A columnist's objectiveby Sarah Jersild
September 28, 2002
Was Bob Greene's objectivity compromised when he used his column as a dating service? That depends on if you think columnists have any objectivity to begin with.
So Bob Greene has been outted as a dirty old man and a hypocrite. This is, apparently, a firing offence. If you've missed the brouhaha, here are the (sketchy) facts: Bob Greene, after Mike Royko and Ann Landers died, was the Chicago Tribune's most popular columnist. He "resignation was accepted" after it came out that he had “had sexual relations” with a high-school girl -- 10 years or so ago -- about whom he had written. The weird (well, weirder) part of the story is that the chick apparently called Greene a couple of times this year, and then got a call from the FBI saying she "may be posing a threat to the columnist." Soon after that, the Trib got an anonymous e-mail saying something to the effect of "Oh my god, an unnamed mawkish columnist who's obsessed with abused children had an affair with a high school chick about 10 years ago. The horror!" Now, there's all sorts of things wrong with the preceding. First, the fact that Bob Greene was a popular columnist makes my skin crawl. As far as I could tell, he had all of three topics that he beat into the ground:
But we don't know if any of that happened. As far as we know, Greene just wrote about her in one of his interminable "Decent People of the Midwest" pieces. Then, after the column was published, he hit on her. This was apparently his habit. Is it a repellent habit? Sure. Is it a violation of journalistic ethics? No, I don't think it was.
In theory, the Trib wasn't shocked that he'd with a teenager, but that he slept with a source. This, they said, compromises his objectivity. Folks, he's a columnist. Have you read his stuff? He has no objectivity. He doesn't even pretend to have any objectivity. That's the beauty of a columnist gig -- you get to spout your opinion, your take on the news, and your readers can take it or leave it.
He does, however, paint himself as a moral arbiter. He wags his finger and makes tsk-tsk noises at abusive adults. The whole screwing a teenager part doesn't fit well into that image, I guess.
But a columnist isn't someone who has a keener moral sense than lesser mortals. A columnist is just someone who can, theoretically, string a sentence together in such a way that you feel compelled to read what he or she has to say. If a columnist's actions don't match up with his words, as you can argue in this case, this doesn't make him a bad journalist. It makes him a hypocrite. And last time I checked, that's not a firing offense.
I don't see why he had a column for so long in the first place. I think he was a hack, and I'm not terribly sorry to see him go. But to hold him to a different moral standard than the rest of us is ridiculous and wrong.
Having said that, does anyone have any dirt on Andy Rooney? He drives me nuts.
This essay is based on a rant first published on Sarah's blog, fiendishplot.com.