Liane Membis, Cont’d.

Our previous post was awfully embarrassing, especially because we wanted to write something substantial about the ongoing Liane Membis affair. (That was why we were Googling Membis’s name, in fact.)

So let’s try this again:

After the Wall Street Journal fired her for fabricating a bunch of quotes, Membis told the Yale Daily Newsher old haunt—that

For me, I know personally it was an honest reporting mistake that I made… This is definitely something I’ve never done before.

But, as the The Atlantic Wire pointed out, it was something she’d done before, in an article published in a student magazine at Yale and re-published by the Huffington Post. So she was lying about lying, while using the word “honest.” There has to be a German term for that.

At this point Membis has two options: she can try to salvage her reputation with a mixture of silence and spin, or she can start being honest about where (and why) she went wrong. Obviously, we favor the latter option. Membis must go scorched earth on everything—everything—she’s ever lied about, or even slightly misled about, in her published work. Much less, and nobody will believe anything she writes, in any publication, ever again. Her choice really is that simple.

Commenters the Internet over—including our own—have linked Membis to the journalist Jayson Blair, whose career you can read all about on Wikipedia. Beyond the particulars of Membis’s fabrication, the point here seems to be that both Membis and Blair are black—the unsubtle implication being that they were hired not because of their experience or potential, but because of their race. It’s true that Blair obtained his internship at the Times through a minority recruitment program, the success of which then-executive editor Howell Raines characterized as such:

The fact that Jayson was black and had been hired under a program designed in part to bring more young minority reporters into the paper had created a racial climate unlike any I had ever seen at the Times. Minority staffers feared a white backlash against affirmative-action hiring designed to increase the modest presence of blacks, Latinos, and Asians on our staff.

Can the same be said for Membis? It doesn’t seem like it. The Journal doesn’t have a program designed to recruit minorities into its newsroom (from what we can tell, at least).

The Blair comparison is lacking for another reason, too. Blair flagrantly stole the work of other reporters. Membis made stuff up, but she didn’t plagiarize anyone. A much better comparison is Stephen Glass, who lied, over and over again, in his reporting at The New Republic—but never appropriated or stole. (Glass graduated from Penn in 1994.)

The scope of Membis’s fabrication is still unclear. What is clear: her taste for writerly flair, evidenced by this strange YDN article (first pointed out by The Root) in which Membis claims to have taken several favors from a married man:

When a guy seems to find pleasure by buying you Victoria’s Secret gift cards, who can help but fall in love with a handsome sugar daddy? Now I know how Monica Lewinsky felt. So. Damn. Good.

We point this out because the YDN‘s editor-in-chief claims that the paper has “found no evidence that [Membis] fabricated quotes or information in her reporting for [the Yale Daily News].”

That’s dubious. Did he or one of his staffers actually verify that Membis took favors from her “sugar daddy”? Did the paper verify this guy’s name? (If not, which other stories did the News not bother to verify key information for?)

It seems prudent to add how bizarre this scandal is. It offers so many potential targets of reproach and sarcasm—among them, the Wall Street Journal (in general), the Yale Daily News (also in general), the fact that Membis described herself as a “visionary entrepreneur,” and on and on—that it sort of negates the need for commentary.

  • Harvard Admissions

    Slow news month, huh trotter?

    • http://ivygateblog.com/ J.K. Trotter

      i guess