Choosing outrageousness over fact has consequences
We’ve cataloged the bizarre implosion of the once great Newsweek.
Just a few years ago, Newsweek ceased printing but was resurrected when a religious cult leader purchased the publication. Since then, Newsweek has suffered embarrassment after embarrassment, publishing a steady stream of fake news, conspiracies, and inaccurate information.
An office visit from the Manhattan DAs office, as well as allegations of ad fraud, were the icing on the cake. Or should have been.
Earlier this week, Newsweek suddenly fired a handful of high-ranking executives as well as a reporter, leaving the remaining staff shaken.
The firings were the last straw for Matthew Cooper who resigned and shared his thoughts on the struggling publication at Politico Thursday:
It was 3 a.m. on Saturday, and I was seething. Staring at my phone, I saw that my company, Newsweek Media Group, had put out yet another story that would require a correction if not a retraction. This time it was a story ripped from The Onion. We were treating the fake news as if it were real. OFFS, I tapped under a friend’s Facebook post after seeing it, short for Oh, For Fuck’s Sake. The headline in our sister publication, the International Business Times: “Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Set Up Wedding Registry at London’s Target.” Despite the late hour, I dropped a note to an editor who took the story down off the website. You can see the link on Google, but if you click, you’ll get “Error 404. PAGE NOT FOUND.” There’s no correction, which is what a normal news company might post.
It would be funny if there hadn’t been so many insane errors in recent months. An article in Newsweek on the girlfriend of the suspected Las Vegas gunman breathlessly purported to have discovered that she was married to two men simultaneously. (Not true.) One piece touted a new poll in Japan that showed its citizens were eager to go to war with North Korea—a startling headline that raised alarms in a region fraught with nuclear tensions, and where Tokyo’s occupation of the peninsula during the Pacific War is still raw. (Oops. Not true.) President Donald Trump can defend himself, but Newsweek ran a story following Charles Manson’s death that was both banal and a slur: They both use words to influence people. It had to be walked back. One of the most embarrassing for me as a political reporter is a story from January 2018 announcing that Hillary Clinton, she of the 2016 election, could still become president “if Russia probe finds conspiracy evidence.” What followed was a farfetched theory of Trump’s removal and Mike Pence handing the reins to Hillary, which seems a tad unlikely.
All of this was pretty demoralizing. I’ve spent more than 30 years in journalism—more than half of it at what were once the big three newsweeklies—Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. (As far as I know, only one other person, Steve Smith, who also edited the Washington Examiner and National Journal, has managed this hat trick.) But the errors, which overshadowed Newsweek’s very good work, were only part of my middle-of-the-night fuming.
…Then on Monday, February 5, I reached my tipping point: The two respected editorial leaders of Newsweek, Editor in Chief Bob Roe and Executive Editor Ken Li, were summarily fired along with a strong reporter who was investigating the various Newsweek scandals. It was too much tsouris for me. I submitted a letter of resignation, probably marking the last time I work for a newsweekly. It’s possible in a few years, no one will.
Other insiders reflect the same sentiment about Newsweek’s “toxic work environment”:
Asked a Newsweek insider about that Trump/erectile dysfunction story
This is brutal pic.twitter.com/iHFSWuMz4W
— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) January 18, 2018
There’ve been countless pieces grieving journalism’s transition into click bait. Newsweek ought to be a cautionary tale for many a publication who choose outrageousness over fact, but I’m not so naive as to believe we’ll see that anytime soon.DONATE
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