Case Study2: The Unbelievable World of Jimmy

31 Jan

Although the “Jimmy’s World” piece was very well written and intriguing to read, it was difficult for me to believe even before I knew that Jimmy never existed.  There are so many conflicts within the story, so many aspects that don’t make sense, and it makes me wonder why Cooke’s editors didn’t have the same doubts.  In my opinion, this story is so intense and disturbing, it calls for Jimmy’s identity to be revealed so he can receive help.

The first thing I thought of when I was reading Jimmy’s quotes was that he didn’t speak like one would expect an 8-year-old to speak.  His language seemed more like that of a young teenager.  I was also curious about why none of his teachers had noticed the track marks on his arms.  Surely they would be visible, and any responsible adult outside of the home would most certainly have reported needle marks on an 8-year-old’s arms.  But most importantly, if I were editor I would immediately call Janet Cooke into my office and inquire as to how she could sit back and observe a grown man shooting up a young boy, and not try to stop it, or at least notify the proper authorities so that they could intervene.  This is the type of story that demands action be taken on Jimmy’s behalf.

Most confusing to me, however, is why Cooke didn’t realize the public would be outraged by this story enough that they would attempt to locate this boy and remove him from his dangerous environment.  I guess one could surmise that she got caught up in trying to produce a well-written, compelling piece, and it simply didn’t occur to her that she may be asked to reveal Jimmy’s identity.  Either way, this story provides a great example of why an editor must read every story with a skeptical eye, in order to avoid a situation like this from ever happening to his or her publication.

In further researching this story, I discovered that Cooke had originally claimed Jimmy did exist, but that she could not reveal his identity because she was afraid she would be in danger if she did so.  Cooke did not expect a full investigation to be launched, however, and when she was told she would be receiving a Pulitzer Prize for her story, her Washington Post editors demanded that she produce the identity of the child to prove his existence.  It was at this point that she finally admitted Jimmy wasn’t real.  She had made him up, she claimed, because of pressure from the Post to produce a quality piece. 

Additionally, many other people were affected by Cooke’s story all around the country, simply because they shared her skin color.  To me this is the saddest part of the whole situation.  Innocent reporters were suddenly questioned by their editors, just because they were black.  Sources were called to confirm quotes and stories, which undermines the reporter.  The number of lives she affected other than her own is devastating.

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