Juan Williams

Juan Williams pre-scandal: "I think standards are falling down"

The Fox News pundit embroiled in a plagiarism scandal once had plenty of contempt for the decline of journalism


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David Daley
March 8, 2013 9:52PM (UTC)

Juan Williams, the Fox News pundit who -- in a story broken by Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald -- admitted that parts of his column on immigration last month were taken word-for-word from a Center for American Progress report, previously bemoaned the collapse of journalistic ethics when other outlets were embroiled in scandal.

Williams blamed his researcher for this apparent plagiarism. He told Salon that he did not know that the "young man" did not summarize the report himself, and instead borrowed the language directly from CAP. According to that reasoning, the disputed sections of his column -- which were rewritten after CAP pointed out the similarities to D.C. newspaper The Hill -- must have simply been cut-and-pasted by Williams from his researcher and into the column that appeared under the highly paid commentator's name.

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But 15 years ago, when the New Republic, CNN and the Boston Globe were being criticized for sloppy ethics, Williams appeared on Fox News and sharply criticized the disappearance of old-school journalism values.

"I think standards are falling down. I think standards are falling down as you have more and more outlets," Williams said. He later added: "I think the idea of fact-checking, I think the idea that you come up through a system where you know how to cover night cops, and then you go on, and you go on to various beats, including writing obituaries, and you get names right, you know how to spell them, really has some advantages to it."

Here's the transcript from Fox News' "Special Report with Brit Hume" from June 23, 1998. Emphasis is ours.

BRIT HUME: "The New Republic," the venerable political journal published here in Washington, had to fire a young and talented journalist for making stuff up. Something similar happened at "The Boston Globe," where a columnist quit in disgrace over doing the same thing. In the meantime, two major investigative looks at the contemporary scene -- a report on CNN about sarin gas having been used by American forces in Vietnam, and a report in Steven Brill's "Content" magazine about the coverage of the Lewinsky case -- have both come a-cropper rather badly. So you have four examples of the press stubbing its toe very badly, in ways -- I don't think we've seen anything like this all at once.

What's going on here? Does anybody have a theory about what's up here?

JUAN WILLIAMS: I think standards are falling down. I think standards are falling down as you have more and more outlets. I think that CNN thing is an example of someone trying to do a home run punch for the first show, and I think coming up badly. And apparently, no one was checking. It's unbelievable...

HUME: But it's a -- we're talking about -- CNN has been around now for 17, 18 years, very much an institution-...

WILLIAMS: Very much.

HUME: ... on the world scene. Peter Arnett, the reporter who was the...

WILLIAMS: He's a Pulitzer Prize winner.

HUME: ... at the core of the story is a seasoned veteran...

WILLIAMS: That's right.

HUME: ... war correspondent, knows that part of the world very well. "The Boston Globe" certainly a respected publication. "The New Republic" is -- the only newcomer in the group is Steven Brill's publication, and he's -- he's not a newcomer to the trade.

BARNES: Yeah, but the phenomenon's -- but the phenomenon's different now. I mean, the rewards are different, in particular. The rewards are much greater. If you're a young reporter who comes along, like Stephen Glass -- he's 24, 25...

HUME: He's the "New Republic" guy.

BARNES: ... the guy at "The New Republic"-- you write some flashy stories and everybody in the media knows about it because they read "The New Republic" in Washington, in New York, in LA, and you get on television. You build up a name quickly because there's a different model for journalism now. Young people coming in -- I mean, they may want to write, but they want to be on TV and give speeches and so on. It's not like when we came in, when all of us came in the business, you know, when our hope was, "Gee, maybe I'll get to cover the House of Representatives for some newspaper some day."

HUME: Some day, yeah.

FRED BARNES: These kids would never consider that.

MORTON KONDRACKE: Right. Well, it's all "make a splash," you know? And even for the biggies, CNN and "Time" magazine. They launching a new collaboration, and they want to hit it big. So they got this big cover story and, you know, sarin gas, U.S., you know, big investigative story. Same with Steven Brill. He clearly wanted to make the waters part, and he did, but it all dumped on him, you know?

WILLIAMS: You know, but -- you know, I...

KONDRACKE: And the same with CNN.

WILLIAMS: I come back, though, to this notion that the standards have dropped.

BARNES: Well, they have. Of course. Sure.

WILLIAMS: I think the idea of fact-checking, I think the idea that you come up through a system where you know how to cover night cops, and then you go on, and you go on to various beats, including writing obituaries, and you get names right, you know how to spell them, really has some advantages to it. It's like Michael Jordan learning his game, you know, under Dean Smith.

BARNES: Juan, have you tried that on a young reporter?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, it doesn't work.

BARNES: "You need to write obits. You need to get"... (crosstalk)

WILLIAMS: Yeah, it doesn't work so well these days.

 


David Daley

David Daley, a former editor of Salon, is the author of the national bestseller "Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn't Count" and the forthcoming “Unrigged: How Americans Fought Back, Slayed the Gerrymander and Reinvented Democracy.”

MORE FROM David Daley

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Fox News Juan Williams Media Criticism Plagiarism

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