Quiz: Who is More Unethical, Jayson Blair or Dan Rather?

Yes, it's time for another ETHICS QUIZ!!!

Be careful! This one is tricky.

Jayson Blair, as most of you will remember, was a spectacular fraud in the New York Times newsroom, a star reporter who was sacked in 2003 after it was discovered that he had fabricated numerous stories

Dan Rather, in contrast, was a distinguished and respected reporter and CBS anchorman who  earned his accolades, but who was felled by a disgraceful episode in 2004 in which he conspired with a “60 Minutes” producer named Mary Mapes to use forged documents in support of a critical story about President Bush avoiding his duties when he was in the National Guard, which Rather presented on the air two months before the 2004 election. “Memogate,” as it was uncreatively dubbed, was seen by some as a partisan hit job by Rather and CBS to assist the election prospects of Democrat John Kerry in his campaign to unseat Bush, and was regarded by almost everyone as a shocking example of journalism at its worst. Rather issued a tepid mea culpa, but after CBS forced him to resign in the wake of the fiasco, he sued the network—unsuccessfully— claiming he had been “scapegoated.”

The scorecard: Blair, a career and reputation built on fraud and deception; Rather, a decades-long career of impeccable journalism, marred by one very serious, seemingly out of character, unethical act. Who is more unethical?

It’s an easy call. The answer is Dan Rather. For Jayson Blair, today a life coach, has fully admitted his misconduct, apologized, and shown contrition. Not so Rather.

American University professor (and George Clooney’s father) Nick Clooney was hosting Rather at an installment of Reel Journalism, a movie and discussion program at the Newseum in Washington D.C. this week. Clooney asked about Rather’s resignation from CBS. Rather answered,“We reported a story that was true, that was an uncomfortable truth for a lot of people. As a result to that I was asked to leave the anchor chair, and eventually CBS News.”

I have little doubt that Dan Rather believed and believes the story he reported was true. It may have been true; I suspect that it was. But ethical journalists cannot assert what is true based on their own judgment. They are obligated by the basic tenets of journalistic ethics to present valid corroboration from other sources. They report; they do not testify. At some point, Dan Rather crossed over into the unethical company of the cop who plants evidence on suspects he “knows” are guilty,  the lawyer who suborns perjury from a witness to ensure the acquittal of the defendant she “knows” is innocent, and the researcher who fabricates study results to bolster the case for a new drug he “knows” will save lives. There was an uncomfortable truth for a lot of people that came out of “Memogate,” and it was that Dan Rather, once a model of broadcast journalism and Walter Cronkite’s successor, was willing to present a forged document to a trusting public in order to “prove” his personal assessment of “the truth.”

And, clearly, he still is. As long as he is, it is inappropriate for any reputable news show or organization to use Rather as a guest, a commentator, or a pundit as, for example, Chris Matthews periodically does on his Sunday program on NBC. He is not reliable, honest, trustworthy, or, sadly, even respectable. He stands as an advocate for unscrupulous journalistic practices, because he refuses to condemn and apologize for his own.

Dan Rather is more unethical than Jayson Blair.

It’s not even close.

3 thoughts on “Quiz: Who is More Unethical, Jayson Blair or Dan Rather?

  1. This just makes you wonder about the rest of his reports in his life time. When did he start fabricating facts for news he wished to report? A life ruined by one moment that may not have just been one moment.

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