When someone lies to the press, money is usually involved. Politicians are adept at evasion. Lawyers, as a rule, hide behind “no comment.” But ask some businessmen about falling profits or shady practices, and the lies flow as easily as a salesman’s pitch.
Perhaps, then, it’s not so surprising that Newsweek columnist Joe Klein, now a reported multimillionaire, would lierepeatedly and emphaticallyto fellow reporters, denying for months that he was the secretive author of Primary Colors, a thinly disguised “novel” about the dark side of Clinton’s 1992 campaign. Exposed last week in The Washington Post, Klein finally confessed, saying he’d written the book anonymously out of a combination of “whimsy” and fear that the bestseller “wasn’t any good.”
Another liar, Newsweek editor Maynard Parker, helped keep the secret by squelching stories about the book, except for a small item by the magazine’s media critic, Jonathan Alter. The article speculated about the book’s authorship but didn’t mention Klein. Parker now says that perhaps he should have spiked Alter’s story.
Klein himself makes no apologies. After emphasizing that Primary Colors is a work of fiction, Klein said he had often lied “to protect a confidential source” and had lied in this case “to protect the integrity of the project.” Challenged about his own honesty, Klein responded, somewhat cryptically, that his “credibility as a journalist depends on being able to keep secrets.”
To people who take journalism seriously, Klein’s publicity stunt isn’t funny. “Principled journalists do not lie,” said The New York Times. Although he may not know it yet, Klein has “forsaken” journalism for his new friends among the “Hollywood glitterati,” wrote The Knoxville News-Sentinel. Just as he sacrificed a close friendship with the Clintons by writing Primary Colors, Klein left his career as a reporter the day he assured The Washington Post “on his credibility as a journalist” that he was not the book’s author.
Once a young writer for The Real Paper, a progressive weekly in Boston, the older Klein has both enriched himself and cheapened his trade. To a man guarding his money, journalism may be just a game of liars’ poker. But to reporters and editors or, for that matter, anyone who thinks intelligently about the media’s role in a democratic society, truth isn’t everything. It’s the only thing. When a journalist tells lies to promote a book, and his editor helps by misleading readers, both have lost much of whatever it was that led them to become part of a generally unrewarding profession. Klein, at least, now has his rewards, which explains, in large part, his new occupation.
Raymond and Donna Pulley have stopped answering the telephone. They’re tired of all the media jokes and unannounced visitors. The Robertson County pair have never read much about UFOs and haven’t even seen Independence Day. They’re just “ordinary, down-to-earth people,” explained local newsman Byron Edwards, editor of The Portland Leader.
On July 14, just before dawn, the Pulleys saw bright lights in the sky and in the yard. Their two children, ages 7 and 11, and an adult neighbor saw the lights too. But Raymond and Donna also claim they saw something else: a dark figure about two feet high with no arms or legs, resembling “an elephant’s trunk or a snorkel.” Frightened, the Pulleys called the Robertson County sheriff’s office. A local deputy tipped off WTVF-Channel 5.
That night, the Nashville television station aired a short 30-second story about the incident but got so many phone calls that news executives decided on a full-scale investigation. Reporter Dan MacDonald interviewed the Pulleys the next day and aired “a Middle Tennessee story for the X-files” Monday night. No other local station touched it; neither did the daily papers.
“It seemed like a quirky story,” MacDonald said later, “and it happens to be a topic that’s interesting to a lot of people right now.” He said some Channel 5 staffers opposed doing Monday night’s broadcast, arguing that the story on Sunday was enough. MacDonald said the newsroom also discussed the “tone” of the investigation and eventually decided to play it straight. “We didn’t want to make fun of the guy,” he said. But they did anyway.
“Little green men danced in the field?” anchor Vicki Yates asked on the air. Stifling a laugh, MacDonald quickly suggested going to the weather report, “before I say something I regret.” The reporter said he didn’t intend to offend the Pulleys and was surprised to hear that they’re upset.
The Pulleys never wanted publicity and regret ever talking to Channel 5, according to Edwards at The Portland Leader. A UFO buff himself, Edwards called Vanderbilt Medical Center Friday to track down a rumor that the injured alien was being kept at the hospital. Edwards’ own paper is running a long account of the incident in this week’s issue. “We’ll get some ridicule out of it,” he admitted.
It’s extremely difficult to handle a story like this without either poking fun at the Pulleys or inviting jokes about the station’s news judgment. Those staffers who argued against Monday’s broadcast were right. Leave this story to The Portland Leader.
Last week, this column criticized The Tennessean’s special section on the Olympics because, among other things, it appeared that even the newsprint was of poorer quality than The Tennessean’s regular paper. Not so, wrote the area representative of a large paper company. The newsprint used in the special section was, in fact, printed from the same stock as the rest of the morning daily. And, he added, it is the same paper used to print the Scene.
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