March 05, 2004


The Chicago Tribune's Uli Schmetzer might be the new Jayson Blair:

After revealing a free-lancer and former foreign correspondent had made up elements of a news story, the Chicago Tribune will conduct a review of the reporter's articles going back three years, its public editor said.

The Tribune said Wednesday free-lance writer Uli Schmetzer admitted fabricating the name and occupation of a man quoted in a Feb. 24 story filed from Australia. Now, Tribune Public Editor Don Wycliff and Customer Service Editor Margaret Holt will scrutinize three years of Schmetzer's work, Wycliff said. That encompasses 286 Tribune stories, according to the Lexis-Nexis database.

"We're going to read the stories and see what looks odd -- if anything -- and where might quotes seem too perfect," Wycliff said.

Seems to me the Tribune might have had its eye on Schmetzer for some time. Media Life and The Australian have more. Tomorrow, I promise: no more Uli.

UPDATE. There's too much Uli for me to ignore! In latest news, Uli is outraged. Kind of like Australia was to read that we're a nation of Aborigine-hating monsters. He says he was only protecting his source. Plus there's more from Don Wycliff and a piece in the SMH. Here's a Wycliff extract:

It could be that technology already is providing us a kind of ultimate check in the form of the Internet. In the past, national and foreign correspondents could roam the country or the world writing stories about people who would never see their work. In the Internet age, there are fewer and fewer places where the Chicago Tribune--or the Waxahachie Daily Light, for that matter--cannot be accessed and read critically by people about whom we write. And that is a very good thing.

Posted by Tim Blair at March 5, 2004 02:11 AM

If you're going to probe Uli be sure to wear gloves, Tim. I know how you Aussies are, always trying to put your thumb up some creature's butthole. Crikey, he's really pissed off now!

Posted by: Randal Robinson at March 5, 2004 at 03:36 AM

"Tomorrow, I promise: no more Uli"

I want ~more~ Uli

Posted by: apex at March 5, 2004 at 03:51 AM

"We're going to read the stories and see what looks odd -- if anything -- and where might quotes seem too perfect," Wycliff said.
Mr. Wycliff here's a couple hints for an unlimited source of research material: Maureen Dowd and Michael Moore.


Posted by: BC at March 5, 2004 at 04:03 AM

Personally, I see precious little difference between making up a name and occupation for a quote, and fishing around asking dozens and dozens of people on the street (figurative or literal) for quotes until you get The One You Want, or always going to the Same Guy for The Quote, because you know he'll provide The Quote the first time.

It's BS either way.

Posted by: Sigivald at March 5, 2004 at 05:02 AM

Perhaps he should have prefaced the article Based on a true story".

"It is a dramatic portrayal searching for kind of a greater truth rather than a … a factual truth."

Posted by: Pig Head Sucker at March 5, 2004 at 06:59 AM

Oh Uli! You rascal!

His crime was a terrible one: to lie in ways the journalist profession finds uncouth. He could have selectivly quoted, given dark hints, drawn spurious comparisons, ommited evidence but nooooo... he has to go and fabricate a name.

So it's off to the wilderness, bad Uli! Bad Uli! And don't come back until you've learned to cover your ideolological slant in some plausible deniability so as not to embarrase your bosses.

Posted by: Amos at March 5, 2004 at 08:25 AM

Hey, maybe he could get a job at the Weekly World News. They already offered Jayson Blair a job!

Posted by: TimT at March 5, 2004 at 09:18 AM

Meanwhile, George Bush 'plays the terror card'. What is that, some kind of unfair sleight-of-hand technique?

How many times are we going to hear that cliched line before November?

Posted by: ilibcc at March 5, 2004 at 10:33 AM

What he did was reprehensible. It's also puzzling. He'd have had no difficulty finding plenty of people, including indigenous Australians, who'd have expressed much the same sort of concern about the manner in which aborigines have been encouraged by well-intentioned "do gooders", to drop out of mainstream society.

Posted by: Norman at March 5, 2004 at 11:14 AM

Fabricated the name and occupation?
But not the words? I mean some real person said those things?
Bullshit. Uli fabricated the words as well.

No worries, he can get a job at tthe Green Left Weekly.

Posted by: Jay Blair at March 5, 2004 at 11:34 AM

See the thread Trouble Makers Need Not Apply at

Posted by: paul wiggins at March 5, 2004 at 11:42 AM

Poor bastard! If only he'd written about Plastic Turkeys, he'd still be employed and possibly up for an award.

Hint to Uli: Don't make up quotes; just edit them with elipses ala Maureen Dowd until the bugger says what you want it to say!

