Dear letters editor:
I feel compelled to point out that Michael Miner seems to be operating under some serious misapprehensions about what constitutes “journalistic integrity,” namely a code of ethics that functions in his head rather than in the real world. To wit, in his 4/4 piece “Consider the Source,” Miner suggests that I breached some fundamental tenets of ethics in my March Chicago Ink piece on Clemente High School.
Oh, please. First of all, Charlie Kyle deserved to be outed to the taxpayers who pay his salary. He said what he said, namely that the Clemente LSC was worthless–his exact word–and that he saw little way the school board could avoid reconstituting the high school. Then Kyle had a hissy fit when he learned that his actual opinions (rather than his carefully cultivated “public” opinions) were published in a muckracking piece I wrote for Chicago Ink on the Sun-Times smear of the Clemente LSC. I’m not surprised that Kyle, an unsuccessful candidate for the Clemente principal’s position, wants to “leave it at that.” Bring on the lie detector test. I stand by the accuracy of my quote.
Second, Miner also chastised me for my lack of honesty in not noting that one of the sources for my article happens to be my lover. Gee, Mike, the last time I looked, I had not turned into a Stepford wife. I see absolutely no reason not to quote Dick Reilly, who has a history that goes back years in issues related to the Puerto Rican community. Last I checked, he had not committed himself to slavish obedience to my will, nor had I committed to serve as his chattel slave till death do us part. Significantly, Reilly is neither an automaton nor a public relations flack–and in addition, he is but one of many sources I quoted in the course of the article. Unlike several Clemente staff people who made virtually identical observations, Reilly was willing to be quoted by name, because he does not currently live in fear of losing his job for supporting a diversity of opinion at the high school, one of the happy outcomes of the Sun-Times’s toxic coverage. Sue me.
But what is really disturbing about Miner’s piece is the tacit suggestion that some sort of honorable standard of ethics prevails in journalism. Certainly the Sun-Times series on Clemente was neither honest nor honorable–it was what we pegged it in Ink, a smear campaign, fraught with anonymous “sources,” innuendo, and unsubstantiated allegations. You’d never know that from Miner’s rant. Pardon me for giving the other side a chance in Ink to refute some of the Sun-Times’s more egregious inventions, to rally in with their take on the Clemente situation, and for having the audacity to back up those observations with some cogent facts as well. Unfortunately, Miner missed these juicier asides in his rather myopic focus on one individual’s efforts to extract his short hairs from the wringer.
Finally, there is a difference between investigative reporting and public relations work. I personally tend toward the “whistle-blowing” school in this debate, namely that if it’s honest, it’s honorable. Miner asserts in his piece that “indiscreet sources protected out of the goodness of a reporter’s heart often show their gratitude by saying a great deal more on background.” In my opinion, this hallowed tradition of journalism is far more odious, corrosive, and dangerous than telling the truth and letting the chips fall where they may. Miner opens his piece by stating that “journalists become used to truth acquired with strings attached. Covenants and conventions that might seem preposterous to the outsider govern the way it’s used.” Oh, really?
By “outsider,” could Miner mean “the public”? By “strings attached,” could Miner mean “protect the source, even if he operates at cross purposes with the public trust and the truth”?
If so, I reject these rules uncategorically. Perhaps readers will find this to be a principal–and principled–difference between Chicago Ink stories and the sanitized insider dreck that often appears in Hot Type.