Mike Wise, a Washington Post sportswriter and columnist deliberately posted a phony scoop (about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) on Twitter, as an experiment to see how widely it would be picked up. His plan, he now says, was to correct the lie with a follow-up tweet. Due to bad luck or the intervention of the God of Journalism, however, his Twitter account froze, and what was supposed to be a near immediate correction took almost forty minutes. Several internet sites, from the Miami Herald to NBC’s ProFootballTalk, passed on the original tweet, attributing it to Wise.
Faced with a staff reporter who intentionally published a lie for no other reason than to see what would happen, the Post reacted according to its concern regarding the seriousness of his conduct—that is, deceiving those who trust him, as a member of a legitimate media organization, to report only the truth and to respect the trust of his and his paper’s readers—and suspended him for one month.
“I’m not a journalism ombudsman,” Wise said in an interview. (No kidding.) He continued,” I found that out in a very painful, hard way. I need to take my medicine and move on, and promise everybody this will never happen again.”
Apology accepted, Mike. Now find another line of work, please. A reporter shouldn’t have to be an ombudsman to have his ethics alarms go off before he sends fiction out into cyberspace as fact. That shows such wretched judgment and such a reckless disregard for journalistic ethics that there is no reason for a reader, or a newspaper, to trust him ever again. Luckily, the Washington Post is willing to shrug off such conduct, on the dubious logic that Wise didn’t actually lie in the Post itself, he just abused his position as a Post reporter to make a lie seem credible.
Oh. That’s all right, then.
Writing about this incident, the Post’s media critic Howard Kurtz notes that some staffers thought Wise’s punishment was too harsh, and other thought it was too lenient. The ones who thought it was too lenient are right.
The fact that members of the Post staff actually thought the punishment was too harsh says a lot about the culture at the Post….and the number of potential liars.