March 04, 2004

ULI OUSTED

The Chicago Tribune doesnít mess around. Only days after being alerted to correspondent Uli Schmetzerís dubious reporting from Australia, here is the Tribuneís response:

In a Feb. 24 article from Australia about rioting after the death of an Aborigine boy, the following quote was attributed to a Graham Thorn, identified as a psychiatrist: "These people always complain. They want it both ways--their way and our way. They want to live in our society and be respected, yet they won't work. They steal, they rob and they get drunk. And they don't respect the laws."

Following an e-mail complaint from a reader in Australia, Tribune editors questioned Uli Schmetzer, the freelance writer of the story. Schmetzer, who served for 16 years as a Tribune foreign correspondent before retiring from the staff two years ago, admitted that both the name and the occupation of the speaker were made up. He maintains that the quotation was uttered by an Australian man of his acquaintance.

Fabrication of any sort in a news story is a violation of the fundamental ethical principles of journalism and simply is not tolerated at the Chicago Tribune. Accordingly, Schmetzer has been terminated as a contract writer with the newspaper.

The Tribune apologizes to our readers for this breach of trust.

The Tribuneís Don Wycliff, who pursued this matter on the basis of a single e-mail he could easily have ignored, deserves congratulations. Other ombudsmen should take note. Memo to foreign correspondents: donít fabricate quotes for your audience back home. Youíre being watched.

UPDATE. The OmbudsGod, Editor and Publisher, and the Illinois Leader have follow-ups.

UPDATE II. Associated Press interviews Don Wycliff:

Wycliff said Schmetzer initially claimed he had changed the name at the request of his source, who didn't want to be flooded by e-mails and angry phone calls from his countrymen. Later, he told editors that wasn't true, the newspaper said.

"I don't think we ever really got a clear explanation of why," Wycliff said. "He was just rueful and regretful and kept saying it was an act of stupidity."

And hereís a piece by Don himself.

Posted by Tim Blair at March 4, 2004 01:19 AM
Comments

I'd lay low for a bit. If I was writing a story about an international stalker I wouldn't be surprised if I came up with the name Uli Schmetzer for the villain.

Posted by: Mike Hill at March 4, 2004 at 01:38 AM

Nice to know the Chicago Tribune listens and acts.
Kinda rare these days. Refreshing change from the 'circle the wagons' and ignore the complaints approach at many other papers.

Hopefully, other blogs will note this and give this paper some good publicity among blog readers.

Posted by: Chris Josephson at March 4, 2004 at 01:41 AM

Wow - terminated just like that?! The Editor and Publisher site picks up the story here.

Posted by: Uli Doubter at March 4, 2004 at 01:53 AM

I don't anthing about the Chicago Tribune except that it must be a rather well run newspaper..one not at all afraid to admit mistakes...very impressive

Posted by: Mike A. at March 4, 2004 at 01:54 AM

Oh well, thanks for putting another mentally deranged person on welfare in the U.S. :>]

Posted by: Wallace at March 4, 2004 at 01:59 AM

hmm, how did the trib handle the plastic turkey bit?

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at March 4, 2004 at 02:05 AM

The funny thing would be if, tomorrow, the Chicago Tribune features its NEW contract writer, noted psychologist Ilu Retzemchs.

Posted by: MD/V at March 4, 2004 at 02:11 AM

Will Mr. Schmetzer get "the boot"?

That is how they punush foreigners down there isn't it?

Posted by: Kevin at March 4, 2004 at 02:59 AM

Wow, i'm actually surprised. I'd already gotten the feeling from the post below that Mr. Wycliff was generously concerned about this, but for him to act so quickly...Congratulations are in order i think.

Posted by: madne0 at March 4, 2004 at 03:09 AM

It's nice that the Trib made the meaningful gesture of firing a retiree who wrote occasional freelance stories. But in his letter to Tim (from a previous post), Don Wycliff's explanation still seems ridiculous.

