Family secrets - El Arsenal

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By. Miguel Ángel Sánchez de Armas

Janet Cooke She is a beautiful and vital black woman with a dramatic air and an extraordinary talent for writing. She is also the cross that journalism - especially Washington Post and in particular Benjamin C. Bradlee– will carry on your back forever. At age 26 she wrote a vivid and painful story about an eight-year-old heroin addict who was periodically injected by her mother's common-law husband. The information was published on the front page on Sunday, September 28, 1980 and kept the city in suspense for weeks. On April 13, 1981 he won for Cooke the Pulitzer Prize.

“In the early hours of April 15, 1981, Janet Cooke He confessed that it was an invention: jimmy did not exist, and neither did the concubine. From that moment on the expression 'Janet Cooke' became synonymous with the worst in American journalism, just as the word 'Watergate' meant the best.”

So he remembered Ben Bradlee, the legendary director of Washington Posta painful chapter of his professional life, a direct antecedent of the “case Jayson Blair"who beat up the arrogant New York Timesthe newspaper that announces publishing only those news “that deserve it.”

Janet Cooke and Jayson Blair They were protagonists of episodes that have occurred and will occur in all the media on the planet, but they are protected as painful family secrets. We know them when their explosive nature prevents them from being confined to the newsrooms.

The media get angry like cornered cats when they feel their right to gather information from all social actors is threatened... but they protest like demons at the slightest attempt to penetrate their opacity.

But let's get to the stories. Bradlee He was a hero of my generation. After the premiere of All the president's men many reporters wanted to emulate Woodward and Bernstein. And then we found out Janet Cooke.

Janet was, in the words of Bradlee, “the dream of the newspaper.” A woman with unparalleled personal and academic attributes, polyglot, vital, elegant and, if that were not enough, a splendid reporter and great writer.

In the mid-seventies the Washington Post She was lagging behind in her goal of increasing the percentage of women and racial minorities in the newsroom and she alone filled two gaps at the same time. A blessing.

“Let's hire her before they do it on Times either Newsday!”, was the slogan among the commanders who interviewed her. They did and in their first eight months in the postsigned 55 notes… no small feat.

Proportionately, when his forgery was discovered, a string of lies appeared: he had not graduated from Vassar, he had not studied at the Sorbonne, he spoke only English, no... wow, apparently the only true thing about his resume was that he was black. and that he wrote like angels.

What happened? In 1982 in a television interview Janet confessed that he had invented jimmy due to the terrible internal pressure of the Washington Postin whose editorial office the atmosphere of competition generated at the beginning of the previous decade with the journalistic successes of the Watergate affair.

A colleague told him about the rumor of drug-addicted children in Washington and the head of information ordered him to get on the trail of a potentially explosive report... but when his investigations produced nothing, he decided to invent someone. jimmy to appease the editors who were pressuring her.

Janet he was wrong. The dramatic article did deserve the Pulitzer, but for literature. Some time after the truth was revealed to the eternal shame of the newspaper and its director, Janet She married a diplomat and moved to Paris. In 1996 she sold her story to the magazine GQ and the film rights for one and a half million dollars.

He post He ordered an internal investigation that was published on the front page and on four inside pages. In his memories, Bradlee He remembers that he made the decision that no one would reveal more about the matter than the newspaper itself. “From my years in the navy I learned that to save a ship the most important thing is damage control.” And the only damage control was to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Twenty-three years later, the reporter Jayson Blair of the New York Times was involved in a similar scandal that led to a book with the suggestive title of Burning down my master's house.

He affair Blair it was amazing. At 27 years old it was said that she was on her way to becoming the black version of George Polkthe legendary reporter murdered in Greece in 1948.

In a short time he went from communication school to student journalism, to professional internships, to work in the media, to the glittering rise and the cliff.

It was enough for another journalist to detect similarities between a report of hers and one of Jayson to bring to light an astonishing story of deceptions, mythomania, artifices, lies, entanglements and inventions that destroyed the reporter's mentors, annihilated their long and successful careers and gave a black eye to the legendary newspaper that made the newspaper known. Pentagon File.

From the mess of his tiny New York apartment, Blair He wrote reports and articles about places he never visited, with statements from people he never interviewed and descriptions of landscapes he never saw, for the pages of one of the most influential newspapers in the world.

The biggest journalistic fraud since the scandal Janet Cooke? Yes and no.

Jayson He became the protagonist of the red note of the trade and raised a wave that has not yet completely lost its strength. The sarabande forced the Times to apologize to its readers and conduct an extensive investigation into the newspaper's practices and conduct to apply substantive correctives. It was a bitter lesson for the arrogant newspaper company whose motto is “All the News That's Fit to Print.”

Blair He simultaneously belonged to several minorities: black, exceptional reporter, splendid editor, mythomaniac, drug addict and alcoholic. But he was also a bipolar patient who was not diagnosed in time with the manic-depressive condition that worsened under the pressure of the brutal competition and demands of the editorial staff... until he burst.

In his moments of euphoria he could work day and night, travel the country and produce literally dozens of reports. When depression caught him, his days were equally long but dedicated to alcohol and cocaine consumption, partying and scandal.

One day he invented the name of an interviewee and from there he went into free fall: notes from other newspapers, radio or television reports and his historical archive. Times, were the preserves where he plagiarized for stories that he spun and presented with his signature. When the editors of Times They questioned him, he maintained that, as is common in the profession, he cited other sources. And he really had no awareness of the dimensions of his ethical deviation.

“I fooled the most brilliant minds,” he would say in an interview shortly after his removal. So it was. He also humiliated and disappointed friends, colleagues and acquaintances who defended him when he was being investigated because they assumed it was a case of racial discrimination. In the words of one of those offended, he endangered the professional achievements of minorities in American journalism.

Blair It is not intended to justify itself. Burning down my master's house It's not a diatribe against him. establishment white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant in cahoots against the black man who challenged him. No. Jayson he accepts that he himself destroyed “his master's dwelling”… that is, his own life, in a parody of the biblical verse.

Furthermore, as the novelist did William Styron in his moving book Memory of madnessraises a warning about the threat of a silent disease that, like cancer, can kill if not treated in time: the Depression.

☛ @juegodeojos



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