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Oh, SmAlbany!

Daily posts and occasional longer essays about politics, culture, and life in the Capital Region...updated M-F, midmorning

"I write this not as a booster of Albany, which I am, nor an apologist for the city, which I sometimes am, but rather as a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs..." -W. Kennedy, from O Albany!

TU "standards"

The TU and Geisel: Editor Rex Smith wrote a column this past weekend gushing about how brave the TU has been in the past week to not jump on the sensationalist bandwagon about the Geisel case like all the other media outlets in the whole country have done.

Fair enough. Newspapers can choose how they want to handle a story, and I have no problem with the way the TU has covered the Geisel case over the last week. They haven't gone NY Post with it, and on balance, that's probably a good thing.

However, in his column, Smith also presents an apology for not covering the story sooner, which is very revealing of how the TU newsroom operates (emphasis mine):
In our own newsroom, there has been debate over how we ought to handle this story, starting with the very fundamental decision about whether it was at first even a story that deserved publication, and continuing into how prominently the story ought to be played.

When we first learned some weeks ago of allegations of sexual contact between a teacher and a student at Christian Brothers Academy, we decided not to publish anything. The only student involved, we believed, was 17, and thus was considered an adult under relevant state law, and CBA had already shown Geisel the door...with no criminal activity to report, we concluded that we didn't have a story.

That was my decision, and it wasn't a very good one. It wasn't until three weeks later, when police told us they were opening a criminal investigation after an underage boy came forward with allegations of sexual encounters with Geisel, that we published a story.

So the TU missed the story first time around. And they regret that they did. No big deal. People make mistakes. But look closely at the explanation that is given - they didn't miss the story, they sat on it. I'm just amazed. Perhaps I'm reading him wrong, but I just don't see any way around the following conclusion: The TU originally held back on the Geisel case because, after weighing the evidence, they thought the couple's privacy was more important than a certainly-unethical-and-probably-criminal story. They didn't publish because they didn't believe the story was originally newsworthy.

Think about the chain of logic you need to undertake to suppress a story like this, given the theory Smith puts forward. It must have been something like this:

1) 17 year-olds are consenting adults in New York State; therefore,
2) any relationship they have with an adult is perfectly legit, and
3) even though there was a clear hierarchical workplace relationship,
4) there were no complaints of sexual harrassment, and although
5) she might have been giving him all A's or threatening him with F's,
6) we don't have any proof of that either,
7) so we better err on the side of caution, because
8) teachers who sleep with students, although dispicable, are guilty of nothing,
9) and therefore we should respect their privacy as a couple, especially since
10) the private school already fired the teacher for the relationship, and
11) that's not a story in and of itself.

Say what? No wonder the TU didn't see anything wrong with the Lewinsky affair ! They don't think a school firing a teacher for sleeping with of-age students is a story!

But it gets worse. Smith's stated reason for originally sitting on it isn't even internally logical. He said that one reason they didn't publish was because CBA had already canned Geisel, neutralizing her as a threat. Then he comes back with this:
Now I wish we had published a small story about that case right away, so parents who found out about it only belatedly might have asked their sons a bit earlier about their English teacher.
Using TU logic, you might ask: what good would it do to have people ask their sons about her if she's already fired? Oh wait a second, it might produce evidence of criminal activity! In other words, it would serve as good investigative reporting, exactly what the TU should have been doing the moment this hit the desk! Wouldn't your first reaction to getting a story like this be to get some reporters on it quick, and find out more information, like whether its criminal or not? Or you might do what the TU did:
We asked authorities to keep us informed in case it turned out that this wasn't an isolated incident and that minors were involved.
Good idea, i think that's how the Wasington Post broke Watergate. What a joke.

And does the TU actually think it's wrong to publish articles about obviously unethical, although possibly legal, behavior? Better not publish and more Giesel stories until she's convicted - the accused have privacy rights too! [hasn't stopped you from publishing...-ed. Sarcasm is the blogger's best friend]. There's also an obvious sexist component to this as well - no way they hold back publication if the teacher is a man. They would have just rightfully seen the story for what it is - a teacher preying on teenage students froma position of power. (I'm not saying the sexist component hasn't come into play in other ways - certainly Geisel is getting more national press because she's a woman, and an attractive one at that).

Look, teacher sex cases are probably over-covered because they are sensationalist at their core. But the bigger story here is how the TU handles its news decisions. This isn't the first time they've made strange publication decisions, and it won't be the last. It's just rare that they actually walk you through the twisted logic of their silly decisions.

UPDATE: Welcome Democracy in Albany readers! Thanks for stopping by!
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At 5:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

It's always news when a place like CBA has to fire a teacher for screwing her students. W.R. Hearst should be rolling over in his grave right now.    

At 6:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

Only the T-U would intentionally get scooped and then claim it's because the paper has higher standards and ethics than other news outlets. Give us a break, Rex.    

At 9:11 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

Best thing about this story.

Paul V., on his WROW show, long read advertisements for CBA. Paul would add at the end of each ad, "CBA: A Maker of Men."

Well, I guess ole' Beth proved that Paul wasn't kidding...    

At 9:14 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

TU standards

That's an oxymoron.

Military intelligence.

Political integrity.

Compassionate Conservatism.

Anything involving Howard Dean and thought process.

Editor Rex Smith (Now, that's a hoot!)

etc, etc, etc    

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