Undercover Ethics | Letters | Chicago Reader

Undercover Ethics 

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Dear Editor:

Michael Miner seems to have gotten a promotion from media critic to professional psychic, since he is confident (Letters, April 11) that I am more worried than I appear about a libel suit over Chicago Ink's article by Chris Geovanis. But leaving aside Miner's misunderstanding of libel law (exactly how can telling the truth be interpreted as "reckless disregard for the truth"?) and his hypocritical arguments (how can a newspaper which runs the Bob Greene-bashing writings of "Ed Gold" complain about the use of pseudonyms?), there's still a crucial issue of journalistic ethics that needs to be addressed: can you quote people who talk to you during social occasions?

Carl Kozlowski recently wrote an article for New City about the phony guests hired for Mancow Muller's morning radio show. In doing so, he quoted people who had no idea he was writing a newspaper article, and then got himself hired as a guest. If he didn't conceal his identity, there would be no way to do the story as effectively. A few years ago, the Grey City Journal won the I.F. Stone Prize for investigative journalism due to an article in which the author called the University of Chicago Hospitals and pretended to be a Medicaid patient in order to show that treatment by the hospital was different from those with private insurance. And don't forget the famous Chicago Sun-Times exposé in the 1970s, when they set up a phony bar to show the corruption and bribery of the liquor business. Will all of this journalism be deemed off-limits?

An interesting answer is given by Christopher Hitchens in the April 21 issue of the Nation. Hitchens responds to a letter from Michael Zantovsky, former Czech ambassador to the US, who complains that Hitchens quoted his words in a phone conversation about Madeleine Albright that Zantovsky assumed "to be a private conversation" because of its connection to a social event. Hitchens replies, "Should I have telephoned him again to 'verify' that he had been speaking candidly the first time?" I think Chris Geovanis, and Chicago Ink, can give the same answer to Miner, or anyone stupid enough to file a libel suit against us for printing what they say.

John K. Wilson

Chicag

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