Newsweek Justifies Rumor and Innuendo as Source

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

July 25th, 2008

Earlier this week I criticized Ramin Setoodeh’s Newsweek article about the “flamboyance” of 15 year old murder victim Larry King. Now Newsweek’s Kurt Soller has written a follow up that is, frankly, disgusting.

Soller spends a few paragraphs quoting from some of the 4,000 responses. If you are easily angered, I’d advise against reading Soller’s piece.

While some of the comments he quotes share my ire that Newsweek was quick to point out every foible of King while refusing to mention reports that McInerney and his friends had picked on him, some seemed to put words to Setoodeh’s innuendo that King was really to blame for his own murder and that McInerney was the true victim.

Soller presents these justifications for premeditated, execution style murder as though they are just another opinion. It makes me nauseous that a credible news magazine can act as though “you blamed the victim” is the moral equivalent of “he had it coming” and that both are worth reporting without comment.

And what further annoyed me was the closing paragraph. Maeve Fox, the prosecutor in this case, told the magazine that they had inaccurate information and should not have relied on whispered anonymous rumors. Too bad.

While Fox thought the anonymous sourcing was unnecessary, Setoodeh says his story would have been impossible to tell without it.

Setoodeh had a story to tell. And he wasn’t about to let journalistic integrity stand in his way. And Newsweek applauds him for it.

Jason D

July 25th, 2008

newsweek needs some rebranding as gossipweek.

It annoys me that “news” organizations get around the inaccuracy and unprofessionalism of reporting gossip as news by saying they are running a story on the gossip itself.

Regan DuCasse

July 25th, 2008

I have the copy of Newsweek, I just haven’t read it yet. Stay tuned.

AJD

July 26th, 2008

What’s really disgusting is that Setoodeh went to J-school at Stanford and did a (highly prestigious) Daniel Pearl Memorial Internship for the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong. That, of course, was after he had done one at U.S. News & World Report. Now, he’s an associate editor at Newsweek.

How does such a shoddy reporter do so well? It’s one thing to get a name or date wrong, but another thing entirely to print rumor as fact and blame a shooting victim for his own death.

My original reaction to the story wasn’t as negative as yours, but the more I read about it, the more it bothers me.

I wouldn’t put Setoodeh up there with the likes of Stephen Glass or David Benkof, but I would certainly call his skills as a journalist into question.

AJD

July 26th, 2008

Another thing is that I think the story was a rather feeble attempt at New Journalism or literary non-fiction. The thing about doing that sort of journalism is that you have to be able to write a good story, but do the same quality of reporting you would for a run-of-the-mill news feature.

That means not relying entirely or almost entirely on people around your “main character,” but also talking to expert sources.

Had Setoodeh done that, he would have found that Larry’s case was not unusual; going all out and wearing high heels and taunting people was what he did instead of killing himself.

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