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How do we feel about the Chron guys now?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by SF_Express, Feb 19, 2007.

  1. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

  2. Feel as queasy as I always have, although I'm glad it turned out NOT to have been the prosecutors this time.
  3. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    Two very damning points to me, as I read the Rutten column:

    1) The obvious one, that the lawyer asked for dismissal based on his "belief" that the prosecution leaked the testimony when he had done it himself -- and the reporters knew that.

    2) That they asked for more in the wake of that.
  4. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    Not the first or last time a journalist has promised anonymity to a sleazy source....that in itself doesn't make this messy or wrong.

    Trying to summarize the story, correct me where inaccurate:
    -The reporters get some info from the defense attorney, promise anonymity, and publish it.
    -The attorney then uses his own leak to accuse the prosecution of the leak, and files a motion that his client can no longer get a fair trial.
    -The reporters continue to use the attorney as their anonymous source, who continues to leak additional testimony.

    Aren't there a mess of separate issues here?

    1) They promised to protect a source, and they kept their promise.
    2) Do they have a legal, journalistic, or ethical obligation to report on, or in some way impact, the commission of a crime?
    3) Did they cheat their own story by not reporting that the defense was compromising its own clients?

    And separately, do the reporters HAVE to be 'heroes'?
  5. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    No, they don't.

    The problem I'm having, in completely distasteful hindsight, is that this case was treated by us as if they were uncovering government corruption and saving the planet. In fact, they were writing about some sports guys who used drugs they shouldn't have, aided by a defense attorney with a now-clear agenda. We couldn't know that -- but, let's be honest, they did.

    Yes, they did the right thing protecting their source. But now it seems they were also a part of the attorney trying to pull a completely unethical -- and obviously illegal -- fast one. Once that became clear, the question we'll all have to ask is whether their source now deserved that protection.

    It's indeed a mess.
  6. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    Could we give DyePack a one-day pass, or just for this thread?
    Anyway, all joking aside, I feel like I need to take a shower. They weren't heroes to begin with, and now they are co-conspirators in a criminal enterprise.
    Of course, prosecutors pull the same trick, leaking info to get a desired result, just a dirty, dirty business. Like the old saying goes, you don't want to really know how the sausage gets made.
  7. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    And to add to SF's latest point, this is the biggest problem in my eyes. Not only did the story get cheated, but they cheated themselves by continuing to shield their source -- a source who was (allegedly) using the information that he gave them to twist it around and blame the prosecution in an effort to squeeze a mistrial out of it.

    I hesitate to say that the reporters had any ethical obligation to report the situation/blow his cover, but they surely had some kind of obligation of personal pride, no? How could it be journalistically responsible to let someone get away with using you like that?

    Obviously, this is easier to judge in hindsight.

    But it's hard to believe that, as solid a reporters as these guys were/are, they didn't realize they were being used here in exchange for the information.
  8. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    On your first point, I'm not sure we all agreed this was about government corruption...there was no evidence of that, other than conjecture. To me, it was always about protecting the source...making a promise and keeping it.

    Which leads to your second point, which I find more troubling: did the source deserve protection? I would love to know what legal or journalistic precedent exists for the decision the Chron made here.
  9. Elliotte Friedman

    Elliotte Friedman Moderator Staff Member


    This is tough. I'm trying to imagine myself in the reporters' position. Three questions I have:

    1) Did they know beforehand that Ellerman was going to use their articles as an excuse to ask for a dismissal? God I hope not.

    2) Assuming not, what kinds of conversations did they have with Ellerman once he did file his motion? I'd be curious: did they ask him not to do it again? Did they warn him that this kind of manipulation might force them to reveal their source?

    3) What conversations did they have between themselves and the newspaper's various editors? It's one of the toughest things I can imagine -- revealing a source after promising confidentiality -- but the fact that they were manipulated twice by a defence attorney does make it look bad.

    Yes, source manipulation happens all the time. I understand that most leaks are done for some kind of favour, or reason. But the bigger the story, the greater the risk. It's so easy to second-guess. I'd like to think that after Ellerman filed the first motion, I'd have stopped using him as a source -- while keeping his name secret -- but I'm not sure.

    This is going to end badly.
  10. heyabbott

    heyabbott Well-Known Member

    when was it the prosecutors leaked something like this?
    Seems that defense attorney was the sleaziest one of the bunch.
  11. They knew it. They chose to get the information.
  12. novelist_wannabe

    novelist_wannabe Well-Known Member

    There's personal pride vis-a-vis being used, and then there's personal pride vis-a-vis being honorable human beings. They made a promise, and as far as we know, it wasn't a conditional promise. They promised to protect Ellerman's identity. I think we're getting on a dangerous path with this hindsight. The whole thing stinks to high heaven, and Ellerman is clearly the lowest level of toilet film who appears to be getting what he deserves. But my view of Williams and Fanairu-Wada really hasn't changed. They did what they promised to do, probably with growing regret as events unfolded, and to speak to anyone other than Ellerman about it would be to break that promise, and it's not their job to sit in judgement anyway. If you set that sort of condition on a promise of anonymity, then you chill other potential sources in the same way a lack of legal protection would chill them.
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