Monday, May 30, 2005

Valley of the Reborn Dolls

Betsie-Westy don't have shit on Baby Wesley

So, I was surfing the Net and came across a blog post about something called reborn dolls. At first I thought, "Oh god, now they have Cabbage Patch Kids for born-again Christians."

But the truth is actually much, much scarier.

These are not the people who are doll nuts, the kind who buy $1100 dolls on QVC and have birthday parties for them.

These are people who buy regular dolls at Toys R Us or Wal-Mart and then customize them with paint, human hair, glass eyes (the kind someone who has an eye poked out would use), all this shit...and then sell these 'babies' on eBay for like 300 bucks. They'll even use make-up to create the appearance of colic or diaper rash.

They're creepily obsessed with these dolls and talk about them like they're real kids. There are entire Web communities devoted to reborn or Berenguer dolls, as they're sometimes referred to. The most fucked-up part is that some of these people give these dolls to families who have lost their real child to illness or accident--embellishing the doll with unique traits or marks.

Here's a description of one of the dolls from a seller on eBay:

Baby Wesley came to our house as a Berenguer play doll. He was taken gently apart and given a very warm bubble bath. Then set in the sun to dry so he then could have his special color wash. We then pink blushed him in all the right places & gave him barely there freckles so he could look like a real baby boy. I painted his nails and white tipped them, opened his nose so he now can breathe. I placed a strong earth magnet inside his head so he now can use his paci.

Baby Wesley has light-brown wispy eyelashes and a very soft curly Kemper wig. He had his first hair cut. Baby Wesley was reborn on May 13th, 2005. I will also include a Reborn Birth Certificate for you to personalize. He weighs 4 lbs 1oz and is 19 inches in length. Baby Wesley will come in his diaper, a onesie, a mint green sleeper with two bibs, 2 soft blankies, his paci, and 2 warming hats. He will bring along his bottle with pretend formula and his favorite stuffed animal.

Wesley is no longer a child's play toy. Please understand I do not offer refunds, so if you need more pictures, please ask. If you have more questions please ask and I will answer as quickly as possible. Baby Wesley is waiting to be adopted by his new mommy & daddy. So please adopt this very cute lil' red-headed, freckled baby boy. Before babies walk, they step right into your heart. God Bless

Has our society's obsession with having children come to this? I think I have new-found respect for people who treat their pets like they're their children.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go take three consecutive showers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Blogs of my NYU Classmates

I recently sent out an e-mail to my classmates in the NYU journalism program, asking them to send me links to their blogs with descriptions. While I'm not one of those Chicken Littles who think blogging is going to replace traditional news reporting, I think it can add an interesting dimension to journalism. Plus, its nice to know somebody might be reading my verbal musings. Here's the list so far:

Big Words
Dan Avery
Scathing wit on current events, arts and entertainment and what I laughingly call my life

When Tara Met Blog
Tara Settembre
Girl-blog where I talk about the city, Broadway, cupcakes, my loud upstairs neighbor and how I keep losing my cell phone

Like It Because I Do
Sarah Wulfeck
General interest, random venting and the occasional radical social commentary

Studious in the City
Anuja Madar
My take on NYC

La Gazette New-Yorkaise
Camille Legall
Life in Le Grande Pomme (en Francais)

After the Flood
Hally Chu
Class notes, glimpses from real life and links to news that I find interesting

Ming-I Lisa Liu
Ming-I Lisa Liu
General interest with particular emphasis on the craft of journalism

Kisses from the Confederacy
Pete Hamby
Mostly media analysis, some reporting on issues that are flying under the radar and some lame humor

Free World Now
Maria Sliwa
A blog on the recent events in Sudan

Beer and Loathing in NYC
Margaret Bristol
It's pretty much about whatever I was thinking or feel like ranting about

Theory B
Business & Economics Reporting Group at NYU
Alternate views on business and economics

Rolling Bones
Rick Harrison
"All of the true things I'm about to tell you are shameless lies."

Liners, Sliders and Scoops
Joseph Checkler
A blog about all things baseball

His Gal Friday
Nicole Pesce
Misadventures in reporting, rugby and life in New York City

Anju's Blog
Anju Mary Paul
A set of ramblings about everyday life, my travel writings, poems and favourite haunts in New York

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Scorn is back!

Spokane mayor Jim West

After making an abrubt depature in the feel-good '70s, scorn has made a comeback in a big way in the new Millenium.

Some say it started with the eleciton of George W. Bush in 2000, but with the rise of reality TV in the past few years, the fine craft of derision reached a new plateau.

Finger-wagging made a splash in the great Northwest last month, when Spokane, Washington Mayor James West was accused of child molestation. And tsk-tsk-ing rose to a cacophonous crescendo when it was reported West attempted to bribe men he met online with government jobs.

