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Published: Sunday, 6/4/2006

Blade's investigation of anonymous letter caused little comment among readers

Newspapers usually like breaking the news not making it.

This week, The Blade was very much in the news, following its own detailed account of the investigation into an attempt by a disgruntled staffer to sabotage the paper's efforts to win a Pulitzer Prize for the "Coingate series." This was not news that made anybody happy. But I thought the response from the readers was curious. Every time The Blade writes one word about Hillary Clinton, I hear about it. When the paper publishes a picture showing too much cleavage, forgets to list the political party of some indicted official, or says anything at all about Israel or the Palestinians, I hear about it.

But I heard very little from ordinary Toledoans about the long report last Sunday into the investigation that led to the firing of longtime reporter George Tanber. Other journalists wrote and called me. Some admired our candor and were shocked that a reporter would betray his colleagues.

Others complained that the investigation was headed by our investigations editor and thought The Blade should have hired an independent outsider to run it. The rank-and-file readers, however, said nothing, and I think I know why.

Virtually no other profession - perhaps no other, in the private sector - feels the need to give a public accounting of its failings.

And contrary to popular opinion, few professions are as honest, as ethical, and moral as is journalism. Certainly journalists worry and argue and agonize over being honest and ethical and fair and moral all the time, far more than you might think. They are constantly checking and double-checking facts, and examining their own consciences and those of their colleagues for fairness.

Does that mean we don't make mistakes? Of course not. I certainly do; everyone else who practices this craft does. Does journalism have a few bad apples?

Certainly. There are also crooked doctors and lawyers and probably crooked Indian chiefs. What is different is that we admit it when we discover a major ethical problem in our ranks.

Once a week, I go to a bagel sandwich shop in Detroit and buy my wife and myself a sandwich to take to school for lunch. (Glamorous, eh?) One day last winter, the usual woman was gone. The new woman told me she wasn't allowed to talk about it but later whispered that the old one was fired for shortchanging customers and stealing money out of the till.

Did the shop put up a sign to say what had happened? Did they try and reassure the customers this wouldn't happen again? Does the local hardware store write an explanation when Barney fires old Fred?

Does Toledo Hospital publish a daily account of the minor mistakes they make? You know the answer. The Blade has a staff of dedicated, hard-working, highly paid professionals. I think they deserved the Pulitzer Prize this year but had the bad luck to be contending against newspapers that covered the destruction of their cities by Hurricane Katrina.

The editors of The Blade pretty much let it all hang out, in the report written by Dave Murray and published last Sunday. What is most admirable about that effort is that it doesn't make The Blade look blameless.

You can read that report, as I did, and conclude that the editors did not ask enough hard questions about Fritz Wenzel's objectivity and fairness.

You can read that report, as I did, and wonder why George Tanber hadn't been more severely disciplined for his behavior earlier.

You can disagree with other parts of that investigation, but I don't think you can conclude that The Blade doesn't care about fairness and accuracy and serving the public. And that's why I am proud to be associated with it.

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Anyone with a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade; 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, 43660, or at my Detroit office: 189 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me, at 1-888-746-8610 or E-Mail me at OMBLADE@aol.com.

I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply.



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