Readers of the Sacramento Bee, might wonder if fake news had something to do with the chain’s slide into bankruptcy.
“McClatchy Co. filed for bankruptcy Thursday,” wrote Kevin G. Hall in the Sacramento Bee, “a move that will end family control of America’s second largest local news company and hand it to creditors who have expressed support for independent journalism.”
According to the Bee’s Dale Kasler, McClatchy “controlled dailies from coast to coast and a nationally respected news bureau bearing the family’s name in Washington, D.C..” However, “the 21st century has been hard on the McClatchys. An ill-timed $4.4 billion acquisition of the Knight Ridder chain in 2006 left The McClatchy Co. deeply in debt just as the newspaper industry’s fortunes started crumbling in the digital era.”
The digital era has been hard on many publications but readers of the 30 McClatchy newspapers, particularly the flagship Sacramento Bee, might wonder if fake news had something to do with the chain’s slide into bankruptcy. “Fake news” is a favorite phrase of President Trump, but the concept is not new.”
During the 1930s, Walter Duranty of the New York Times wrote that that all was well in the Ukraine, when Stalin’s forced famine was murdering millions. Decades later, the Times’ Jayson Blair wrote many fake stories, same for Janet Cooke at the Washington Post and Stephen Glass at The New Republic. For a profile of fake news in the Golden State, Californians might recall Diana Griego Erwin.
Erwin became a columnist at the Orange County Register and at the Denver Post and worked on a project that won a Pulitzer Prize. Erwin also won the George Polk award and the 1990 commentary prize from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The Sacramento Bee hired Erwin in 1994 and made her one of the paper’s highest-paid writers. Erwin claimed to write for people who had no voice, and one of her columns, about Walter Cronkite, was headlined “Truth and Trust Go Hand in Hand.” Readers had reason to wonder.
During the 16 months following Jan. 1, 2004, Erwin wrote 171 columns and in 27 Erwin named 30 people that a team of Bee reporters and editors could not find anywhere. The same held true in 13 cases in her older columns. By contrast, the investigators easily traced all the sources in work by other Bee columnists.
In November 2000, the Bee fired veteran reporter Dennis Love, who made up quotes from non-existent sources. Love admitted, “I did the wrong thing and the Bee did the right thing.” By contrast, the Bee did not openly fire Diana Griego Erwin, who resigned without any admission of wrongdoing.
“For crooked journalists to thrive, they need an enabler,” noted Lodi journalist and English teacher Joe Guzzardi, and with the Bee “that enabler is Rick Rodriguez, Executive Editor and Senior Vice President.” Aside from Griego Irwin, Rodriguez looked the other way at “hundreds of biased, unprofessional pieces by Bee reporters and columnist about ‘immigrants,’ a.k.a illegal aliens.” About illegals, “nary a negative word is permitted.”
Rick Rodriguez resigned in 2007, as the Los Angeles Times reported, “in a dispute over the long-term direction of the newspaper.” Rodriguez is now Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, “where he is developing programs for in-depth reporting on Latino and borderland issues.”
Diana Erwin is now Director of Communications and Marketing, for Miyamoto International company. The former Sacramento Bee columnist lists “key skills” including media relations and “storytelling.”
Erwin’s Sacramento Bee columns with characters like the illegal “Israel Bueno” are hard to find online. In 2004, Erwin authored “Bossy Women,” which the Toyon Literary Magazine listed under “Fiction,” but the story is no longer available.