Betraying Our Readers

This post got lost somewhere in cyberspace but I recently found it--and thought it was still worthy of posting, though it's hopelessly out of date (a month--gasp!) by blogging standards.

With Jayson Blair's new book out and more bad news about Jack Kelley and his journalism sins, it seemed fitting this weekend that the Lenten readings were about the two great traitors in the Christian tradition.

First, Judas who betrayed Jesus with a kiss

Then Peter, who betrayed Jesus three times, denying that he even knew him.ˇˇ
Those biblical figures make me wonder if there's any hope of redemption for Blair, and Kelley, and others fallen journalists like them.

It seems to me that they need to decide if they want to be Judas or Peter. If they fess up, like Peter, there's some hope for them. After all, Peter recovered and becomes the leader of the early church and, according to Catholic tradition, the first pope.

If not, if they can't come clean and make amends, then they end up as Judas did--always seen as betrayers--and with no future.

But if they do, can they be rehabilitated, given another chance?

Or should they, like Mike Barnicle, hang around long enough for people to forget-- and then they too can get a column with the Boston Herald?

A couple of other thoughts.

Editor and Publisher makes the point that the editors at USA Today should have known better. They point out that in the case of unnamed sources Gannett's guidlines say that an editor "will at times flat-out need to talk to the source, to look him or her in the eye, to get the feel for the conviction of the source and the depth of knowledge behind the information."

Perhaps so. But they failed because they trusted David Kelley. And they gave him enough rope to hang himself, as the saying goes.

Asking hard questions of the people we trust is difficult. But in journalism (or in church finances, as this piece points out), repairing the damage is even harder.


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