Do reporters check the clips when writing for publication? Or do they rely on a faulty memory?
In the case of Jill Abramson, reviewing Carl Bernstein’s Chasing History for the New York Times, faulty memory wins out, along with a lack of fact-checking.
In a mere two lines of her review, Abramson packs in several errors that ought to be corrected.
–Will Fowler was a reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner. He never worked for the Los Angeles Times.
–Will Fowler claimed he was the first reporter at the Black Dahlia crime scene. He never said he found the body of Elizabeth Short.
–Will Fowler was also lying when he said he was the first reporter at the crime scene. He was one of the last to arrive. Will told many tall tales about his involvement in the Black Dahlia story; this was just one of them.
Reporters: Check the clips (or Google) rather than relying on your memory, which is apt to be faulty.
This is a textbook example of what I call “interrogating memory.” It is also why I have nearly 1,000 endnotes in my INTERROGATING MEMORY book: each is a proxy for a) a new/corrected fact or b) confirmation of an old fact. They are not ornamental, they are the point.
Memory is selective, even when it’s accurate. And often, it’s inaccurate, as demonstrated by Jill Abramson.
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That is precisely why I wrote my book. Well, there are a lot of reasons I wrote my book. 🙂 But what I realized early on was that I now have a new set of tools to check my memory and those of others. Ancestry records, newspapers, genetic testing, etc. THAT is what I do in INTERROGATING MEMORY. With requisite humility – this is essential – I put my OWN memories/stories/ chronologies to the test. And I use every tool in my box to test them. It was a hoot to do and a blast to read. And as I note on the Interrogagting Memory page of my website, your own live-blogging of the Donald Wolff book was a key inspiration. Thank you. 🙂
To be fair, the Times–along with most other surviving newspapers–fired its proofreading and copy-editing staff. Reporters now have to research, write, edit and proof their own work, which is IMPOSSIBLE. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, I was able to make a living as a newspaper and magazine editor and writer; the internet shot THAT career out from under me.