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Top 10 Most SHOCKING Journalism Scandals in Recent Years

VO: Rebecca Brayton

Script written by Zack Sims.

There are many modern journalism scandals that will shock you! From George W. Bush’s administration paying journalists to write favorably about certain government initiatives, News of the World and the phone hacking scandal, or NBC’s Brian Williams fabricating a story about his time covering the Iraq War, there are more than a few disgraced journalists and journalism fabrication stories out there. WatchMojo counts down ten outrageous modern media scandals we cannot believe.

Special thanks to our users Muppet_Face and Freemantle_uk for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%20Ten%20Journalism%20Scandals


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Script written by Zack Sims.

Top 10 Most SHOCKING Journalism Scandals in Recent Years

Like the politicians they cover, sometimes the Fourth Estate has its fair share of scandals. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 modern journalism scandals.

For this list, we’re taking a look at scandals that go against the journalistic ideal of reporting news accurately and fairly, whether in print or broadcast. Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst started the trend of scandalous journalism in the late-1800s, and these people carried that trend over into the 20th century and beyond.

#10: Columnists on Bush Administration Payroll

In 2005, some investigative reporters did some digging and found that a few of their fellow journalists had engaged in shady dealings with the George W. Bush administration. At least three conservative columnists had received taxpayer dollars as an inducement to write favorably about specific White House initiatives like “No Child Left Behind” and the “Promotion of Marriage.” One of the columnists, Armstrong Williams, was paid a whopping $241,000. He later apologized and his column was cancelled. The others, Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus, got off with a slap on the wrist.

#9: The Sun’s Coverage of the Hillsborough Disaster

96 people died and hundreds were injured when overcrowded central pens collapsed at a semi-final football game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989. Four days later, The Sun ran a front-page story entitled “The Truth,” claiming drunken Liverpool fans attacked, urinated on rescue workers as they tried to revive victims and picked the pockets of injured people. However, these reports contradicted eyewitnesses, who claimed that fans, including those from Liverpool, helped first responders by administering first aid. Experts also reported that the urine was probably coming, involuntarily, from crushed fans. The Sun later apologized, but many Liverpool shops still refuse to carry it.

#8: CNN and Operation Tailwind

As the premiere of the program “NewsStand: CNN & Time,” the cable news network aired a story in 1998, claiming the U.S. used chemical weapons on American defectors and Laotian civilians during Operation Tailwind, a campaign in the Vietnam War. One of the sources for “Valley of Death” was Admiral Thomas Moorer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of Operation Tailwind. However, he claimed he’d never confirmed the use of chemical weapons to CNN and stated that he felt he was asked “trick” questions. One month later, CNN retracted the report due to “insufficient evidence.” Two producers were fired, one reporter was reprimanded, and another producer resigned.

#7: News of the World and Phone Hacking

Prince William suspected his voicemail had been hacked in 2005, so the following year an investigation was launched and it soon became clear that the phones of celebrities, members of the royal family, and politicians had been accessed by reporters. In 2011, the scandal came to a head when it was revealed that News of the World journalists hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Allegations continued, with reports surfacing of the paper hacking the phones of relatives of deceased British soldiers as well as victims of the 2005 London bombings. Public outrage resulted in the arrests of editors and executives and the shutdown of the paper in 2011.

#6: Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus’”

In 2014, Rolling Stone published an article about a woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by fraternity members at a college party at the University of Virginia. As a result of the article and subsequent media attention, the University suspended the frat in question. However, when other journalists later looked into the article, they found multiple discrepancies, and questioned why testimony from other students was not included. It was also reported that the victim had fabricated the incident to catfish another student she was romantically interested in. Rolling Stone pulled the article, replacing it with a report that discredited the original story, and issued multiple apologies. Even so, the magazine also found itself named in several lawsuits alleging defamation.

#5: Brian Williams and the Iraq War

Former NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams came under fire in 2015 after incorrectly recounting an experience he’d had in Iraq in 2003. Originally, Williams reported that he was part of a helicopter convoy with U.S. Army personnel when the helicopter in front of his was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and forced to make an emergency landing. However, Williams’ story evolved over the years, becoming more dramatic and even changing to say his was the helicopter hit. Ultimately in 2015, several veterans who were in the convoy told a military newspaper that Williams’ retelling was false. The newsman apologized and was suspended for six months from “Nightly News.”

#4: “Jimmy” and the Washington Post

“Jimmy’s World” was a 1980 Washington Post article that detailed the story of an 8-year-old heroin addict. The article went viral – or whatever the ‘80s equivalent would be – prompting police to conducted a citywide manhunt that resulted in nothing. The following year, the author of the article, Janet Cooke, won a Pulitzer Prize, and her story was reprinted all over the world. However, after the Post found inconsistencies with Cooke’s academic credentials and pressed her, she confessed that Jimmy never existed. After the fabrication was found out, Cooke resigned and returned her Pulitzer, something that had never been done before.

#3: CNN Withholding Info on Saddam Hussein

Just as the Iraq War was beginning, former CNN News Chief Eason Jordan released a bombshell when he revealed that CNN had been sugarcoating or outright not reporting on human rights abuses committed by Saddam Hussein since 1990. Jordan claimed this was being done to keep the CNN Baghdad offices open and to protect his reporters and their families from potential violence. He even alleged that one Iraqi cameraman was abducted and brutally tortured. Critics bashed Jordan, arguing that this information could’ve been used when the U.S. was debating whether to remove Hussein from power.

#2: Stephen Glass and The New Republic Affair

Stephen Glass was a star reporter for The New Republic. However in 1998, it was discovered that he’d fabricated and plagiarized a good amount of his articles. These fabrications included false quotes from people like politicians, heavy plagiarism, and making up entire stories from scratch. The scandal erupted when Glass was caught fabricating a story about a teenager who hacked a software company, where he even used his brother to pose as an executive from the fake company. Glass’ journalism career was over, and his past has impacted his subsequent attempts at a career in law.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Military Analysts Who Weren’t As Impartial As They Appeared

- Rathergate

- Jack Kelley and USA Today

#1: Jayson Blair & The New York Times Fabrication Scandal

This is the scandal that the New York Times called “a low point in the 152-year history” of their own newspaper. 27-year-old Jayson Blair seemed to be at the start of a brilliant journalistic career when things suddenly fell apart in 2003. After similarities were pointed out between one of Blair’s recent articles and a piece in another paper, the Times looked over the reporter’s other work. In at least 36 articles, there was evidence of plagiarism, misstatements and outright fabrication. Blair and two editors who promoted him while ignoring warnings from other editors were swiftly dismissed. After his firing, the Times published a 7000-word article detailing Blair’s misdeeds.

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