Bending Journalistic Ethics Sometimes Does More Good Than Bad

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 25, 2002 | Go to article overview

Bending Journalistic Ethics Sometimes Does More Good Than Bad


Byline: Jack Mabley

Some years back I had Thanksgiving dinner with a well-known Chicago madam in her ... ah, house of ill repute, an apartment next door to the Ambassador East hotel.

She used several names. I'll use Ann.

The other guests were a Chicago vice cop and two FBI agents. Ann was a valuable source of information in the fight against vice.

I considered my dinner as work ... interesting work, but work. Ann and two of her ladies of the evening cooked and served a nice turkey dinner. A good time was had by all.

The Tribune firing of Bob Greene has generated nationwide discussion about journalistic codes of ethics. I mentioned in a TV interview that by today's codes I'd have been fired a dozen times for some of the things I did as an investigative reporter and editor.

My dinner with Ann is in a shady area. Not as bad as seducing teenagers, but a shade kinky.

A Tribune photographer was taking pictures at ground zero the day after 9/11. His clothing was soaked and filthy, so he borrowed a shirt from a Chicago fireman.

The Trib refused to use his dramatic pictures because he had been deceptive, wearing a shirt that might identify him as a fireman.

That is zero tolerance.

I have no quarrel with codes of ethics. I don't think I ever signed one, and if I did, I didn't bother to read it. I don't need lawyers to tell me what's right or wrong. I consult them when I need to know what is legal or illegal.

A colleague invited me to list some of these early ventures. OK. I was either directly involved or was the supervising editor for these stories.

You have to start with wire tapping. That was the universal tool. Some were done legally with a court order, but most were illegal. It's still a major weapon, but electronic eavesdropping has made it more complicated.

- A bug placed in the hotel room of Springfield lobbyists.

- A tap on the line of a politician.

- Wearing a realistic but honorary Chicago police sergeant badge during street rioting in 1969.

- Access to the income tax returns of a high-ranking state official.

- Investigative reporters posing as, or infiltrating the ranks of, ambulance drivers, banquet waiters, mental hospital attendants and American Nazis. …

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