Gas Pains

Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.

Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.

Thoughts on the McBride Story

Random Musings and Idle Chit Chat, Guest Post

I subscribe to Milwaukee Magazine and the story about Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, like most of Milwaukee Magazine's stories, had faded from my memory.  

That was until the news broke and the attendent ruckus began about the indiscretions between the Chief and reporter/conservative pundit Jessica McBride.

My first thought was - Sheesh, another sex scandal.  I can't wait for the lame Clintonian evasions.

My second thought was - Hey!  That's the same Jessica McBride our Mayor hired for political advice.

I hope McBride's sage counsel was worth the price.

Anyway, one of my readers (who wishes to remain anonymous) furnished me with some thoughtful observations on this entire (pardon the pun) affair.

Feel free to talk about it amongst yourselves.


This embarrassing situation, magnified by Jessica McBride’s accusers and her apologists, says a lot about the crossroads at which the practice of journalism finds itself today.

On one hand, there are signs of decay everywhere: newspapers cutting back on their print editions creating real questions about future funding of news organizations, TV news diving to the lowest common entertainment denominator, and alarming evidence about how ill-informed our school kids are today.

But, on the other hand, the burgeoning unrest in Iran is being fueled by social networking sites that allow breaking photos and information to be disseminated instantly.  The blogosphere has become a giant news and opinion source in a few short years. Wikipedia and its clones are being begrudgingly accepted as authoritative information sites nearly everywhere.

Onto this stage steps McBride, defiantly defending her reputation with claims that the affair didn’t begin until after the story was published.

First, let’s look at that claim.  An affair, by definition, is a lie.  There are layers of lies – explicit and implicit – told as required to family, friends, and even the public, as the affair progresses.

I think that renders everything related to the telling of the story of the affair suspect.  If you could fake an email date to prove a point, would you?  Certainly, and probably with the same air of candor you used when your husband asked you why you were so late getting home from work the night before.

The proximity of the affair to the story is damning in itself, regardless of the reconstructed timeline.  The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists warns:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
  • Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
  • Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.

So, in light of those instructions, why, from a journalistic ethics viewpoint, should anyone care about the details of the affair, especially as related by one of the participants?

The question that must be occupying McBride’s thoughts right now is “What about my UW-M career; what about my tenure?”

Let’s go back to the opening paragraphs where I assessed the state of journalism today, and view it as a way to separate the amateurs from the professionals.  (I’m assuming you agree that we want our journalism professors to be professionals.)

From the blogs, from the infotainment radio/TV talkers, even from the Wiki sites, we haven’t yet come to expect true rigor and integrity, and we can't because, as journalists, they're mainly untrained amateurs. They are given a pass in areas where a journalist, say, Dan Rather, is held fully accountable.  And that’s the difference.  Our journalism schools should endorse only the truest of the professionals in their staffs of working writers.

Actually, for someone who’s a journalism school professor, I’m surprised that McBride hasn’t already come to the same conclusion.  If she were a professional in the old sense of the word, she would step down.  This is not about the sex; it’s about the story.  She had total control of whether or not she would engage in an affair with a man about whom she had just written (or, was writing) a glowing profile.

Don’t you find it amusing that one of her staunchest defenders used the excuse that, well, it wasn’t that glowing . . .

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