The truth is, not all journalists are liars

July 05, 1998|By Susan Reimer

Journalists in general, and columnists in particular, have taken some serious hits in the credibility region lately. The New Republic announced that stories written by a young associate editor, Stephen Glass, had been made up in whole or part.

The Boston Globe fired award-winning columnist Patricia Smith after discovering she had fabricated quotes as well as people in her work. She wrote in her farewell column that she had "tweaked" her columns on occasion in order to "slam home a salient point."

The premier cover story in Brill's Content, which is supposed to be a media watchdog publication, was criticized by those quoted in it, who said Brill, the author and publisher, had played fast and loose with their remarks.

And most recently, the Cincinnati Enquirer retracted an investigative report on Chiquita Brands International and promised to pay $10 million to the company after it discovered that its reporter had stolen voice-mail messages from company executives.

As you can imagine, journalists in general, and we columnists in particular, are feeling the strain of the strain on our credibility.

For the record, I'd like to say that not all of us are making this stuff up.

I know I'm not. I can't. I'm not nearly as funny as my husband and kids and my friends and neighbors. Ask them. They'll back me up.

My husband, who doesn't remember what I tell him, let alone what he tells me, has been forced to admit -- because his friends have forced him to admit it -- that I nail him like a hide to the wall every time I write about him.

He really did play strip poker with the kids when they refused to get undressed for bed. He really did say, upon hearing my explanation for PMS, "Are you sure you all aren't just bitches?"

My son denies that he ever asked me how often his dad and I had had sex. But he remembers summarizing my life in this way: "You go off every morning all dressed up and leave us with someone we don't like, then come home in a bad mood and make a sorry dinner." He remembers -- I never let him forget it.

My daughter really did parade across the front yard in dress-up clothes and tell her brother: "Pretend that your bicycle is a motorcycle and you drive by and you like me."

And my friend Betsy, an expert on husband-wife relations, really did say, "If you feel like you must ask their opinion, go ahead. TTC Then you can ignore their answers, because they won't even notice when you do."

Betsy is real. I don't give her last name because she didn't set out to live down the street from a newspaper columnist. But if you don't believe me, ask her husband, Ron.

But there are plenty of columns I wish I had made up. I wish they were fiction. I wish they had been tweaked to slam a point home. I wish I could hit the delete key on my keyboard and erase the grief I feel for people I love who have died: my mom; my children's grandfather; our friend Mike, the father of four young boys; my niece Claire, who did not live to see her second birthday.

I wish I could simply write a confessional column and they would all be back with me.

This is not to say I have not been tempted. My son, who has declared that he wants 50 percent of what I get paid for every column in which his name appears, has offered to let me use his quotes for $5 each.

"For $10," he said, "I'll let you make them up."

I laughed out loud and asked him if I could use this anecdote.

"Sure," he said. "For $15."

Trust me. The money is still in my pocket.

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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