Because this column will be my last one for The Washington Times, I decided to take a look back on the more than 100 columns I have written since January 2013 to review my hits and misses.
My biggest miss centered on the charges of sexual harassment by comedian Bill Cosby. I defended him; I shouldn’t have done so.
My biggest hit focused on abortionist Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia physician who was tried and convicted of killing some of his patients, and the lack of media attention about this mass murderer.
Many of my best columns centered on the lack of ethics in journalism. I wrote about the missteps of the White House Correspondents’ Association in 2013 and earlier this year during which politicians and reporters rubbed shoulders during an annual dinner. This year’s banquet coincided with the Baltimore riots during which many journalists failed to adequately cover the events just a few miles north of the nation’s capital.
The Rolling Stone’s fictional account of rape at the University of Virginia, the lies of NBC anchor Brian Williams and the donations of ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos to the Clinton Foundation provided easy fodder for this column. Unfortunately, the media apparently learned little from this malfeasance.
The poor reporting of racial incidents in Florida, Maryland and Missouri allowed me to analyze what had gone so terribly wrong with journalism. Despite the incredibly unbalanced reporting about George Zimmerman, I was able to show the weakness of the case against the defendant and point out the mistakes the media had made.
In Ferguson, Missouri, the media trumpeted the inaccurate statement that Michael Brown had his hands up when he was shot. “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” That mantra remains a lie, but it continues to be a myth propagated by the media.
The column also allowed me to analyze some of the alleged underpinnings of journalism, such as objectivity, balance and fairness. Through my scholarly research about these tenets, I found that these terms had different meanings for different people.
Objectivity has not been part of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics for 20 years, mainly because most people think the standard is unattainable.
Balance often means getting “both sides of the story.” I have rarely seen a story that has only two sides, but journalism often lacks nuance and uses extremes about an event rather than a more comprehensive view of what has happened.
Journalists often confuse balance and fairness, but the latter usually means allowing those accused of a crime or some other malfeasance to comment on the accusations. Getting a statement from those accused often does not happen in the media today.
The column also allowed me to rekindle my interest in the Middle East, where I spent nearly a decade with Newsweek and ABC News. Nevertheless, it was sad to see how many lost opportunities or how much inaction occurred during the past two years.
I was able to describe the heroism of Egyptian journalists, such as Muhammad Gohar, who fought to keep a free press alive, and to remember old friends who had died, such as Tom Aspell, who brought the news to people for more than 40 years from hot spots throughout the world. I also analyzed the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in France and the implications for freedom of the press.
I would like to thank the people at The Washington Times and those of you who read this column. I have started a daily media blog at www.mediamashup.org if you would like to continue our connection and conversations.
• Christopher Harper is a longtime reporter who teaches journalism at Temple University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @charper51.