There are some things in professional life that are very close to being unforgivable. Plagiarism, for journalists, is one of those things. Sure, we can talk a nice game about forgiveness and second chances, but once you've soiled your repuation in such a dramatic and harmful way, you may not deserve that second chance at being a journalist. If you want to go back to school and become an accountant, or lay bricks for a living - fine - I'm not stopping you. But your dishonesty in public life was bad for our democracy, and you should be severely reprimanded/punished for it.
The Constitution gives special protection to journalists because of the role this nation's founders had envisaged for them - watchdogs of the government. Being a plagiarising journalist is worse than being a steroid-pumping Olympic weightlifter. A plagiarising journalist, I would argue, is akin to being a bribe-taking politician, because it has the capacity to corrupt our democracy. I don't really care if some cheater loses his/her Olympic medal because of blood doping. I do care if my democracy - if you call can call it that - gets further corrupted. This corruption should be stomped out wherever it occurs. [Armstrong Williams responds: There are others!]
I was reading about the plagiarising Barnicle on Altercation, here, which pointed us to Alterman's new 'Think Again' column in The Nation, here. Apparently, Barnicle has been hired by MSNBC. Nice.
I knew the name sounded familiar, and then I saw the face and realized I'd seen him before, for sure, on The Daily Show. [The 'Ruth-Less People' clip, with Rob Corddry, is awesomely funny. Come on, Corddry! But, we digress.]
It's important to note who's lying to us, how often, and how boldly so we can be sure to weigh any evidence that liar puts before us in the future, and treat it with the appropriate skepticism. If we do not take note of the liars in our midst, we may fall victim to disinformation - as have the majority of Fox News viewers, apparently.
As to the number of misconceptions held by their audiences, Fox far outscored all of its rivals. A whopping 45 percent of its viewers believed all three misperceptions, while the other commercial networks scored between 12 percent and 16 percent. Only nine percent of readers believed all three, while only four percent of the NPR/PBS audience did.
Disinformation, of course, is the death syrum of democracy. So, if you think democracy is a pretty good concept, and you want us to attain a higher/better form of it here in the U.S., you should pay attention to who the liars are in the media, and try to stop them from spreading disinformation.
Mike Barnicle does not deserve the easy opportunity he is being given to fool the public again. But past Barnicle, I'd like to address the cancer that is media corruption (plagiarism being just one form), in general, because it goes to the heart of one of the major problems in our country today - misinformation and the integrity of our media. With so much of the American public so grossly misinformed, we need to ratchet-up the deterrence efforts against bad journalism and the spreading of misinformation and propaganda. Here's my take.
I believe that, generally, everybody deserves a second chance, but there are exceptions. Sex offenders, in my opinion, generally fall into the category of those not deserving of a second chance. Why? Two reasons. One, from everything I've read on the topic, sexual offenses such as rape are so completely devastating to the rape victim/survivor that our society should decide to not allow an offender the opportunity to commit such a devastating crime again. This SacBee special (which you should read) says that some victims describe rape as 'unfinished murder'. I wouldn't know, but from my reading I'd say that's a pretty good description of the crime of rape. So, rape crimes are inherently devastating to at least a single individual.
The second reason sex offenders don't, in general, deserve a second chance, is that, again, from everything I've read (which is not 'everything', but it is signficant) many sex offenders can't be reformed until they're castrated in some form - either literally or figuratively. Chemical castration has happened - even here in the U.S., I believe, and I'm guessing physical castration has occurred also - though that may be more a thing of the past - at least in America. 'Figurative castration' can take the form of locking away in prison a sex attacker from their potential victims until such time that the attacker is guaranteed to no longer be able to devastate innocent peoples' lives - like, when the attacker is dead (yes, life sentences without parole are not too harsh a punishment for some of the cases I've read about). Removing the opportunity to rape from the lives of sexual predators is a good thing. Many rape survivors would testify, I'm sure, that they wished their attackers weren't set free after being declared 'reformed' or as having 'paid their dues to society' in the form of some not-long-enough jail sentence. In summary, some crimes are so horrific, and their perpetrators so compelled to commit those horrific crimes again, that they should not ever be given the chance again.
Similarly, I think we should treat plagiarising journalists very harshly - lock them up, rhetorically speaking - forever if necessary. They shouldn't be allowed such an easy opportunity to corrupt our democracy again. No major media outlets should ever again take seriously a plagiarist (Mike Barnicle), paid propagandist (Armstrong Williams), or lying political hack (Robert Novak). If any of these guys were having a really tough time finding work as faux journalists, I wouldn't have to write this.
Now, I'll try to prove that plagiarism and media corruption, in general, meets both conditions for 'permanent lockdown' - 1) the devastating nature of the crime, 2) the compulsion for the criminal to repeat their crimes.
One the first point, what makes plagiarism and other forms of media corruption as dangerous as a sex crime? Well, a single plagiarised/corrupt/lying/misleading article does not devastate a single individual the way a sex crime does, but it can move whole populations of people towards ways of thinking that can be devastating to populations of people. Take all of the fake genetic science articles gemmed up by the Nazi propaganda machine to make their citizenry believe that killing Jews and blacks and gays and Poles and leftists and others was justifiable. Twelve million dead people later, the world decided that media corruption was probably not such a good thing. But media corruption did not start in Nazi Germany, and it didn't end there. [Check out this great new site I just found - propagandacritic.com!]
