No Runny Eggs

The repository of one hard-boiled egg from the south suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (and the occassional guest-blogger). The ramblings within may or may not offend, shock and awe you, but they are what I (or my guest-bloggers) think.

The obligatory L’affair Flynn-McBride followup

by @ 14:06 on June 23, 2009. Filed under Presstitute Follies.

Semi-retired blogger James Wigderson, in the comments of my original post, pointed me to Milwaukee Magazine Bruce Murphy’s response to Dan Bice’s multiday attack on Jessica McBride and Milwaukee police chief Ed Flynn, specifically focusing on McBride’s actions while working on the profile of Flynn and prior to its publication, and on Bice’s insinuation that the affair happened during the creation of the profile. While it doesn’t change the stupidity shown by both McBride and Flynn, it does at a minimum mitigate the breach of journalistic ethics by McBride, and introduces one by Bice.

Murphy laid out the timeline of Milwaukee Magazine’s involvement in this:

  • Murphy wanted to do a profile of Flynn, and McBride accepted that in late October, 2008.
  • In December 2008, McBride had a single face-to-face interview with Flynn, with police spokeperson Anne E. Schwartz in attendance. There were some follow-up e-mails, and Murphy maintains that that was the extent of communications between the two prior to the publication of the Milwaukee Magazine story in mid-April.
  • On April 23, after publication of the story, and after McBride asked Murphy about any reaction from Flynn, Flynn e-mailed McBride, using his police office computer network, complimenting her on the story and suggesting they get together for coffee, something done on May 1. Of note, this e-mail was not part of Bice’s stories, but was released by McBride afterwards.

Murphy goes on to include evidence that McBride sought to include several negative quotes in the profile, including those rejected by Murphy, and then holds that up as evidence that she wasn’t in love with Flynn. While I’m not a professional reporter, I will not take the inclusion of negative quotes in both the original submission of the piece in January and the final rewrite in February as anything more than what it is; an attempt to present a “balanced” profile.

Murphy also stated that both he and Schwartz provided Bice with evidence that the affair did not begin until after the profile was published. Bice chose not to include that.

John McAdams has done yeoman’s work and tracked down Bice for reaction to that. While Bice hadn’t read the Murphy piece, he does some refuting and counterpunching of his own:

  • The infamous “love letter” has a pair of quotes refering to the December meeting when McBride became smitten with Flynn.
  • A claim that the April 23 e-mail referenced above was private and not subject to open records requests.
  • Bice further claims that Murphy should have informed his readers there was a problem with the profile because he knew about the affair for at least the two weeks Bice had been working on the story.

That leaves three items in contention: whether Milwaukee Magazine should have either put a warning on or spiked the profile, whether merely being “smitten” with one’s source constitutes an irrepairable breach of journalistic trust, and Bice’s actions in pursuing and ultimately breaking the story. The first is the simplest – given the available evidence, Murphy had no reason to suspect that there was so much as a romantic spark between McBride and Flynn prior to publication.

Regarding the “smitten” relationship, McAdams said it best – “We would argue for ‘bright line’ standards where journalistic ethics are concerned. Whether a journalist is smitten by somebody she is writing about (and whether this has distorted the reporting) is very much a judgment call. Whether she and a subject have romped between the sheets is a hard factual issue.” If Murphy’s recounting is accurate, it doesn’t appear that the profile was distorted by the fact McBride was “smitten” by Flynn. Indeed, Murphy is standing behind the profile as published.

That is not to say that the between-the-sheets romp that happened over the last two months does not represent a irrepairable breach of journalistic trust going forward, especially as it relates to McBride’s teaching of journalism. It does.

Finally, there’s Bice’s actions. For reasons known only to him, he left out several items in his series, and proceeded to write it in a misleading way. Further, Mark Belling, on his Friday show, noted that Bice was claiming Belling was working on the story and that he would break it on Thursday’s show in order to get the early admission from Flynn. Belling said that, while he was aware of the story, was not pursuing it, and in fact told Bice that on Thursday when asked.

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