolling Stone issued multiple apologies for the story before ultimately retracting the entire story in April, 2015.  They published a report on the incident by the Columbia University School of Journalism, but that did little to save face.  The story was ‘awarded’ the “Error of the Year” in journalism by the Poynter Institute and was included in the Columbia Journalism Review’s “The Worst Journalism of 2014.”

Dishonorable mention:

Jayson Blair Fabrications

While the Jayson Blair scandal happened a little more than 10 years ago, it is still a notable scandal to hit the journalism world.  The celebrated reporter was working as The New York Times when it came to light that one of his stories was incredibly similar to another that was published in the San Antonio Express-News.  As details emerged about this story, a slew of plagarism accusations started to flow in.  Blair left the Times in the wake of the scandal and the publication wrote a 7, 239 word front-page story about his unjust journalism titled “Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception.”  In the story, it was said that Blair’s lies were “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”

Follow Sean on Twitter and Instagram @BuffaloFlynn.

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and
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