"This man -- whether he's straight, bisexual, or gay -- deserves nothing but scorn," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C. "He needs to resign immediately."

Thanks, James. We forget how much fun it was to judge people!

And you can quote me on that

journalist under fire: Michelle Delio

Sharpen your stakes, folks--AP is reporting another print journalism scandal. My old press ethics teacher Adam Penenberg (who took down New Republic fraud Stephen Glass) has discovered that Wired News contributor Michelle Delio may have invented dozens of sources over the last two years.

Penenberg and his NYU grad school class (which would’ve included moi if the story had broke in the fall) reviewed more than 150 articles penned by Delio and were unable to track down approximately 24 sources. Most of the quotes involved did not materially affect the content of the story, but in at least four cases, the unverified quotes shaped the piece to a large extent. For example, in a piece about 9/11 rescue efforts, Penenberg was unable to locate several sources and a survival anecdote was proven to be apocryphal. In "Spyware on My Machine? So What?"—-a story about how the general public isn’t very concerned about spyware--none of the sources were located.

Reaction to the situation has been varied. The MIT publication Technology Review has taken down two of Delio's stories, while InfoWorld removed quotes from a few of her stories when it could not confirm sources.

For its part, Wired News released a statement saying that it wasn't retracting any of Delio's stories. In fact, it appears they're putting the onus on readers to call her bluff: "We are appending notes to the stories, indicating what we have been unable to confirm about them and editing them, as noted, where appropriate. By keeping these stories posted and clearly marked, we hope that our readers can help identify any sources whom we cannot track down."

Ah the wonders of the Internet—where journalists make you, the reader, do all the work! (This was the same solution given to me by Jeff Jarvis when I complained that bloggers weren't accountable to editors or fact-checkers: "If people find fault in a blog, they can post a message about it.")

Delio's response to Penenberg's findings is quite illuminating. (Notice she doesn’t outright deny the accusation of inventing quotes).
"I don't understand why my credibility and career is now hanging solely on finding minor sources that contributed color quotes to stories I filed months and years ago," she wrote. Delio said that among hundreds of articles she wrote for the organization, there "isn't one story that contains fabricated news."

What I find most intriguing is how the journalism establishment continues to pretend this kind of behavior is some sort of minor aberration conducted by a few lost souls. Whenever a Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass arises, my fellow journalists are quick to assign them drug problems or mental issues. "They couldn't just be self-serving liars, they must be troubled."

An example: One of my professors recently recommended True Story, a novel by Michael Finkel, who was fired from the New York Times for "passing off as true an article that was, instead, a deceptive blend of fact and fiction." (as per the book jacket). Said prof. pretty much forgave Finkel's deception as an understandable reaction to a high-pressure job environment. The poor kid!

The problem with dismissing these misdeeds or pathologizing disgraced journalists is that it conceals a very important fact: Every journalist, from the star reporter at the Times to a hack at US Weekly is tempted to make up quotes or fudge details. In fact, it's often writers at big, reputable publications that justify all kinds of behavior in pursuit of the all-important Story. (Jack Kelly, Judith Miller, et al).

But its not just the big guns. During the recent presidential campaign, I was greatly disturbed to see how many journalists had crowned themselves Bringers of the Higher Truth and were willing to ignore objectivity as an outmoded ideal if not an annoying hurdle to telling the story. I rankled when Pete Hamill told my incoming grad school class that our goal was "to change the world." Journalists, it seems, are catching up with our friends in the medical profession when it comes to developing God complexes. I think we'd be better off if journalism was viewed as a trade, like air conditioning repair or stenography, or rather than a divine calling.

Ironically, we spent very little time discussing plagiarism and other journalistic sins in Penenberg's press ethics class last fall. Instead, the focus for 14 weeks was on the misdeeds of the Bush White House and its attempt to stymie reporters. We spent 18 minutes discussing libel. I timed it.

Once, when I mentioned that I often found quotes in magazine stories to be too perfectly suited for the stories, my concerns were dismissed because my examples were from "pedestrian" publications like Details and New York magazine. Funny, I don’t remember seeing an iron curtain dividing Wired News from Marie Claire. The journalism elite need to look around and realize we're all in the same game.

Journalism schools should educate students that acts like Delio's are not aberrations, but temptations journalists face every day. And we need to stop marginalizing their importance, or else we’re encouraging a new generation of writers to commit the same misdeeds.

update: In case you need more evidence of how widespread the problem is, here's a story on a Pulitzer winner getting caught inventing quotes and subjects.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

If you look closely, you can actually see the quotation marks.