"It turns out that, while there really is a psychiatrist and he did make that remark (representing his own views and, Uli Schmetzer says, those of most white Australians), his name was made up.... His editors had no reason to question the name, so they didn't...."

And now Wycliff doesn't seem to have any reason to question that there really was a psychiatrist who said exactly that, although at this point, many reasonable people would doubt the whole story.

Wycliff could have started by simply questioning anyone claiming to know what "most white Australians" think.

Posted by: AK at March 4, 2004 at 03:27 AM

Hey, that's the Chicago way.

Seriously, though, I miss the Chicago Tribune. It's better than any paper I can have delivered to my current home.

Posted by: Former Chicagoan at March 4, 2004 at 03:42 AM

Score one for Tim and the blogosphere. Journalists are eventually going to figure out that there are a whole lot of people out there fact checking the living shit out of them these days.

Posted by: Randal Robinson at March 4, 2004 at 04:40 AM

Stateside readers are no longer just admirers of Team Bleh, we are grateful to him.

Posted by: Crid at March 4, 2004 at 05:53 AM

Now if there was only a way to catch R.C. Longworth (the Johnny Apple of the Trib) doing something bad when he writes one of his interminable expense-account pieces on how we're not paying enough attention to the French intelligentsia. Jolly good Pomerol, no? Really goes with the duck.

Posted by: Mike G at March 4, 2004 at 06:16 AM

Wow. Very heartening, good work, Tim!

Posted by: Sortelli at March 4, 2004 at 06:17 AM

Yes, as others have said, great job, Tim! It's nice to see that your efforts actually can spur reform sometimes.

Posted by: Just Some Guy at March 4, 2004 at 06:28 AM

Congrats Tim! A couple more journo-pelts and you'll have enough for a nice rec room rug.

iowahawk

PS - Is it just me, or does "Uli Schmetzer" have a faint aroma of "Kaiser Sose"?

PPS - Lemme know if you're gonna be in the States in September, I'll get an extra ticket for F1 at Indy.

Posted by: iowahawk at March 4, 2004 at 07:02 AM

The Illinois leader cant even report the story straight - they say that the quote was fabricated, whereas the rest (including the Tribune) said that the name and occupation was fabricated, but the quote was genuine.
I can believe the quote is genuine - the fact that he had heard of Geelong suggests he does actually know someone over here, and lets be honest, it wouldnt be that hard to find an Australian male willing to express those opinions

Posted by: Paul Dub at March 4, 2004 at 07:12 AM

Wouldn't it be good if "The Australian" did the same thing to Philip Adams!

Posted by: David at March 4, 2004 at 07:57 AM

Actually the Trib doesn't say the quote was genuine, just that the reporter continues to maintain that it is. It hardly matters though -- the point was that this was something white-collar professionals were willing to say. You can find 'someone' to say anything.

Posted by: Ted at March 4, 2004 at 08:32 AM

So, how many Australian newspapers would 1) bother to look at an email from an overseas reader; 2) investigate it, 3) take the action of terminating a reporter for an ethical breach My best guess - absolutely none. How many Australian newspapers actually have someone in the role of 'public editor'?

One form of Americanism that we should adopt with relish is their demonstrated commitment to ethics in journalism. This may explain why so many in the Australian media have such fear and loathing of America. Their journalistic sloppiness and intellectual shallowness would be exposed in two seconds flat.

Posted by: Mike at March 4, 2004 at 08:48 AM

Notice, though, how Wyclif always refers to Blair as a "reader"-- as opposed to two other at least as relevant terms, "blogger" or "journalist," both of which would sort make the Trib caught redhanded by someone who was more or less an equal? Instead he makes it sound like a little old lady reader wrote in with a correction and the wise Trib graciously consented.

Posted by: Mike G at March 4, 2004 at 08:54 AM

"One form of Americanism that we should adopt with relish is their demonstrated commitment to ethics in journalism."

