Water cooler talk about the ABC show “Scandal” might make one wonder what he’s been missing by not tuning in. But after a viewing or two, some may feel the series is missing a certain lifelike quality.
After all, it might seem a bit too fantastic when even the most corner-cutting, self-centered and unethical characters on the show seem to have higher standards of conduct than today’s media elites. And that right there is the real scandal.
Take the recent debacle over Rolling Stone magazine’s so-called blockbuster story of rape on the University of Virginia campus. After making a big splash about the evils of “privileged” university fraternities, the story completely fell apart with nearly every “fact” in the piece proving out to be a lie. The magazine has since repudiated its own story.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that honest mistakes in stories like this happen from time to time. Show me a journalist who’s never been lied to by a source, and I’ll show you a reporter who hasn’t been in the profession very long.
But what Rolling Stone did is far worse than failing to dot an “i,” or cross a “t,” or somehow forgetting to run down some small detail or two. The magazine simply printed verbatim a sensational story filled with allegations of numerous felony sexual assaults without verifying even the most basic claims. It also published alleged dialogue that no human being would ever utter.
The scandal surrounding Bill Cosby is different, and yet the media are making many of the same mistakes and may be setting themselves up for another spectacular public rebuke.
While some of the accusations against Cosby are detailed and disturbing, others seem far less than credible. This is not to say we can be certain that any of them are true, or untrue. But isn’t the media supposed to try? What happened to the heroic and dogged digging for the real story?
A recent article in the Daily Caller provides some actual reporting in the Cosby case that deserves to be fully evaluated. Maybe these stories will be proven true. Perhaps not. But when did we stop vetting the truth?
It is simply not right for the media to obliterate the barrier to entry for accusers, while raising its standard higher and higher for information that doesn’t fit the most spectacular narratives.
The ultimate problem is in how the each accusation is advanced to the media stage and provided a platform. This is a mistake. If we truly want to help the cause of victims and make sure that justice prevails, the WORST thing the media can do is to essentially believe every story and invest believability into every single accusation of rape.
So far, the media has done quite a job as cheerleader for an ever-more sensational circus surrounding Cosby and his accusers. In today’s celebrity obsessed culture, some of this was almost surely inevitable. But it’s still no excuse for ignoring journalism’s fundamental responsibility to pursue the facts wherever they can be found.
The barrier between salacious first draft and the printed page has seemingly never been weaker. The media are doing damage to its credibility at a time when it is needed as much as ever.
If the big money players on Wall Street are “too big to fail”, stories like this are apparently “too good to fact check” as far as some media outlets go. Even TV characters we are supposed to hate on show’s like “Scandal” aren’t that destructively careless.