With all the fake news, quasi-fake news, and I Can't Believe It's Not News floating around, it's harder to trust journalists these days. But the real reporters -- the ones working the tough beat for their local stations, or who write for those archaic "paper" things -- have a professional code of ethics that they must adhere to at all times. Except for when they don't ...
In the summer of 1988, Dieter Degowski and Hans-Jurgen Rosner robbed a bank in the German town of Gladbeck. The plan quickly went south, and soon the pair was facing roughly one bajillion cops. When they began taking hostages, the German media was fascinated ... and the robbers got two human shields for the price of one.
Using their hostages to guard against the police, the gunmen managed to escape to a nearby town. There they were mobbed -- not by vigilantes, but by scoop-hungry journalists who were more than happy to let the duo do their thing as long as they got an interview. Which the fugitives actually granted to one radio station. When their getaway failed, Degowski and Rosner hijacked a bus full of people and tried driving it to the border. All the while, dozens of camera crews filmed the bus like they were making a German adaptation of Speed, often obstructing the police as they barged past barricades in order to talk to the hostage-takers themselves. Unfolding over several days, it all seemed so unreal that the media started calling the ongoing event "The Hans and Dieter Show."
But any pretense of this as a fun circus went out the tent flap after the two criminals shot one of their captives in the head and a police officer died in a crash during pursuit. Eventually the pair got a new getaway car and released all surviving hostages but two young women, whom they kept with loaded guns pressed to their throats. But not even that horrific scene stopped the media from forming a circle around the car as it slowly pressed on. One journalist even hopped in the car for a quick chat, asking hostage Silke Bischoff "What's it like to have a gun held to your neck?"
Bischoff was later shot dead by Rosner when a gunfight broke out, but Rosner and Degowski were taken alive and eventually sentenced to life in prison. After the incident, the entire German media was accused of gross misconduct, with the head of its largest union calling it "the darkest hour of German journalism since the end of WWII." And boy howdy, when a German actually brings that whole thing up, it's time to take a hard look in the mirror.
In 2007, TV journalist Prakash Singh was approached by obvious Dune villain Virender Arora, a pencil supplier with a chip on his shoulder. Arora convinced Singh that they could create a salacious story of a schoolteacher pimping out her pupils for porn. The target: math teacher Uma Khurana, a woman who owed Arora money. Singh was on board, and the dastardly duo concocted a "sting" whereby Singh would pretend to be a sex trafficker trying to score girls from Khurana. He even roped in an aspiring journalist to pose as a student/prostitute. You have to be pretty desperate to take that internship.
With some grainy video and fake audio, the conspirators were able to produce footage which supposedly showed Khurana selling the young woman into prostitution. The fake sting was a smash, in that it caused such outrage when Live India aired it that a mob broke into Khurana's school, tore her clothes off, and prepared to lynch her. Luckily, the police showed up right in time ... to arrest her instead. The Delhi government also fired her before she could be convicted -- which she wasn't, because the police quickly figured out that the video was a sloppily made fake.
While Singh and Arora were arrested on charges of conspiracy, Khurana was let free because there was "no evidence" whatsoever. That didn't repair her utterly ruined reputation, though, so she made a new one by being the first person in Indian history to get a news channel suspended. Though she did let the scheming duo and their bosses off the hook after settling behind closed doors. Which is to say, Khurana earned a lifetime's worth of teachers' salaries by holding those douchebags over a fire. That's right, a whole 17 dollars.
It all started in 1990, when Wendy Bergen, a Colorado journalist, enticed her KCNC editors with a pitch for a series exposing dogfighting rings in the state. The only problem was that finding a dog fight in Colorado was about as easy as finding a sober white guy with dreads. And since November sweeps week was coming up, Bergen had to hurry if she wanted to win another Emmy. So she set out to find a dogfighting ring, even if she had to make one herself.
