Friday, November 09, 2018

The scandal behind the scandal of journalist Mike Ward making up quotes

While other journalists have expressed astonishment that Mike Ward, the former Austin bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle and long-time Austin Statesman reporter, was caught making up quotes in his stories, Grits cannot muster much surprise.

As a journalist, Ward was a sycophant to power. The quotes he made up were of so-called average people because those were the folks whom he didn't bother to talk to, whose opinions he assumed he knew. Rarely were reform-minded opinions portrayed fully or fairly, for example, if they were portrayed at all. Instead, they were spun in a fashion he knew would please the powerful people who were his main sources and ultimate constituency.

Newspapers love journos like that because they appear to have "access," which, in the journalism world, counts as currency. But often "access" just means a politician knows a writer would never publish anything contrary to their interests, and at that point they've become more publicist than reporter.

By the time a journalist is making up quotes, filing articles with one or two comments from his powerful friends and then making up common folk to frame their message, they've devolved into full-blown fiction writing, or what the President would call "fake news." The Chron couldn't identify 122 people quoted as sources in 72 stories.

But Mike's writing was nearly as problematic in the stories where quotes weren't made up because of the way he pandered to the powerful. Even if the comments were real, he wasn't going to put anything in there that his patrons didn't want. To this long-time observer of Texas criminal-justice reporting, that's the scandal behind the scandal.

10 comments:

Gadfly said...

Sad but true take on Ward, as I see it.

Anonymous said...

I think we have reached a point where journalism is largely a lost cause.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see who owns the major news networks.

Anonymous said...

The media is a version of a pyramid scheme in the sense that the top of the pyramid is the lefty NYC media elites. Everyone else tries to follow their lead. Therefore, these media elites "own" reporters nationwide. I spoke to Mike a few times and had one interesting face to face with him--he seemed OK to me but I can't say I knew him. Sad for him.

He was a big player in the TYC (Texas Youth Commission) saga circa 2007-2010.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

This wasn't about Mike tacking Left, 1:57. His biases IMO were toward raw power, not particularly based in ideology.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't believe journalism is a lost cause, 1:00/1:30. I hope not. It's indispensable to democracy. For every Mike Ward there are 100 journos who would never consider for a second making up stories or sources. But like cops, journalists don't do a great job of holding their own accountable when they do wrong. So it was impressive that the Houston Chron went to these lengths to get to the bottom of it. As justifiably angry as readers may be about Mike, I think the paper deserves a lot of credit for that.

Steven Seys said...

Scott, the farther you go to either extreme, the less it has to do with issues or people and the more it is mere accumulation of raw power.

Anonymous said...

A people get the government they deserve---Alexis de Tocqueville.

Anonymous said...

You know who owns you since they are the ones you are afraid to talk about in public. In Los Angeles they booed Trump when he said "I am here for your votes, not your money."

Anonymous said...

Grits, about journalism as a lost cause, I want to agree with you. American journalism rarely had periods when it wasn't corrupt, yellow dog, dishonest, or otherwise not possessed of high integrity. The watchdog and accountability functions we value have never been intrinsic to the field of journalism itself, but intrinsic to the ability of the public to expose issues requiring public discussion. Let me suggest this end has been realized in many ways, some of which involve the field of journalism.