Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Wrist, thou art slapped

Over the weekend, the Detroit Free Press announced its penalty for Mitch Albom, following his now-infamous April 3 column which detailed events that didn't actually happen. "Disciplinary action has been taken" against Albom and four other staffers, according to a letter by the paper's publisher, Carole Leigh Hutton, in last Saturday's edition. Albom is apparently free to resume writing for the Free Press, effective immediately.

But how is Albom being "disciplined"? There's no mention of the punishment in her letter. Should there have been? In an interview with Editor & Publisher, Hutton said she usually doesn't publicly announce disciplinary action, and doesn't see why this case should be different.

But this case is different, Carole, and I think the penalty needs to be revealed. This isn't just an in-house matter. This isn't somebody surfing porn sites from their office or stealing food from the breakroom. Albom's transgressions were quite public, and his reputation has been stained, along with the Free Press's. The more transparent the process, the more credibility the newspaper will maintain. (Hutton might have a policy of protecting Albom. When a commissioned review of his novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, turned out to be negative, she killed the piece.)

However, Hutton did say that a story about the investigation would be published soon. So maybe she's just keeping us all in suspense. Gotta sell those newspapers, right?

For Albom's sake, I hope that story runs soon. He's been getting killed by his colleagues in the media. Just check out Romenesko. You'll find a bunch of articles, editorials, and letters calling for Albom's head. In Friday's Los Angeles Times, Terry Foster of the Detroit News (whom I've met and has kindly answered any question I've ever asked him) said Albom's integrity has often been a question among sportswriters.

"We always wondered how come we didn't see that," said Foster. "How come we didn't hear that? Mitch is a very talented writer. And sometimes he out-writes you. But sometimes he writes things that just seem too good to be true."

Foster goes on to say that he thought Albom would eventually resign because of this. In the same article, Jack Lessenberry of Detroit's Metro Times says one of his students quit her internship at WJR (home of Albom's radio show) when Albom threw a computer keyboard at her.

It's not a total slam piece, though: Two of Albom's former colleagues tout Albom's work ethic in the story. And the next day, the LA Times's media critic, David Shaw, wrote that Albom's media lynching has been overkill. The humiliation of the incident, along with the suspension and pending discipline, should be enough.

I tend to agree. Calling for Albom to be fired is definitely overreacting. But it would be nice to know if he's actually being punished by the newspaper he embarrassed.