Monday, May 16, 2005

Increased Albom Ire ...

I don't know, outside of journalism circles, how many people care about the fact that Mitch Albom wrote a column in April in which he pretended to be at a basketball game -- a day before it even happened -- that he didn't attend.

I wrote a letter to the ombudsman of the Detroit Free Press and to Romenesko, the go-to source for all things journalism, where we news types can sound off in a Letters forum. I was not kind. Here's what I wrote then:

I understand ethics policies. I used to work at the Chicago Tribune. I had to sign one every year. So when I read Ms. Hutton's April 23 online letter to readers about the Free Press's decision to allow Mr. Albom to return to writing his column, I couldn't help but click on the hotlink to read the paper's ethics policy.

I laughed out loud, a snort of disgust.

Quoting, then:
"1. We tell the truth
We don't mislead readers. We do not publish made-up material ... We
don't imply we have witnessed events we haven't seen or been in places
we haven't been."

How is it that Mr. Albom could so blatantly ignore the very first item in the ethics policy and be rewarded with retaining his high-profile, high-paying job? Is the Free Press's ethics policy worth the virtual paper it's written on?

And then today, the Free Press published another story about Mitch and the findings of its internal investigation into his work. Turns out, he doesn't think it's a big deal to attribute quotes to the correct sources, but that, while wrong, didn't rile me. Something else did.

So I wrote another letter to the ombudsman and Romenesko:

Forgive my language, but I am a whole new level of pissed off.

I just finished reading the Free Press's piece, "Albom probe shows no pattern of deception."

And I just learned -- for the first time -- a very, very key detail of the Albom saga that somehow eluded me until moments ago: Mitch's now-uber-famous April 3 column (which, interestingly, is nowhere to be found in the Free Press's archives) began with a St. Louis dateline.

Excuse me?!

Journalists far and wide have debated the seriousness of Albom's offense. (I wrote an earlier letter to both the Free Press and Romenesko in which I questioned if the paper's ethics policy is worth the virtual paper it's written on, as Albom clearly ignored the policy's first item about telling the truth and not misleading readers. I, clearly, am not on Albom's side.)

But to imagine that Albom sat in his office, in front of his computer -- in Detroit -- and began his column with "ST. LOUIS - "?

That is simply indefensible.

And what's worse: The Free Press refuses to disclose what punishment has been meted out to its media darling, which leaves us wondering if, beyond his one-month "suspension," he's been subject to any discipline at all.


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