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Sunanda K. Chavan
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THE BOB GREENE SCANDAL - October 29th, 2010

The highly respected Chicago Tribune columnist, Bob Greene, resigned during the weekend of September 15, 2002 over an incident that happened several years ago with a female, high school student. Greene's resignation and the investigation of the allegations by the Tribune and other news outlets have sparked lots of dialogue over the ethics surrounding this situation.

In the spring of 1988 a 17-year-old Catholic high school senior working on a class project visited the Chicago Tribune with her parents to interview the much loved columnist. Greene turned the incident into a charming but forgettable column. A while later he asked the girl to dinner and then to a hotel, where they engaged in some kind of sexual activity.

Flash forward 14 years. The girl, now a woman in her 30s, called Greene several times this year for reasons that remain unknown. In June, Greene contacted the FBI and said he felt threatened. The FBI contacted the woman and she denied threatening him. The FBI found "insufficient evidence" to pursue the case, according to the bureau's Chicago office. Two weeks ago, the Tribune received an e-mail describing the affair but not naming Greene. Tribune executives tracked the woman down and then brought the allegations to Greene. He confessed and offered his resignation. A few days later, the Tribune published a short but stunning note on the front page announcing his resignation.

The reaction was polarized. "Cut this good man some slack. He deserves another chance," wrote one reader. But, says Loren Ghiglione, dean of Northwestern University's journalism school, "here's somebody working for the most powerful news organization in Chicago. What he did was an abuse of personal power and an abuse of the newspaper he worked for." That's the rationale Tribune editors used too: "Staff members are forbidden to use their position at the newspaper to gain advantage in personal activities." They insist her age was irrelevant, which has led to more questions. Does this mean no one can date anyone he has ever quoted--or anyone awed by his job? That policy would purge newsrooms far and wide.

In his article ‘The Personal is Professional’, Bob Steele summarises the ethical aspect of the incident: “Greene's behavior and the consequences have sparked a flurry of debate among Tribune readers and journalists across the land. A range of opinions has surfaced in letters to the Tribune.

Some support Greene, arguing that his personal behavior has nothing to do with his professional role or that the resolution is out of proportion to the mistake he made:

• "If the newspaper is to be believed, no crime was committed, and the romance commenced after Greene had written about the woman. Both were adults, the sex was consensual. Adultery? Yes, but how does that become the Tribune's business?"

• "Yes, Bob Greene made a mistake. And he's owned up to it. Period. Greene's work is immeasurable."

• "Unless Bob Greene used his position as a writer to coerce the young woman into having an affair, this is purely a business between these two people."

• "I fail to see why the indiscretion of Bob Greene resulted in his leaving the Chicago Tribune."

Opposing views stress the nature of Greene's violation and the connection to his professional role:

• "What is so complicated about this?... Gross abuse of his position, period, with emphasis on the 'gross.'"

• "I can only ask those who want to defend Greene, or accuse the Tribune of some kind of hypocrisy, are they going to be rushing to introduce their 16- or 17-year-old daughters to Bob Greene so they can work on projects together?"

• "It was not only poor judgment, but may well have left his employer liable for a legal settlement, as well as harmed a teenage girl... Journalists have to remember that the public has to trust not only our words, but our deeds, especially with children. Because when that is violated, we bring disrepute not only on ourselves, but our colleagues and make their job much harder."

• "I applaud the way Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski dealt with the complaint against Bob Greene, including the prompt investigation, confrontation and action."

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