Accuracy is our highest ethical dictate
By Terry Poulton, editor
Author bio information is from the time of article submission and may not be current.
FineLine: The Newsletter On Journalism Ethics, vol. 3, no. 10 (November/December 1991), p. 8.
This case was produced for FineLine, a publication of Billy Goat Strut Publishing, 600 East Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202. Reprinted with the permission of Billy Goat Strut Publishing. This case may be reproduced for classroom and research purposes. Publication of this case in electronic or printed form requires written permission from the publisher and Indiana University. An exception is granted for use in readers designed for specific academic courses.
Susan Faludi could have named her mind-boggling, myth-shattering new book How the Media Flubbed the Real Story But Good. Or even The Big Lie. Instead, she chose Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.
Last year, The Wall Street Journal reporter won a Pulitzer Prize for a labor-related story. This year, every journalist who believes that accurate reporting is the highest ethical dictate of all should insist she be given a Debunker Extraordinaire Award with clusters.
Like a row of carnival ducks, and twice as phony, the media-promulgated canards about women are lined up in Faludi’s sights and peppered with buckshots of truth.
- Women “of a certain age” have a better chance of being murdered by a terrorist than wed to a husband? Pow!
- Career women are dropping like flies from burnout, infertility and depression? Zing!
- Feminist aims — and not the suppression of women that’s kept the gender wage gap the same since 1955 — are the root of all evil? Boom!
Why did American journalists, whose pride in their accuracy is exceeded only by their claims of strict objectivity, get these stories so wrong for so long? Faludi writes that it was not, repeat not, a misogynist conspiracy to preserve the male-dominated status quo. It just sort of worked out that way.
“Taken as a whole,” she writes in Backlash, “these . . . cajolings, whispers, threats and myths move overwhelmingly in one direction: they try to push women back into their ‘acceptable’ roles . . .”
So, did the duck/canard feathers fly when the book came out (neatly coinciding with the epiphanous national teach-in provided by the Clarence Thomas hearings)? “Well,” Faludi told FineLine in an amused tone, “I am sensing a bit of sheepishness among the newspapers and magazines who seem to have snapped the book up as a way of doing penance for misrepresenting women’s status!
“At Newsweek, for example, which is the publication I probably criticized most often in the book, a group of mostly women went out of their way to see to it that their magazine gave Backlash a lot of attention. And a lot of journalists have told me they’re going to think twice in [the] future before accepting and publishing so-called scientific studies about women.
“Mind you,” Faludi adds, “AP, which first circulated the terrorist statistic, just put a story on the wire called ‘Sexy Clothes Attract Rapists, Therapists Say’ which was based on the same sort of [fallacious] study as the ones in my book.”
Did Faludi find any dereliction of duty beyond inaccuracy? “There’s too much of the kind of moralizing the press shouldn’t be engaging in. And it force-fed women and men a lot of false information about the punishment in store for women who have the gall to pursue their rights.”