June 23, 2009

The blackmail risk and the lecturer

Two of my local favorites, Michael Horne and the Brew City Brawler, react to Milwaukee Magazine editor Bruce Murphy's deft defense of the mag's lately contentious profile of police chief Edward Flynn.

It turns out the chief and his starry-eyed admirer-scribe ended up bumping uglies but according to Murphy, that consummation was adequately removed in time from the editorial completion of the profile so that any appearance of bias is purely coincidental.

I never thought there was much news value to the private trysting and arguably, neither did Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel investigative reporter Daniel Bice, who draped the sordid details on the hook of "journalistic ethics," suggesting in his original report that the affair was ongoing during the production of the 5,400-word feature.

But now it appears that that premise has been blown up.

Nevertheless, Bruce Murphy asks readers whether he should expunge the freelance author from his Rolodex while others ponder her future as an academic (at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she "lectures" aspiring young writers in, inter alia, "ethics," which is a lot of a farce on its face, thus precluding much further inquiry).

Why McBride didn't just suck it up and straighten Bice out in advance of his publishing the story is a mystery, given her alleged area of expertise. It's true she would have had to admit the affair, but she must have known it was going to get revealed eventually somehow, since it's been common knowledge in certain circles for weeks.

It also would have presented the perfect opportunity to "lecture" Bice on his own apprehension of journalistic ethics, to the extent that McBride's personal pursuits are entirely her own business and certainly none of Mr. Dan Bice's, let alone that of his fan base.

It's one thing to dissect and criticize somebody's political opinions or tenuous and stilted grasp of facts, but the right to personal privacy is sacrosanct in my book, and in a perfect world would be in everyone's.

If Daniel Bice had had the timeline before last Friday, he'd have had to at the very least reconsider his angle, and possibly even pass on the story altogether, or else shifted its focus instead onto the chief of police as opposed to McBride and Milwaukee Magazine.

You'd think a university "lecturer" in journalism might anticipate the deleterious effects of failing to return the dogged Bice's phone calls.

Because it works something like this: When the national readership of the Huffington Post, the New York Times, and the rest scans the headlines — maybe even a paragraph or two, if you're really lucky — and notices that Milwaukee Magazine was reportedly implicated in a sexytime ethics scandal, ex post facto damage control is never, ever enough to correct or even mitigate the initial impression made.

Now that is Journalism 101. And just maybe, it's why at least one of Mr. Murphy's stable of freelancers has warranted the second look.


Michael Horne said...

Yes, indeed. The onus is on the magazine, and that's not right. One offshoot of this situation is that the Bucher and McBride joined family might need some counseling. I wonder about the stepchildren and their mother. All none of our business as far as the details, but perhaps the family might benefit from the many social services available to similar families in Waukesha County and elsewhere. There are many homes where stepchildren grow up in a family where the new parent is unfaithful, and there can be huge problems. These agencies are there to help.

Anonymous said...

I feel for him. I remember vividly a county commissioner telling me to retrieve my reporter from the courthouse. The latter thought methamphetamine would help him cover a board meeting. Boy howdy, that was fun to explain to subscribers.

On a completely unrelated topic, did you know Pete Seeger worked blue?

Well, the Grand Jury started an investigation,
Uncovered a lot of spicy information.
Found out about a love nest down at Carmel-by-the-Sea,
Where the liquor was expensive and the loving was free.

They found a cottage with a breakfast nook,
A folding bed with a worn-out look.
The slats were busted and the springs were loose,
And the dents in the mattress fitted Aimee's caboose.

Anonymous said...

The microscopic analysis of the "timeline" is ridiculous. There are only 2 people who know what the "timeline" is - always was and always will be the case. The detailed plotting it out and focusing on it when no one else but the 2 of them will ever know detracts from the bigger picture. Murphy will be wellserved to drop the magnifying glass and quit focusing on the timeline, realize the implications of keeping her as a writer, admit it, and move on.
By Badgerbacker.

Anonymous said...

Murphy's spin is ridiculous -- Bice's story holds. And the new story is MM's pissing away credibility for an unethical hack of a "journalist."

Basically Murphy argues that despite McBride and Flynn's romance/affection -- which as she acknowledged in her letter -- affected her ability to write the article -- all is ok because the two waited until she finished writing to jump into bed.

As an aside, Murphy is a little soft as to when McBride's "input" into the editing process ended.

Murphy's focus on a fake hyper-technicality is a sham. As her letter describes, she was writing a profile of a guy she was romancing even if they kept there pants on until the presses rolled.

illusory tenant said...

Whenever I hear "Pete Seeger," I picture a crazed man wielding a hatchet at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

What I didn't know about Seeger until fairly recently is that his mother, Ruth Crawford, was a gifted classical composer.

Pete Gruett said...

The Seegers are fascinating. I wish I remembered a little more from 20th century musicology but I have my notes somewhere.

Pete Seeger's father, Charles, was a prominent musicologist and composer as well. Both he and Ruth developed a keen interest in preserving and popularizing folk music.

There's a nice little summary on the Seegers at the library of congress.