Legendary New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal once fired a newly hired reporter when he learned she’d had an intimate relationship with one of the people she reported on at her previous newspaper. Michael Goodwin explains what happened next:
Word of the incident spread quickly through the newsroom, and several female reporters complained to Rosenthal. They argued that the woman was treated unfairly, at which point Abe raised his finger for silence and said something to this effect: ‘I don’t care if you f–k an elephant on your personal time, but then you can’t cover the circus for the paper.’
The Times faced a remarkably similar employee problem recently. One of its reporters was found to have been sleeping with someone she covered at her previous newspaper. The news went public when her ex-boyfriend was arrested for lying to the FBI about his voluminous contacts with reporters. To further complicate matters, her records had been seized by the Department of Justice during its investigation into the ex-boyfriend.
Journalists and their defenders get agitated when government officials impinge or threaten to impinge on the press freedoms protected in the First Amendment. Some observers, such as this journalism professor, thought that was the only issue of interest in this sordid tale:
The government overreach is the *actual* issue. Not a female reporter’s sex life. But carry on. https://t.co/m1VhqAVkIC
— Victoria M. Walker (@vikkie) July 7, 2018
Government overreach absolutely is an issue. But so are journalism ethics, the mishandling of classified information, and threats against congressional oversight.