Posted by: JDB at March 5, 2004 at 12:02 PM

Although a native of The Cheesehead Nation I've been a Trib reader for 20 years. Initially attracted to the Trib by its conservative lean and the quality of the writing, I've seen a consistant slide on both fronts. My home paper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal seemed a liberal rag at the time and I could'nt stand it. I'm reading it more and more. What happened? I don't know. Did ownership get more liberal, or did they go on a savings binge and hire less talented writers? Maybe liberal writers are cheaper.

Posted by: Full Auto at March 5, 2004 at 12:29 PM

The indymedia kids like Tim now.

Posted by: EvilDan at March 5, 2004 at 01:32 PM

Hey Tim, they actually mentioned you by name in the Daily Telegraph. They still referred to you as a "Sydney reader" though. Strange, since earlier this year you were writing opinion pieces for them at least once a week it seemed.

Posted by: Quentin George at March 5, 2004 at 03:28 PM

To be “Jayson Blair,” Uli would have to be hired and retained due to affirmative action. Perhaps the Chicago Trib does not have enough antipode reporters with a special perspective from blood rushing to their heads. Hence they sought out, tolerated and retained Uli the quote maker.

Posted by: perfectsense at March 5, 2004 at 07:24 PM

Hey, I've been to Waxahachie! It's between Waco and Dallas, and fortunately, it's on Interstate 35 so you don't have to spend too much time there.

Posted by: Steve in Houston at March 6, 2004 at 01:48 AM

Another Ulism: in 'Aborigines want share of olympic stage' published in the Tribune on 6 September 2000, he writes about the UN committee for elimination of racial discrimination handing down its report on Australia's treatment of Aborigines and asylum seekers in the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

'The unexpected criticism was a cold shower for a nation brimming with confidence after weathering the Asian economic meltdown without major damage. Australians today seek a global role after their nation's troops successfully led a UN peacekeeping mission in East Timor. The Olympics are the crown jewel in the country's newly acquired self-confidence. "Right now we might act like a mob of 5-year-olds at a party. I just hope the present government has enough sense not let things get out of hand," said Richard Laidlaw, a senior political adviser for the opposition party."' He goes on, referring to the Australian Governments views of UN treaty committees, and quotes Laidlaw again: "It's time someone told the UN, 'You go off and lecture North Korea and other members who have no rule of law. Then come back to us," said Laidlaw.

What's wrong with this picture? He presents Laidlaw as a senior political adviser for 'the opposition party'. Labor? Not really; if my info is correct, Laidlaw worked for Queensland National Party opposition leader Mike Horan at the time.

The same story said 'judges were ordered to impose mandatory jail sentences for all offenses against property'. Uli presents this as being Australia-wide, but the context at the time surely relates to the Northern Territory only.

About the only thing you can be almost certain of his in his report is his lifting of a comment from a Mike Carlton column in the SMH, which seemed to be a consistent pattern across his reporting of drawing on other columnists views.

Posted by: Mike at March 6, 2004 at 05:08 AM

Tim, you are gracious to Don Wycliff, but there's one thing that still rankles me-- because he's not the first one to do it.

Here's how Wycliff sets up the story:

The Schmetzer case started with an email sent... by Tim Blair, a reader in Sydney. Blair, who operates a web "blog" ("Welcome to the Australia of Tim Blair, journalist, commentator and oppressor"), seems to have set himself up as a kind of independent monitor of the press.

Now let's run through how Wycliff might introduce other famous Australians:

Patrick White, who seems to have set himself up as a kind of novelist...

Nicole Kidman, who seems to have set herself up as a kind of "movie" (series of still images which give the illusion of motion) star...

John Howard, who seems to have set himself up as a kind of ruler of this continent which is largely desert...

Okay, Tim Blair surely isn't as famous as them, but still, he doesn't SEEM to be these things, he IS these things, as any examination of his site for either purpose or biographical detail will quickly reveal. This playing dumb about bloggers is just a way to sort of patronize them as children, not grownup professionals. He has his own little mini-publication, of a sort! He actually imagines he can monitor the press! How adorable!

You may think I'm overreacting, but when Scott Rosenberg of Salon dissed Damian Penny, he did the same thing-- called him "some person called Damian Penny" to make him appear to be a random nut on a street corner who no one would ever have heard of, as opposed to a blogger who was frequently quoted on Instapundit and indeed known to thousands (more than probably read the pseudo-magazine Salon any more, anyway). This in a profession where normally giving the illusion of omniscient knowledge is paramount, even on the most arcane subjects (like state legislators or Afghan tribal politics). Why is it that only bloggers get the "there appears to be a person named Tim Blair who appears to do something sort of like journalism on some gadget called a 'web blog'" attitude? The question answers itself.