That zeal brought Bergen to Mark Labriola, a shady crook who claimed he was the head of the Colorado Canine Mortal Kombat. In truth, he didn't know a damn thing about fighting dogs, but if Bergen was paying him to fight dogs, he was going to fight dogs. He enlisted the help of other, equally soulless assholes, one of whom later admitted they "lied from the get-go. Just to be on TV, I guess." A pit bull fight was hosted, innocent dogs were hurt, and Bergen had the footage she needed to produce an "expose," which she titled "Blood Sport," forever sullying the good name of the Van Damme movie.
When Bergen handed in her piece, her editor asked for more video. But when her hired ghouls refused to help, Bergen decided to fake the footage herself by ... filming a dog running on a treadmill? Logic aside, her director warned her that the video was basically self-incriminating evidence, and gently suggested she get someone else to shoot the next take. This time, Labriola agreed to be the cameraman, agreeing to film and mail in an "anonymous" video of a new dog fight. But instead of an actual fight, he just taped one dog attacking another unwilling, scared dog in its own backyard. The footage was terrible and useless. So instead, Bergen brought a blank tape into the newsroom, pretended it was new material, and then just edited the footage from the first fake into her show to fill space.
Of course, it didn't take long for animal rights activists and police to come sniffing around KCNC and Bergen's series. Labriola quickly offered to snitch in exchange for immunity, then handed over a secret tape on which he'd recorded a desperate Bergen planning to commit perjury. She managed to walk away from those charges, but was found guilty of dogfighting. You know what they say: Stare into the abyss long enough, and you become an asshole.
We might be paraphrasing a bit.
Before becoming a professional right-wing toady, Piers Morgan was the editor for British tabloid The Mirror. Two of his journalists, James Hipwell and Anil Bhoyrul, ran a column giving stock tips and market advice. And like any good stock bros, the pair eventually figured out a way to do some insider trading. Before publishing the tips, they would buy stock in the lucky companies, wait for their hordes of readers to do the same and drive up the value, and then sell the shares for tens of thousands in profits.
Of course, it didn't take long before the cops figured out their little scheme, and Hipwell and Bhoyrul were arrested and sent to jail in 2005. Because stock bros are rarely as smart as they think they are.
Here's the kicker, though: Morgan not only knew of their escapades, but also allegedly encouraged them, saying, "you would not learn to drive from somebody who had never been in a car." Even more damning, Morgan himself had once invested over $100,000 mere days before his paper's column advised people to buy. But because there was no proof that he knew about this (despite him being the goddamn editor who gets to read every letter his paper prints before it's even printed), he got off scot-free by claiming it was all a coincidence. It must've also been a coincidence that basically all the other Mirror journalists and their families were making bank off the stock market while the column was running.
Old-timey journalist Harry Karafin was both feared and respected throughout Philadelphia. During the '50s and '60s, his specialty was exposing various rackets run by local, uh, "organizations." Fortunately for them, there was one way to make Karafin's inquiring notepad go away: You just had to pay into the racket he himself was running. While both the police and the public thought of Karafin as kind of a Robin Hood, he was more like a newspaper-based version of the ol' thug with a bat, telling crooks what a shame it'd be if their business, say, made the front of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Like when he approached the president of Clover Installation, a home repair company infamous for its shoddy work, and informed him he was moments away from being exposed. Then he told the guy that what he needed most right then was a high-profile, expensive media consultant to make everything go away -- someone like award-winning journalist Harry Karafin. The Clover president said he'd think about it, but apparently he thought too long. After an eight-paragraph story about Clover's fraud was published, they hired Karafin just to prevent him from writing a sequel.
Eventually, Philadelphia Magazine's investigative journalists decided to look into Karafin's suspiciously well-off lifestyle. In 1967, it was finally his turn to be the subject of a ruthless expose. He was fired, and then sent to prison on blackmail and corruption charges. Or as the prosecution put it, for being a "smear artist" and "outrageous liar." He died in prison in 1973. His final story was an extremely embarrassing obituary.
E. Reid Ross has a couple books, Nature Is The Worst: 500 Reasons You'll Never Want To Go Outside Again and Canadabis: The Canadian Weed Reader, both available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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