Move Over, Janet Malcolm

Ex-Journos Paint Reporters as Artful Liars

Of course, reporters have no lock on bad behavior. Guyant acknowledges that PR techniques can also be used for telling lies, such as "making it sound like they're going to make power plants cleaner, when they're going to get dirtier." Nevertheless, he says, being given a chance to get your point across effectively is an "inalienable right" when reporters wield the combined power of prosecutor, judge, and jury. "If you believe a person has a right to counsel and to defend himself in the court of law," he says, "then you should believe a person has the same rights in the court of public opinion."

Guyant does not want to sound sanctimonious. "There are some tricks I used to employ when I was an investigative reporter that I'm not proud of now," he explains. For example, when he was working for the Milwaukee Journal in 1970, he was assigned to cover a public high school where white and black gangs were fighting in the halls. He needed information, he says, so he lied to the principal. "I told him, 'I'm just about to file a story about a multiple rape and stabbing and I want to get your view.' There was no such story, but I lied and got an accurate story that no one else in the city got."

When Guyant quit journalism to work for the state of Wisconsin in 1976, he was still idealistic about the profession. But he remembers that at the time, a colleague who had made the same move told him, "You'll be surprised how you see the media when you're looking back at it." Looking back, Guyant says, "He was so right."

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