Situational Ethics 101?

Categories: General Archive

We do so hate to stick up for Sid Hartman

Regular civilians probably don't realize the climate of fear hanging over American daily newspaper newsrooms lately. Once upon a time, in the pre-Jayson Blair era, reporters were expected to work damn hard to avoid making mistakes, and when they made them anyhow--inevitable, when you're writing the first rough draft of history--were to acknowledge and correct them as quickly and graciously as possible. Not anymore, it would seem. Journalists these days--and we're talking print journalists here--have very little leeway.

The latest trend: Lots of hand-wringing over trying to ensure that bankable, name-brand newsroom stars are held to the same standard as the rest of the reporting staff. To that end, today Strib reader representative Kate Parry (yes, we remember Lou Gelfand, but the visible ombudsman is another hallmark of the post-Blair era) calls out Sid Hartman for helping to raise $400,000 to fund a scholarship in his name at the University of Minnesota while covering U sports.

(Of course local TV journalists do this stuff all the time in the name of community-mindedness, but they don't start out with much credibility and they seem to have decided not to participate in the post-Blair handwringing. Suppose cleaning up their acts would put them out of business? Nah, but giving up the, er, borrowing would erode those 30+ percent profit margins.)

Anyhow, strictly speaking, Parry's right: Conventional journalistic ethics proscribe writing about a person or institution to whom one has strong ties. Usually the idea is to keep the journalist and his or her loved ones from profiting from or unduly influencing news coverage, but we can see Parry's point. And we don't buy Hartman's reasoning that he's 85 and the clock's ticking: That's what wills and memorial funds are for, Sid. (Arrogantly or stupidly, who knows which, Hartman didn't walk the idea past his editors.)

No, we part ways with Parry on a much more elemental level. Why is anyone pretending that Sid Hartman practices objective journalism? Why are Strib poo-bahs pretending that his place on the payroll is anything other than resident booster? In all his years of crusading for stadiums and doomsaying over Title IX, no one has objected to Hartman's arguable lack of neutrality. Why get all a-titter now, when he's trying to raise money for students? Not even, unless there's more we don't know, wrestling team prospect. Could it be that the media establishment thinks it can regain some public trust by nibbling away at the fringes of its credibility gap, without taking a hard look at the substance? (Wherein, of course, the Strib would have to give up the fiction that Katherine Kersten offsets Doug Grow.) Back-ass-wards, we'd venture.

But don't take our word for it, check Parry's reasoning here and decide for yourself.

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