Newspaper Wars

“You supply the prose-poems, I’ll supply the war.”

Source: Film School Rejects

That’s what Charles Foster Kane says to one of his reporters in Orson Wells’ masterpiece, “Citizen Kane.” The quote is similar to one attributed to William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper publisher on whose life the movie was modeled. It speaks to the power and responsibility of a free press, and it’s what I thought of when I heard about Rolling Stone’s account of a horrific rape at a University of Virginia fraternity. The report prompted the University to suspend all fraternity social events on campus.

But when the police investigated the accusations, they found no evidence that a crime had been committed. The story appears to have been made up, and Rolling Stone is “picking up the pieces.” Rolling Stone is a powerful magazine, strongly associated with Hunter Thompson, the “gonzo” journalist who would so involve himself in his own narrative that he would become the central figure.

But one of Thompson’s virtues was when he told his tales—about drugs, about biker gangs, about politics—he satirized himself even as he criticized the world around him. He may have exaggerated and even faked some of what he wrote, but it was about his own personal experiences. And he wrote extremely well.

What Rolling Stone seems to have lost is its responsibility to the truth. It’s one thing to criticize a culture. It’s another to report a fabricated event without ever doing basic fact-checking.

Rolling Stone has a wide circulation and a loyal, politically engaged readership. But there are limits to what wars the magazine can supply.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
Phone: 603-224-1350
Leave a comment if you have any questions—I read them all!

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