On the second point - whether corrupt media folks are willing to continue their deceitful ways - I would argue this is cleary a 'yes'. Media Matters for America is doing some good work in tracking all sorts of media corruption. Mike Barnicle. Armstrong Williams. Robert Novak. They've got all sorts of good stuff on just about every conservative hack out there.
The kicker on this second point is that these 'journalists' are rarely, if ever, punished - so they really have no incentive not to lie and distort again. That's very different for sex offenders who know they'll go to jail if they get caught, yet they can't seem to help themselves and commit more crimes anyways. In the case of Novak, at least, he continues to repeat false and misleading statements over and over - regardless of the outcry from his many critics. So, in short, all media corrupticians are almost inherently guilty of this second point because very few of them are ever held to account for their deceptions. They are free to continue their lying, unabated, and they do - at least, Novak has. Barnicle is not quite as guilty, yet is still embarrassing. And I'm not sure what's up with Armstrong Williams yet - he's sure to get a lot more scrutiny now, since he's been outted as a paid propagandist.
So, do these hacks deserve a second chance? Maybe. But I would argue that at least Novak has had his second chance. He was outted as a liar, given a second chance, and failed to correct the error of his ways. In fact, he's been given a third, fourth, fifth and more chances and he's continued to make false/misleading statements. What can you do when a political hack is running around your neighborhood spreading disinformation everywhere he can? Appeal to the decency that hopefully resides in most of us and say 'this is not right, we need to put a stop to this'. Keep saying it - over and over and over. Eventually, people might see the passion you've displayed and take up your cause.
We should note that the guy who founded Media Matters for America is noneother than former-Republican-political-hack-liar-extraordinaire, David Brock:
David Brock is the author of four political books, including The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy. His preceding book, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, was a 2002 New York Times best-selling political memoir in which he chronicled his years as a conservative media insider. Brock serves on the advisory board of Democracy Radio Inc. and is the recipient of the New Democrat Network's first award for political entrepreneurship. He is the President and CEO of Media Matters for America.
So, does David Brock deserve a second chance? Like Novak, I'd argue he's had his second, and more chances, already.
So what do we do when the guy stops writing in the traditional sense, and starts his own organization that criticizes some part of the media? I don't know. It's not exactly bricklaying, but it's a position that requires we trust what he's saying/writing, and we have no basis for that trust - none that I can imagine. I guess look at the work, if you are so inclined, and decide if it's worth your effort to discern if he's telling you the truth this time.
Sounds like a good career plan. Hack for conservative rags - lie - make millions. Then, after you've amassed a small fortune corrupting our democracy, switch sides - start telling the truth - express your profound sorrow - reveal that you've found God - whatever works - then sit back and watch your investment portfolio mature. Nice.
Some will take offense that I am comparing plagiarism with sex crimes. I am not trying to equate the two. I am, however, trying to make the point that corrupt journalism - in all its nefarious forms - is an extremely serious offense and should be treated as such. No single 'corrupt' article will devastate a single innocent person's life the way rape can (though, I'm sure a case could be made for victims of hate crimes whose perpetrators were driven by corrupt journalism/media/propaganda; e.g. The Turner Diaries), but it can put a chink in the armor of democracy, and together, with hundreds or thousands of other corrupt articles/media, corrupt media can bring down our democracy, bringing untold suffering to entire populations of people.
Would the U.S. have illegally invaded Iraq if most of the television-watching U.S. population had actually been correctly informed on the situation? Most likely not. The current level of media corruption in our country today is downright scary. We need to wake people up to the tools and techniques that are being employed again them to make them think a certain way. One of the ways we'll do this is to point out the liars in our midst, and here, examine why those liars are so dangerous.
We, as (hopefully) decent people, should have a reasonable expectation that those caught in the act of plagiarising - one of the high crimes of writing/journalism - will come clean when they are caught. Mike Barnicle did not. He plagiarised on several occassions, was busted, then lied to either his editors (another journalism high crime) and/or his readers (another journalism high crime). Yet his reputation up until a few minutes ago, as far as I was concerned, was 'popular sports-type writer dude from Boston area', but it should have been 'plagiarist. makes shit up. but, he's still a pretty popular commentator. think he got his start doing sports-type stuff up in Boston'. That's a big difference.
I actually don't know if he's been busted plagiarising again since he was outted, and I'm guessing that answer is no, but I'm not overly eager to find out. I know what I need to know for now, which is if I happen to run across anything from Mike Barnicle, don't waste my time reading it - parsing it for the truths and untruths - because there are lots of other good/interesting writers out there who have taken the time and mustered the efforts and courage to be truthful - or be better liars than Barnicle. Those that tell the truth deserve our respect and our eyes before Barnicle does. Those who have not yet been outted yet are due our righteous and everlasting scorn when they're finally caught.
Mike Barnicle's story is typical of right-wing hacks in that he used his influence with the monied power-brokers of the conservative media to keep his position - he literally refused to quit. Can you imagine that conversation?
Editor: Mike, you're a plagiarist and liar. You're fired.
Barnicle: No, I'm not.
Editor: Yes, you are.
Barnicle: No, I'm not.
And on from there. It's ridiculous. It shows how you can survive as a paid propagandist in the media if you make enough money for them without saying anything overly critical of them.
Too funny. Or not.