Covering the circus

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk

Tom King is “bored beyond belief” and says it’s four weeks before he can even start physical therapy. He will be back with Our Town Heroes as soon as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

Meanwhile, he sent me a link to an article from 2017 by Michael Goodwin, then the chief political columnist for The New York Post. Goodwin is upset about the demise of journalistic standards.

Other than treating the plural “media” as singular, he writes a good sentence: “The 2016 election was the media’s Humpty Dumpty moment. It fell off the wall, shattered into a million pieces, and can’t be put back together again. In case there is any doubt, 2017 is confirming that the standards are still dead. The orgy of visceral Trump-bashing continues unabated.”

Goodwin says what most of us know – while the country is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, reporters are 80-plus percent Democratic. He argues that 2016 was the year that those reporters cut loose with opinion in news stories. My old friend Helen R. Gault would disagree. Helen was convinced that Dan Rather was some sort of communist. I do believe she would have shot him on sight – and this was 50 years ago!

Anyhow, Goodwin tells this really funny story about the legendary editor Abe Rosenthal. Seems a young woman was hired by The New York Times from one of the Philadelphia newspapers. “But soon after she arrived in New York, a story broke in Philly that she had had a romantic affair with a political figure she had covered, and that she had accepted a fur coat and other expensive gifts from him.

“When he saw the story, Abe called the woman into his office and asked her if it were true. When she said yes, he told her to clean out her desk – that she was finished at the Times and would never work there again.

“As word spread through the newsroom, some reporters took the woman’s side and rushed in to tell Abe that firing her was too harsh. He listened for about 30 seconds, raised his hand for silence, and said (this is slightly bowdlerized): ‘I don’t care if you have a romantic affair with an elephant on your personal time, but then you can’t cover the circus for the paper.’

“Case closed. The conflict of interest policy was clear, absolute and unforgettable.”

Rosenthal doesn’t work at The New York Times any more.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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