With reports earlier this week that Qaddafi's son was captured only to emerge just one day later with a press conference, or the original reports of Bin Laden using a woman as a shield, does the public believe what it is told by the media? Is the media truly committed to truth?
Owning one of the largest PR Firms in the United States and working on a daily basis with the media, I can assure you that journalists often have an agenda and often develop their own narratives -- and fill in the blanks with the pieces of fact that they need. Salon today ran a story entitled "How celebrity gossip destroys journalism's credibility", and Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote in criticism of the "mainstream media" for "reposting a sloppy story," in regards to Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's marriage.
Digital media, mainly blogs, has only made the issue more difficult because it enables anyone to write anything -- substantiated or not - half truth or no truth. It's only getting worse. With instant deadlines, media demands instant answers and relies on even fewer sources than before for fear of getting scooped.
Just yesterday, a reporter called me for "immediate comment" on a story he had been researching for 10 days, and got angry with me when I could not immediately comment because my client was on an airplane and simply was not available for comment, let alone consultation with his PR representative.
Ultimately, that story that the journalist developed was filled with half-truths, and my client and I both had to cancel evening plans to explain why the story was inaccurate. It never ran, but what would have happened if I could not answer my phone the instant the reporter called? Is that fair and ethical journalism?
This is not a new phenomenon. Remember the 1996 Atlanta Olympic security guard Richard Jewell? Jewell, who was originally regarded as a hero, was then outed by an anonymous source in The Atlanta Journal Constitution as "the focus of the investigation." News outlets immediately picked up on the unsubstantiated story and for months the man suffered intense negative media scrutiny.
Even though the government issued a statement several months later stating that Jewell had never been a suspect in the case, the media damaged him tremendously. Friends of Jewell said that he never recovered from the public humiliation he suffered until the day he died in 2007.
Then there was NBA player Eddie Johnson who was misidentified as a child molester. Johnson is now dealing with a case of mistaken identity that shocked him and his friends and permanently affected his reputation. Media reports that someone with the same name sexually assaulted an eight year old girl. Yet, some media reports about the alleged crime included his bio information and file photo linked on the Internet; his phone started ringing.
"My name is everything," he said. "I don't fault the other Eddie Johnson for having that name. I think it's a great name. He just doesn't happen to be a great guy."
Sadly, there are many more stories where these came from. Journalists often approach a story with their own bias and their own beliefs -- forever changing someone's life. It's callous, harsh and often unfair.
Salon said it well - "Somewhere along the way, the notion of printing everything as truth and letting the retractions and corrections come later has become the new standard -- and not just for cheesy celebrity rags. Why? Because scandal means eyeballs, and everybody's competing for the lion's share."
Along with that comes the media' divorce from the truth.