Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Staring Right at the Point...and Missing It

This column, from former American Society of Newspaper Editors President John Hughes, is about the intense discussion taking place among America's newspaper editors about the scandals that have rocked the USA Today and New York Times recently. Hughes offers some of the usual prescriptions for preventing future problems, but they don't really address the core problem:
New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told the student-produced convention newspaper last week that the public has already displayed a lack of trust in newspapers. "The most disturbing element of what happened with the Jayson Blair incident," he said, "was the fact that the people he talked about in his stories didn't call" to report discrepancies. When the subjects of Mr. Blair's articles were contacted and questioned, most replied that they thought all newspapers "did that," Mr. Sulzberger said. That was his biggest concern.
Folks have been complaining about papers for years, and their concerns have been shrugged or laughed off. Why are we to believe anything is different?

He makes an enormously important point, almost in passing:
Though some people misbehave and are guilty of malfeasance, most people don't, and aren't. Unless we are to lose faith in all mankind, I have to believe that, for most people, honesty comes as naturally as breathing.
I respectfully disagree. Honesty must be cultivated. The young must be trained in it and the adult must have it reinforced. To assume it just happens is to ask for trouble.

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