The Top 10 Journalism Scandals of the 2000s

They Range From Allegations of Bias to Stories That Were Just Made Up

Everyone's accustomed to hearing about petty politicians and crooked captains of industry, but there's something especially jarring when journalists are accused of behaving badly. Journalists, after all, are supposed to be the ones keeping a critical eye on the people in power (think Watergate's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein). So when the Fourth Estate goes bad, where does that leave the profession -- and the country?  The first decade of the 21st century had no shortage of journalism-related scandals. Here are the 10 biggest.

01
of 10

Jayson Blair and Fabrication and Plagiarism at The New York Times

This file photo shows former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair.
Jayson Blair. Getty Images/Getty Images News

Jayson Blair was a young rising star at The New York Times until, in 2003, the paper discovered he had systematically plagiarized or fabricated information for dozens of articles. In an article detailing Blair's misdeeds, the Times called the scandal "a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper." Blair got the boot, but he didn't go alone: Executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald M. Boyd, who had promoted Blair within the paper's ranks despite warnings from other editors, were forced out as well. 

02
of 10

Dan Rather, CBS News and George W. Bush's Service Record

Dan Rather. Getty Images

Just weeks before the 2004 presidential election, CBS News aired a report alleging that President George W. Bush had gotten into the Texas Air National Guard -- thus avoiding the Vietnam War draft - as a result of preferential treatment by the military. The report was based on memos said to be from that era. But bloggers pointed out that the memos appeared to have been typed on a computer, not a typewriter, and CBS eventually acknowledged that it couldn't prove the memos were real. An internal investigation led to the firing of three CBS execs and the report's producer, Mary Mapes. CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who had defended the memos, stepped down early in 2005, apparently as a result of the scandal. Rather sued CBS, saying the network had scapegoated him over the story.

03
of 10

CNN and Sugarcoated Coverage of Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein. Getty Images

CNN news chief Eason Jordan acknowledged in 2003 that for years the network had sugarcoated coverage of Saddam Hussein's human rights atrocities to maintain access to the Iraqi dictator. Jordan said reporting Saddam's crimes would have endangered CNN reporters in Iraq and meant the closing of the network's Baghdad bureau. But critics said CNN's glossing over of Saddam's misdeeds was happening at a time when the United States was debating whether to go to war to remove him from power. As Franklin Foer wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "CNN could have abandoned Baghdad. Not only would they have stopped recycling lies, they could have focused more intently on obtaining the truth about Saddam."

04
of 10

Jack Kelley and Fabricated Stories at USA Today

In 2004, star USA Today reporter Jack Kelley quit after editors discovered he had been fabricating information in stories for more than a decade. Acting on an anonymous tip, the paper had launched an investigation that uncovered Kelley's actions. The investigation found that USA Today had received many warnings about Kelley's reporting, but that his star status in the newsroom had discouraged hard questions from being asked. Even after he was confronted with the evidence against him, Kelley denied any wrongdoing. And just as with Blair and The New York Times, the Kelley scandal claimed the jobs of USA Today's top two editors.

05
of 10

Military Analysts Who Weren't as Impartial as They Appeared

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey. Barry McCaffrey photo from Getty Images

A 2008 New York Times investigation found that retired military officers who were routinely used as analysts on broadcast news shows were part of a Pentagon effort to generate favorable coverage of the Bush administration's performance during the Iraq War. The Times also found that most of the analysts had ties to military contractors who had financial interests "in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air," Times reporter David Barstow wrote. In the wake of Barstow's stories, the Society of Professional Journalists called on NBC News to cut its ties with one particular officer -- retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey --to "re-establish the integrity of its reporting on military-related issues, including the war in Iraq."

06
of 10

The Bush Administration and the Columnists on Its Payroll

President George W. Bush. Getty Images

A 2005 report by USA Today revealed that the Bush White House had paid conservative columnists to promote the administration's policies. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were paid to columnists Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus. Williams, who received the most loot, acknowledged he had received $241,000 to write favorably about Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative, and he apologized. His column was canceled by the Tribune Co., his syndicator.

07
of 10

The New York Times, John McCain and the Lobbyist

Sen. John McCain. Getty Images

In 2008 The New York Times published a story implying that GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona had had an inappropriate relationship with a lobbyist. Critics complained that the story was fuzzy about the exact nature of the alleged relationship and relied on quotes from anonymous McCain aides. Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt criticized the story for being short on facts, writing: "If you cannot provide readers with some independent evidence, I think it is wrong to report the suppositions or concerns of anonymous aides about whether the boss is getting into the wrong bed." The lobbyist named in the story, Vicki Iseman, sued the Times, charging that the paper had created the false impression that she and McCain had an affair.

08
of 10

Rick Bragg and a Controversy Over Bylines

Rick Bragg. Photo courtesy Random House

Hot on the heels of the Jayson Blair scandal, acclaimed New York Times writer Rick Bragg resigned in 2003 after it was discovered that a story carrying only his byline had been largely reported by a stringer. Bragg wrote the story -- about Florida oystermen -- but acknowledged that most of the interviewing had been done by a freelancer. Bragg defended the use of stringers to report stories, a practice he said was common at the Times. But many reporters were outraged by Bragg's remarks and said they wouldn't dream of putting their byline on a story they hadn't reported themselves.

09
of 10

The Los Angeles Times, Arnold Schwarzenegger and 'Gropegate'

Arnold Schwarzenegger. Getty Images

Just before the 2003 California recall election, the Los Angeles Times reported allegations that gubernatorial candidate and "Terminator" star Arnold Schwarzenegger had groped six women between 1975 and 2000. But the Times drew fire for the timing of the story, which had apparently been ready to go for weeks. And while four of the six alleged victims were not named, it turned out the Times had nixed a story alleging that then-Gov. Gray Davis had verbally and physically abused women because it relied too heavily on anonymous sources. Schwarzenegger denied some of the allegations but acknowledged he had "behaved badly" at times during his acting career.

10
of 10

Carl Cameron, Fox News and John Kerry

Weeks before the 2004 election, Fox News political reporter Carl Cameron wrote a story on the network's website claiming that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had manicures. In an on-air report, Cameron claimed that Kerry had received a "pre-debate manicure." Fox News reprimanded Cameron and retracted the story, claiming it had been a lame attempt at humor. Liberal critics charged that the gaffes were evidence of the network's conservative bias.