What this paper did is, unfortunately, the exception rather than the rule. That's why it was so great to hear about.

"Notice, though, how Wyclif always refers to Blair as a "reader"-- as opposed to two other at least as relevant terms, "blogger" or "journalist," both of which would sort make the Trib caught redhanded by someone who was more or less an equal? Instead he makes it sound like a little old lady reader wrote in with a correction."

The fact they referred to Tim as a 'reader' was a nice touch. It would encourage me, as a reader of that paper, to think a reader would be listened to. Hopefully, an ordinary reader *will* receive the same attention as a journalist did.

Posted by: Chris Josephson at March 4, 2004 at 09:33 AM

"Notice, though, how Wyclif always refers to Blair as a "reader"-- as opposed to two other at least as relevant terms, "blogger" or "journalist," both of which would sort make the Trib caught redhanded by someone who was more or less an equal? Instead he makes it sound like a little old lady reader wrote in with a correction and the wise Trib graciously consented."

Yes, this is a good point, I have to wonder if they would have responded so quickly to the
e-mail if it had come from that "little old lady reader" instead of from of a journalist with webblog that has a counter showing over a million hits to his site (many of which are from American readers)and who is a regular columnist for the Bulletin magazine.
You can bet they knew they were in big trouble the minute they realised the e-mail was from a very well read journalist/blogger and did the only thing that would lessen the damage.

Posted by: Michael at March 4, 2004 at 09:40 AM

Kudos to the Chicago Trib.
I've often criticised (and with some justice) the lack of journalistic ethics so often displayed today. It's refreshing to see that some people still believe in the concept, and the Trib's editors deserve a round of applause. Wish there were more like them.

Posted by: Alan E Brain at March 4, 2004 at 09:59 AM

Let's see. His description of Aboriginals is mostly accurate. What's the problem?

-AR

Posted by: Analog Roam at March 4, 2004 at 10:05 AM

Ya done good, son.

Posted by: slatts at March 4, 2004 at 10:09 AM

You guys give the Trib too much credit. I've read it cover to cover for a couple of decades and I can assure you the paper was seriously losing its way until just recently.

Mr. Wyclif does respond quickly and he is to be commended for that. He responded within 10 minutes to an e-mail that I sent once concerning the bias that was all over the straight news stories concerning the Iraq war. His tendency is to print a complaint from someone about bias in the paper and then make sport of them, usually by snarkily suggesting that they are rightwing suburbanites who don't know much. I've seen him do it a couple of times. When I wrote in I made it clear that I had voted Democrat my entire adult life and even I could still see the bias, (mostly in the form of stories NOT reported, but also language and headlines.)

Still, I have seen a slight improvement over the last couple of months and at least some attempt to respect the fact that thoughtful, intelligent people may actually arrive at a different conclusion than public editors at major newspapers on major issues of the day.

Posted by: SD at March 4, 2004 at 10:31 AM

"Mr. Bimgley" would also have been fired, if he had the wits and competence to have been hired as a reporter in the first place.

There was no 'plastic turkey', if he alludes to the Bush visit to Iraq.

It was a real turkey, decorated by the cooks for display at the serving line, as he could have easily verified on the web.

The only turkey here is Bingley himself ...

Posted by: Rudy at March 4, 2004 at 10:33 AM

Ahhh, Pravda by the Lake.

I dropped it almost 2 years ago after reading it for over 20.

And Wycliff - bleh!

Can't wait until they rid themselves of those 60s boomers.

Posted by: Sandy P. at March 4, 2004 at 10:57 AM

How is that crow tasting Miranda? Or have you forgotten the comments you made when Tim first became suspicious of the article?

Posted by: Rob at March 4, 2004 at 11:43 AM

Yes, SD is correct, the usual way to deal with a complaint of bias is for Wycliff to write a column quoting some people who said something was too left wing, then some people who said it was too right wing, then to chuckle like Fred MacMurray in My Three Sons and say that the fact that both sides see bias just proves that they're doing it right.

