Jane Nethercote writes:

Highly-respected ABC broadcaster
and newspaper columnist Terry Lane calls it an “ignominious end” to a
long career in journalism. Writing in last weekend’s Sunday Age, he unwittingly relied on a hoax to back up his story about atrocities in Iraq.

Lane fell prey to the Jesse Macbeth hoax, which is all over the internet and has been widely debunked, as a quick Google of Macbeth’s name shows. But there are few leftie scalps that right-wing Australian commentators like Tim Blair – who’s lapping it up this morning – would be happier to claim.

In Sunday’s column, Lane questioned
why Australia was spending millions to investigate the “apparently
accidental death” of Private Jake Kovco when “probably more than
100,000 innocents” have died since the invasion of Iraq – “many of them
at the hands of the invaders and other victims of the unstable
situation created by the US and its stooges”.

As Lane told
Crikey this morning, he could have relied on facts and figures from
Amnesty International or the BBC to make his case. But instead, he
cited video evidence in which a so-called US Ranger called Jesse
Macbeth claimed that his job was “to strike fear into the hearts of the
Iraqis”. Emotional stuff, but also a complete fabrication as Macbeth
never served in Iraq.

Sunday Age editor Peter Fray told
Crikey today he is “currently reviewing our fact-checking measures in
the light of this column”. But “regrettable as this error is, I am
currently of the view that our practices at the Sunday Age are
not deeply flawed,” says Fray, who adds that “we will obviously be
apologising to our readers and setting the record straight”.

Here is what Terry Lane wrote to Crikey this morning:

There are three unforgivable sins in journalism:
plagiarism, fabrication and failing to check the facts. I am guilty of
the last.

It came about like this. My attention was drawn to
what looked like a professionally packaged documentary video in which
“US Ranger” (I now know that that is bogus) Jesse Macbeth recounts his
experiences as a soldier in Iraq, where he claimed to have served for
16 months.

I was completely taken in by his fake sincerity.
That, I suppose, could be excusable for any person with no
responsibility to check bona fides, but in my case I fell for it
because I wanted to believe it. That is inexcusable. As soon as I was
made aware of what I had done I offered my resignation to Peter Fray,
the editor of The Sunday Age. I have embarrassed the newspaper for which I have written since the first issue which makes me ashamed.

are no excuses. No extenuating circumstances. Opinion writers are not
expected to be objective and disinterested but that doesn’t give
licence to be indifferent to facts. I should have checked.