No hoax is a joke
That’s what I would ask those who branded me a dour, old fuddy-duddy for criticizing the Tribune for deceptively entering a video in a contest sponsored by the Chicago Sun-Times. Adding injury to insult, the Tribune deliberately misled the Sun-Times reporter seeking to confirm the bona fides of the purported creator of the video.
The shoe was on the other foot today, when the Los Angeles Times, a corporate cousin of the Tribune, had to apologize for a false story that was based on phony FBI documents evidently fabricated by a federal prisoner, an oops discovered and brilliantly reported here by The Smoking Gun.
The discredited Times story, which was based in part on the apparently phony documents, suggested that two associates of rap impresario Sean (Diddy) Combs were behind an unsolved 1994 attack in which rapper Tupac Shakur was pistol-whipped and shot several times. The story, which was vigorously denied at the time, has been topped at latimes.com with an apology, but the original is cached here on Google.
To be sure, the damage caused by inducing a newspaper to erroneously accuse someone of attempted murder is far more serious than misrepresenting the source of a light-hearted video about potentially changing the name of Wrigley Field to Viagra Park. But the transgression – deliberately misleading a newspaper, and, by extension, the public – is the same in both cases.
For some twisted reason, the fellow who evidently created the phony documents that duped the L.A. Times sought to implicate himself in the Tupac assault. I can’t fathom his motivations.
But I would think that journalists fortunate enough to work at a newspaper like the Chicago Tribune would be committed, first and foremost, to fully, fairly and faithfully informing the public. Misleading the readers of a competing newspaper, no matter how amusing the stunt might have seemed to the pranksters, is a violation of the public trust that all respectable newspapers are supposed to serve.
While it is painful to see a proud newspaper like the Los Angeles Times embarrassed by some flake, it is downright depressing to see journalists at one publication conspiring to plant false information in another.
That’s not an amusing prank. It’s unethical behavior. And it’s wrong.
The public trust, an increasingly scarce commodity these days for newspapers, was violated in the cases of both the Tupac story and the Tribune’s stealth video. The only difference between the two cases is that the Los Angeles Times was the victim and the Chicago Tribune was the perpetrator.
And, for the record, I am not old. Although I recently turned 59, most people say I don’t look a day over 58½.