The possibility that a newspaper could actually be biased one direction or another never occurs to them. It's not like the Tribune was ever run for decades by an extreme rightwinger who used every opportunity to smear his opponents until he basically discredited his own cause with his extremism.

Posted by: Mike G at March 4, 2004 at 11:52 AM

Now all the Chicago Tribune management has to do is apply the same standards for writers working for their wholly-owned subsidiary that dominates the Los Angeles media market...

Posted by: John at March 4, 2004 at 11:52 AM

And now its hit the mainstream media at news.com.au.
Although Tim's still just a "reader"

Posted by: Michael at March 4, 2004 at 12:53 PM

Also in The Age. Still "a reader".

But I'm sure most of the journos know who Tim is, and may take note of the blogosphere's increasing power.

Posted by: EvilPundit at March 4, 2004 at 01:01 PM

Whenever I want to fabricate phony Aussie quotes I just make up a crazy name like Yahoo Google (no relation to Yahoo Serious). I figure there's got to be at least a couple of million returns on those names so no one would be able to weed through them all.

Posted by: Randal Robinson at March 4, 2004 at 01:37 PM

So that's why I've been getting all those abusive emails.

You bastard!

Posted by: Yahoo Google at March 4, 2004 at 01:58 PM

Media Watch is rewriting next week's edition as we speak, er, blog.

Posted by: ilibcc at March 4, 2004 at 02:53 PM

Anything at ABC news? No. But, following today's passing of anti-terrorist laws in the Australian Senate, it is continuing its pro-terrorist campaign via one of its many ventriloquist spokesmen, the Law Council, and wants the new law amended so that terrorists are banned for a mere thirty days, forcing the Attorney General to waste his time going to court once a month to 'renew' any ban.

Like, - Have you blown any buildings or individuals up in the last month? - No, your honor. - Do you intend to? - No, your honor, not at this juncture. - Well, you're free to go then. Case dismissed. Costs awarded against the AG's Department.

Barking mad.

Posted by: ilibcc at March 4, 2004 at 03:11 PM

How is that crow tasting Miranda? Or have you forgotten the comments you made when Tim first became suspicious of the article?

Hush, Hush. Miranda's a little under the weather right now.

"Why are the mean bloggy men so blogging mean! They cut and paste my blogging heart!" she cried.

"Shut up and cook my blogging breakfast," I said.

Posted by: Quentin Divide at March 4, 2004 at 04:24 PM

Thanks for the news, ilibcc, less Rall is a ray of hope for the world.

I didn't even know he was on the NYT site. In my town we only carry Ted Rall in the local freebie leftist rag, right smack in the middle of the phone sex ads.

Posted by: Sortelli at March 4, 2004 at 06:45 PM

Iowahawk, the 2004 USGP at Indy is on June 20th, with usual practice and qualifying beforehand.

Posted by: Tom at March 5, 2004 at 12:00 AM

Rudy wrote:" "Mr. Bimgley" would also have been fired, if he had the wits and competence to have been hired as a reporter in the first place.

There was no 'plastic turkey', if he alludes to the Bush visit to Iraq.

It was a real turkey, decorated by the cooks for display at the serving line, as he could have easily verified on the web.

The only turkey here is Bingley himself ..."


whoa nelly! i was questioning how the trib handled that whole faux-scandal, and attempting to slyly wonder in a hip, ironic style if wycliff held his reporters/columnists who pushed the petro-turkey 'story' (and the national guard 'story', et al) to the same standards as those who fabricate stories that denigrate indigenous types.
geesh, inhale...exhale...relax

ps - if you're new here, this may give you some insight into my turkey credentials.

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at March 5, 2004 at 01:26 AM

Is Marg--I mean-- Miranda feeling better yet?

Posted by: aaron at March 5, 2004 at 07:55 PM