Riddle Me This: How Does a Yale Student Get Fired From The Wall Street Journal For Just Making Stuff Up?

June 27, 2012  |  

Source: News.yale.edu

Let me just say something right off the top. If I ever land a position with the Wall Street Journal, there is no way I am going to mess it up by simply being stupid. But that’s precisely what one Yale student has supposedly done, as WSJ has announced that one of their interns, Liane Membis, has been relieved of her duties, a.k.a. fired, amid allegations that she fabricated stories.

According to Talking Biz News, WSJ has placed the following note on it’s website in lieu of one of Ms. Membis’s articles:

“Bridging a Local Divide,” published online on June 17, has been removed from the Journal’s web sites. Many of the names contained in the article about the re-opening of the 103rd Street Pedestrian Bridge in Manhattan were fabricated by reporting intern Liane Membis, and the quotes couldn’t be independently verified. Ms. Membis is no longer working at The Wall Street Journal.

A Journal spokeswoman provided this additional statement to the site on the incident:

“Liane Membis was an intern for the Journal for less than three weeks and wrote or contributed to five published pieces ­ one of which has been removed from our online archives and two of which have been edited to remove quotes that were provided by the intern and that cannot be confirmed. Notes detailing the actions taken have been placed at the original URLs. Ms. Membis is no longer working at The Wall Street Journal.”

The expected first reaction is why the heck would you mess up an opportunity at WSJ by just making up quotes, stories, and people rather than interviewing some people, getting some quotes, and writing some stories? I know Liane is young but I would have liked for her to recognize the prestigious position she was in as a 22-year-old woman of color inside the old boys news network. The fact that she landed the internship tells you she’s smart, as does her rank as a senior at Yale University, and as does her experience writing articles for the Yale Daily News, CNN.com, the Huffington Post, and Ebony, so she says. All of this experience is now in question, much like her WSJ pieces, because if she can fabricate people, places, and things in an article, she can certainly make up experience on a resume.

To be fair, my frustration with Liane is not because I feel her actions reflect poorly on black people, black women in particular, and our professionalism. My issue is that she was in a place so few of us journalists get to go and she truly squandered it away. But despite the mini-tirade I just went on about her actions,  I’m going to say something that may sound totally contrary to everything in my last few paragraphs: I’m not surprised. The reason being journalism is no different from any other facet of our society today. Journalistic integrity doesn’t bring notoriety and $2- to $3- word-per-minute paychecks. Sensationalism, muddled facts, and skimping on the details does.

Assuming Liane is in fact guilty of fabricating these pieces in her three-week stint as a WSJ intern, I see her actions as no different from many of the women we discuss here on a regular basis. Like Montana Fishburne who saw Kim Kardashian’s rise to fame on the wings of a viral sex tape as a way for her to become famous, like the women we chastise on “Basketball Wives” and “Love and Hip-Hop” of every city, Liane wanted to make her rise to the top quick, easy, and painless. Sure, we could just call her a lazy journalist, but the question is what motivated that laziness. What made making stuff up an option for a Yale student at the Wall Street Journal (or a graduate from any school at any publication)? It’s the fact that laziness and becoming more famous for your gaffes than your greatness at whatever you do has become the American way. Unfortunately, no matter what amount or quality of education you receive, the glitz of going about life the easy way usually shines a lot brighter than the prospect of picking up the phone and calling five or six random people for a one-line quote on a bridge that you don’t care about anyway. At least that’s what appears to have happened here.

And though I don’t want to make it seem as though Liane had an obligation to the black community in her position, however minute she may have thought it was, what I hope is that like with the famous Jayson Blair case, this situation does not reignite discussion over affirmative action practices and black people landing certain positions based on their melanin rather than their merit. But given that two other non-black journalists have also screwed up recently—the New Yorker ‘s Jonah Lehrer and Hearst’s Paresh Jha—I’d say we’re in the clear. If anything, these other two incidents only prove my point further. These days, everyone  is looking for a quick climb without forgetting about the consequences of a hard fall when you don’t go about it the right way.

What do you think about this situation and Liane Membis’ alleged actions?

Brande Victorian is the news and operations editor for madamenoire.com. Follow her on twitter @Be_Vic.

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