• AP Photo/Matt Marton
  • George McCaskey

People say things every day that make us cringe, but nothing lately has hit me in the pit of my stomach like George McCaskey’s explanation of why the Bears took a flyer on Ray McDonald. San Francisco had cut the defensive end because his “pattern of poor decision-making” could “no longer be tolerated.” McCaskey had his own doubts; but the Bears need a few decent football players, and when McDonald’s own mother and his college coach, not to mention McDonald himself, pleaded his case, McCaskey’s heart melted.

While he was with the 49ers, McDonald had been accused of felony domestic abuse and sexual assault. And now, as a Bear, he’s landed in even more trouble—an accusation of misdemeanor domestic violence and child endangerment—and the Bears have cut him loose. It was up to McCaskey to explain why the Bears signed him in the first place and didn’t bother to interview any of his accusers.

“An alleged victim, I think—much like anybody else who has a bias in this situation—there’s a certain amount of discounting in what they have to say.”

Well, that is true. The testimony of a woman accusing a man of sexual assault is likely to be inflected by emotion. Just like the testimony of the man’s mother. And of the man himself. The best that can be said for the Bears’ decision not to let McDonald’s accusers have their say is that it spared them the moment when they’re pouring their hearts out and suddenly realize no one in the room has any interest in what they’re saying or is even listening.

I cringe because I recognize one of the cardinal sins of journalism. The sin you hear about is plagiarism. And now and then a sharpie comes along who for a time gets away with making things up. But these sins are only occasionally committed. Most reporters aren’t even tempted.

But the temptation to cheap out an inconvenient point of view forever whispers at our bedroom door. Why not give in to it? The first draft of history won’t be the last; journalism has assiduously worked out the reasons why rigid evenhandedness is the death of deeper truths; and now that all the news shows up first online, what’s left unsaid will simply be said later.

So what’s the problem? The problem becomes clear when someone like McCaskey doesn’t hear what he doesn’t want to hear and humiliates himself. But for the grace of God and allegiance to ancient codes of conduct, that could have been us. Sometimes it is.