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DUI smear job

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by Roving_Gambler, Nov 15, 2009.

  1. This is dated by a week or two, but it came to me through a friend of a friend. I don't know any of the central characters, but this sure seems like bad journalism to me.

    I'll avoid using the "This-is-why-newspapers-are-dying" mantra, but petty and unprofessional actions like the one in this piece certainly alienates a literate, fair-minded public.

    Reporter Victor Patton wrote this smear job on former Sun-Star City Editor Michael Fitzgerald -- and it's one of the most irresponsible things I've seen. As someone who spent 25 years in the daily newspaper business, I found it gratuitous, and it smacks of being a deliberate, vindictive act.


    What possible news value is there in adding the Fitzgerald item?

    -- Are we to believe that two arrests within four years of Sun-Star staff is a pattern or trend?
    -- What is the context of DUI arrests in that area, county, state? Is it a lot, a few, about average?
    -- What was the resolution of the nearly 4-year-old case with Fitzgerald?

    Shoddy reporting, and unethical behavior. If you were a doctor, Mr. Patton, you'd be sued for malpractice.
  2. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    That story had big problems starting with the headline. You NEVER write that someone was arrested FOR something. It convicts someone without there ever being a trial.
  3. Killick

    Killick Well-Known Member

    Eh. I think the paper was just going for uber-openess about its own transgressions. The paper I was at had a similar story. The editor got pulled over, arrested for suspected DUI - though he denied being drunk.

    Still - thinking about all the stories we had ever done about public figures getting arrested, he used his only phone call to have a photog come down to the jail and take a pic of him behind bars, then ordered the story and photo to run front page above the fold.
  4. Rosie

    Rosie Active Member

    It's not a smear job because it reports the former editor was arrested.

    The reporter writing the story should have done a little leg work (would take a phone call to the court house) and said whether or not the former editor was convicted of the charges. If I were covering the story, I would have made darned sure to put that in there. Especially if the paper publicized the earlier arrest, because there will be people who remember.

    I'm curious F_T, what headline would you put on the story?
  5. Killick

    That was an admirable response by your editor, particularly in his inebriated state. Of course, we don't know what's in a person's heart or what their motives were. In this case, for instance, he might have been trying to do the right thing or thought that taking that "open" approach would help save his job.

    Back to my original post:
    -- Report Fitzgerald's arrest when it happened four years ago? Yes, absolutely.
    -- Report on the resolution of the case? Yes, absolutely.
    -- Throw it into a DUI story four years later with no context and an unethical headline? No, definitely.

    The rules are the same for everyone -- fair reporting that is complete and in context.

    When a DUI is reported that involves a person not employed by a newspaper, it doesn't list every previous case. Particularly one that was four years old. That would be absurd. Now, if one business in town had a significant amount of its employees being arrested for DUI, there would be a larger story to report.
  6. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    Do they do comparable stories for every driver who blows a .10?

    The arrest of a staff member should receive exactly the treatment as the arrest of Joe Schmoe, average citizen.

    No less, and no more.

    An exception might be justified for a high-profile columnist, but not an ordinary staff writer.
  7. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    "Merced Sun-Star reporter arrested for DUI"

    He wasn't convicted. He was arrested for suspicion of DUI. Interesting to see if he tries to sue for that headline, even if he does get convicted.
  8. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    If you're writing up DUIs of school board members, police officers, city councilors, - I don't have a problem with writing this up.
    But then you have to ask - how far do you go? Chamber of Commerce officers? Leading businessmen or women?

    I'm never a fan of the "this isn't the first time something like this has happened" type of boilerplate. I would have included something like - it is the policy of this paper that employees arrested or cited by police receive the same news judgement as that of public officials. Otherwise you start mixing apples and oranges and perhaps inferring something that isn't true.
  9. imjustagirl

    imjustagirl Active Member

  10. franticscribe

    franticscribe Well-Known Member

    I'm not F_T, but he's right about the headline being bad. There are few circumstances where the "arrested for" sentence construction is safe to use.

    I would've used a headline like "Merced Sun-Star reporter faces DUI charge" or "MSS reporter charged with DUI" -- if that's the case, it's not clear from the story that he's been charged yet -- or worst case "MSS reporter arrested on suspicion of DUI" (worst case because it repeats the lede).
  11. OnTheRiver

    OnTheRiver Active Member

    Love this from the article:

    Not saying it was wrong for the cop to pull the guy over, but shit, couldn't you just lie and say he crossed the center line or something less ... fucking picky?
  12. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    At 1:47 a.m. a cop will stop a car for failing to signal a lane change when there isn't any other traffic around. If you're concerned about getting stopped for a DUI, you shouldn't be driving. If the only thing that stops you from drinking is closing time, it figures that between 1 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. is prime time for DUIs.
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