Maria Almenoar and the $7,000 hole she dug

Digging For Excuses -

Deeper and deeper

I thought this $7,000 cabby episode was overblown but short-lived. Now it looks like things have taken a new twist and the ‘journalist’ who wrote the first report has dug herself a deeper hole.

To begin with, we must be more discerning and never take such news reports too seriously. A big dose of salt at hand, if you will, when reading about how much money some people boast of making. For as long as I remember, The Sunday Times has this series on the money management habits of some random, apparently successful people they interviewed. Investing and money making appear so easy for these people, yet no one questions what they claim.

Not for cabbies, though, as the response from Singaporeans suggests. There were blogs and sites that started referring to Mr Muhammed Hasnor Hashim as the Millionaire Cabby. That is, to put it mildly, a bit of a stretch and as sensationalising as the original Straits Times report. If a $7k salary makes one a millionaire, half the households in Singapore would qualify. Someone even dug out a writ of summons showing a debt he owed, which must be embarrassing for Mr Muhammed and his family.

So now this ‘journalist’ Maria Almenoar has written another article pleading her innocence in all this (full article can be found here). Much has already been said elsewhere, but I take issue with this she wrote:

There was no hint to either of us that he meant what he earned in a particular month. I had asked how much he earned, not what was the most he ever earned.

Seriously, Maria, that’s the best you can offer? It is hard to imagine how a question as straightforward as this could be misinterpreted. If your questions posed to Mr Muhammed were unclear, it is your duty to clarify and probe further. An obvious way is to speak to other cabbies who don’t earn as much and find out if what Mr Muhammed claimed made sense. That would have raised a few early alarm bells. It’s not as if this is some time-critical report that cannot wait.

If it’s not bad enough that you got it wrong the first time, it is convenient and downright irresponsible to blame it on the poor fellow who doesn’t have the avenue as you do to explain himself in a national newspaper. Mr Muhammed was, at worst, guilty of being a little boastful as many are wont to be when presenting themselves in public. Truthful reporting is not his job. And to spend half your article trying to justify that it is indeed possible to earn $7k as a cabby is to attempt to divert the issue that you had misreported. It’s always best to admit your mistake instead of trying to explain yourself away. Better to be known as a shoddy but honest reporter than a shoddy and dishonest one.

Well, it could have been worse. She could have been a financial reporter writing on the stock market. 50% return — it’s a buy! Oh, wait, that’s only for one day out of the stock’s 10-year history.