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Steve Rhodes
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As I wrote to Zorn in October, his example about a family grieving has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Private people have no obligation to speak to the media. The topic at hand is about public officials (and I would include those in positions of power such as corporate executives). Submitting questions in writing is against NBC policy - and for all I know, the Tribune's - for a reason. My question is this: How is submitting questions via e-mail any different? I have no doubt about the increasing prevalence of reporters voluntarily doing this via e-mail as described by EJM; I chalk it up to sheer laziness. News organizations should make clear that this is not acceptable. (Obviously we're not talking about basic facts here such as dates or figures, etc.) As far as follow-ups, Zorn' s position is folly. A subject facing face-to-face questioning is put on the spot. That's the point. A subject allowed to have a PR person or Jackie Heard, for example, craft a reply is not. And how do you ask follow-ups the three different ways you have to sometimes to get an answer? How do you judge for yourself as a journalist whether the subject is telling the truth (are his eyes darting around? is he squirming?) Zorn's position is hopelessly naive and an example of a media that shows far too much fear and deference to people in power instead of, yes, doing their jobs.
1. I think it's a mistake to brush off possible domestic abuse if it turns out the abuser is the woman. That doesn't excuse it. 2. Having covered the Florida Highway Patrol, I can tell you that they indeed would be investigating a one-vehicle accident involving a tree, a fire hydrant, and a driver drifting in and out of consciousness who refuses to speak to them. 3. First, I want the media to explain WHY Tiger doesn't have to speak to police as long as it's a traffic accident. Obviously no one ever has to answer questions from the police, but why the distinction? If it becomes a criminal investigation, he still doesn't have to talk, as you point out. My guess is that the media is just repeating what it's heard other media people say without explaining it to the public. I've also heard commentators say "in Florida," as if the law is different in other states. Is it? There is a reason why police made up the phony "person of interest" designation it so often uses - because naming someone as a suspect triggers a host of protections someone ordinarily wouldn't have. 4. The question about our right to know is similar to that often asked about why divorce files are the public's business. Because the public court system is being used at taxpayer expense to administer justice in the public interest. That doesn't mean journalists should publish everything they find in a divorce file, but that they have a responsibility to evaluate cases, participants, judges, etc. to see that everything is on the level. The fact that journalists use what they find in these files for prurient reasons - or, let's say, to find out that Blair Hull was once accused of striking his wife - is a separate ethical issue. Similarly, I do not condone reporters and commentators speculating wildly about Woods, but do think that reporters should follow the case and seek answers, many of which they might choose not to publish. If Woods is being treated harsher than Joe Blow, than that too is a story just as much as the other way around. Maybe our resources are being wasted on this case. The public has a right to know the facts, and reporters have an obligation to pursue them. ZORN REPLY 1. Read the link to Hanna Rosin's Slate piece above that talks about female on male DV and the false equivalence we like to make. 2. I'll take your word for it. 3. I can't answer for other writers. It's a mistake to fine tune the circumstances under which Tiger doesn't have to talk to police. Far easier to list the circumstances in which he DOES have to talk to police which is, I believe, never. Except to give his name and address. Never. Not in any state in the union. Anything that implies otherwise is misleading. 4 / I generally agree with you on right to know. In fact I think it's outrageous that litigating parties use the court system to come to brink of a lawsuit, then cloak their settlement deals in secrecy. And I'm not arguing the RIGHT to know here or the RIGHT of reporters to ask questions. I'm even fine with reporters asking questions. I'm dealing here with the informal right to know if, say, Tiger is knocking boots with a woman not his wife or even the informal right to demand that this story over all others get pursued as though some great principal or interest is at stake.