Posted by: Mike G at March 6, 2004 at 05:41 AM


Read Wycliff's column on the bus today. What a pleasant surprise as I hadn't read your site for the past week. Mike G's comment hits the nail on the head describing the arrogant way W. scare-quotes "blog". I've seen him diss blogs before in his column. Once I wrote him when I saw a photo in the Trib of two Iranian girls walking down a Teheran street. Behind them, spray painted on the wall was something that caught my eye. My simple Arabic script ability picked out "America" and "Israel", but what preceded it was beyond my grasp. After a little research, I found out the words were "Death to". I e-mailed Wycliff to ask if he was aware of it and that perhaps the photographer was having a little fun at the expense of the ignorance of the Trib. I suggested the paper should have a policy of at least knowing what the meanings of foreign words in photos mean. He e-mailed me back without addressing my point; just said he was puzzled I would find it strange that the Iranian people wouldn't want death to America and Israel since both countries had treated Iran so badly in the past. In a nutshell, he's a jerk.

Posted by: michael at March 6, 2004 at 06:20 AM

Totally agree, Michael,

I read it today, also. He seems better, but they had a field day when they decided that Drudge jumped the gun too quickly on the Kerry/intern story, thus showing the wisdom of the big papers.

Posted by: SD at March 6, 2004 at 06:38 AM

I love that Sun-Times article about Schmetzer being shocked, shocked! that this has happened. Look, if his "source" really feared retribution from his neighbours (weird if his is a "typical" opinion, but OK, maybe they really will have their native bearers beat him to death with croquet mallets) couldn't Schmetzer simply *explain* this to the editor ahead of time, keep the real name private, and identify the guy as a source who didn't want to be named? I've read plenty of stories where sources were unnamed, or first-name only. Wycliff is not exactly a flaming conservative, I can see him buying the whole retribution excuse. Anybody with half a brain would have thought of it, unless there's something in the journalistic code of ethics I'm really unaware of.

Sorry - Schmetzer lied, his job died. The Sun-Times would be wise not to go to bat for this guy; they and the Tribune are always trying to score off of each other, but Schmetzer sounds like a losing cause.

Posted by: Sonetka at March 6, 2004 at 08:39 AM

"keep the real name private, and identify the guy as a source who didn't want to be named? I've read plenty of stories where sources were unnamed, or first-name only."

Sonetka ya big silly! People would mostly think he was lying if he just called his source a "source" because everyone knows that a "source" is journalistic for "No-one has actually said it but I'm sure they are thinking it"

Posted by: GLW at March 6, 2004 at 09:50 AM

GLW, that's very true - but I have yet to see a journalist get publicly canned for quoting "Source". Sort of makes you wonder why this guy went the extra mile to fabricate a name - after thirty-odd years in journalism, you think he'd be wilier than that :).

Posted by: Sonetka at March 6, 2004 at 11:49 AM

Seems as though Schmetzer had previous form in being liberal with the truth. No doubt Wycliff got tired of leaving space in his paper for corrections.

Posted by: Jon at March 6, 2004 at 12:20 PM

By chance, the US TeeVee program "Dateline NBC" had an interview with the infamous Mr. Jason Blair tonight. A postscript to the program mentioned that some people never learn.....and mentioned Mr. Schmetzer's dismissal.

Posted by: Wallace at March 6, 2004 at 01:33 PM

Schmetzer makes a few mistakes but it's not mendacity on the jaw-dropping scale of a Pliger or Fisk. I don't see those scumbags in any danger of losing their jobs.

Posted by: Amos at March 6, 2004 at 01:41 PM

He ignored the "Cleveland housewife" ploy.

Back in the 1960s, most Newsweek thumbsuckers had a comment from "Cleveland housewife." A friend in the biz said he figured it was the wife of Newsweek's Cleveland guy.

That was probably it.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 6, 2004 at 02:03 PM

Okay.. someone (anyone!) please explain this to me:

Why did he need to change both the name and the profession?

Maybe such a "quote" from a bus driver in Darwin wouldn't have carried that much 'credibility'?

....... (Just thinking aloud.)

Posted by: Crazy at March 7, 2004 at 05:35 AM

Sorry for this second post ...

I mean, I can understand changing the name as it would hide the identity ... and come to think of it , if he was so darned interested in protecting his so called source, then why didn't he actually choose a nondescript profession for the source, or change the gender, or ... well you get the idea.

I think his so called "defence" is so much BS, and I don't want to wade in any deeper.

Posted by: Crazy at March 7, 2004 at 05:42 AM

Got it in one, Crazy, and that's why he got fired.

Posted by: Sortelli at March 7, 2004 at 09:25 AM