Friday, August 16, 2013

Four (Count 'Em) Four Ethical Implications in One Little Story

From Politicker

Before he married his wife, former Congressman Anthony Weiner had a previously undisclosed relationship with an on-again-off-again congressional and campaign aide nearly two decades his junior.

In pushing back against the publication of this story, the spokeswoman for his current mayoral campaign, Barbara Morgan, phoned The New York Observer‘s editor in chief. Partially confirming the relationship, she said the two “had a personal relationship.” (At that point, Ms. Morgan stopped mid-sentence to request the conversation be continued off the record.)

 First Implication: I'm betting she said something like, 'This is off the record,' which the reporter 'interpreted' to mean 'from this point forward.' Or did the reporter actually say, 'From this point on, it is off the record'?

In a cease-and-desist letter sent to The New York Observer today, an attorney for the woman said his client, Dolev Azaria, “vehemently denies” that she and Mr. Weiner had any romantic relationship “while Ms. Azaria was working for Mr. Weiner."

Second Implication: The publication gives her a chance to 'clarify' her remarks.

“Anthony was my boss and a mentor and we remain friends to this day. There was never anything inappropriate about our relationship. I’m saddened that rumors to the contrary would imply anything else,” Ms. Azaria further said in a statement late Thursday night.

 Nearly a dozen sources and former staffers, however, said they strongly suspected that wasn’t the case. Third implication: The publication didn't rely on only one source. Also, the sources may be anonymous but they have first-hand knowledge of the situation. Instead, they described the lengthy relationship between the pair as a badly-kept open secret, with the two openly flirting and behaving unlike any other staffers in the office for a period they say began well before late 2006–when Ms. Azaria left Mr. Weiner’s payroll–and continuing after she returned in mid-2008. (In 2006, Ms. Azaria would have been turning 24 years old, while Mr. Weiner would have been turning 42.) The allegedly unprofessional behavior made some staffers uncomfortable.

“You’d have to be an idiot to not know what was going on,” said one ex-aide, who, like the majority of others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid damaging his relationship with Mr. Weiner and their former colleague. Fourth implication: The granting of anonymity always reduces the credibility of a story. Is this story of sufficient importance to justify hiding the names of sources?  “It was a known secret in the office,” another said


Susan White said...
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Susan White said...

Well, you wouldn’t get people to talk if you didn’t promise anonymity from time to time. If a reporter promises his source anonymity while interviewing her, he can’t really go back on that. Even if he does go on to write what is essentially a gossip column. Rescinding anonymity dampens credibility just as much as granting it in the first place.

I don’t think this article is important enough NOT to grant anonymity … in what case would you tell a source, “No, this HAS to be on the record”? (In which case, they would probably stop talking to you.) The people interviewed are in the vulnerable position of speaking ill about their boss. It’s hard to make a lot of people do that without anonymity.

The story seems pretty well-rounded in terms of fact-gathering. I would have tried harder to find sources whose names I could print, though. I guess it’s pretty hard to do that in a situation like this.

At that point, Ms. Morgan stopped mid-sentence to request the conversation be continued off the record.

Fair play, I think. You have to preface things you want “off the record,” not simply include it as an afterthought.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

You touch on a key point. What are the ethics of letting people - or not letting them - put what they've already said off the record??