Ethics not for sale, dude

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Well, well. Check out the latest newsman accused of shaming his profession through avarice and deception. For today’s lesson in journalistic shame, I give you a rather mincing fellow named Jared Paul Stern.

Stern is a contributor to a gossip column in the New York Post. He wears fedoras and a monocle. As if that isn’t disgrace enough, it has been alleged that the dapper gadabout was caught demanding $100,000 from a billionaire.

In exchange for this ransom, Stern was ready to stop writing tantalizing news items about the rich guy, if you believe the FBI and other police officials.

If true, clearly this is sickening behavior. It’s another case of a news mongrel deciding that his personal comfort is more important than the trust of his readers. In the Jayson Blair case, the reporter wanted to write like a big-time newsman without getting out of his robe in the morning or leaving the house. Stern, on the other hand, is accused of valuing his bank account more than the truth. Even if that truth was in the form of Britney Spears updates and the latest on high-brow fashion.

Instead of going on a rant about this, I’ve been thinking about how my own life might be enriched if I were to take such a greedy approach to news.

The scene is a dim alley behind the city building in Lewiston. I have been called here by fearless City Administrator Jim Bennett.

“Look here, LaFlamme. I’m tired of you skulking around the city looking for nasty things to write about. We’ve eliminated prostitution. Violent crime is down across the board. There is only one crack rock left in the city and we’re close to finding it. You need to stop causing trouble.”

“Dude, why are you wearing a clown suit?”

“Silence! I’ve come to offer you a deal. Stop stirring up trouble and you will be rewarded.”

I scowl and spit. “Look here, you. I am a newsman. I cannot be bought with your dirty money! My readers are too important to me. Put away your checkbook, fiend.”

“Money? What the hell are you talking about? We have no money. I was going to offer you an exemption from the parking laws.”

“OK. Where do I sign?”

The idea of thumbing my nose at those vicious parking enforcement vultures has a beautiful ring to it. But, no. It’s true that I could never be bought. My seven readers have come to expect lurid news now and then, and the idea of betraying them would keep me up at night. Still, the concept of being bought off is worthy of fantasy.

The scene is a dark, dusty room in the basement of the Sun Journal. I have been invited here by fearless Executive Editor Rex Rhoades.

“Look, LaFlamme. The editors are tired of you taking potshots at them in every other column. I have two or three of them weeping in my office every day. And you know editors: They weep lava.”

“Dude, why are you wearing a clown suit?”

“Silence! I’ve come to offer you a deal. Quit picking on the editors and you’ll be rewarded.”

“You’re going to give me a big, fat raise and the helicopter I’ve been asking for?”

“Knave! We have no money. We are prepared to offer you free newsroom coffee for the remainder of the year. No more coughing up 40 cents for every cup.”

“Our coffee is 50 cents.”

“Silence!”

This would never happen. For one thing, Rex is also a man of integrity. For another, the people who offer up coffee in the newsroom are real tightwads about it. And I would never give up taking shots at editors. It is one of the supreme joys in my life.

So, I’ll never make a fortune in side deals as a news reporter. Which is fine, of course. Nobody but a fool goes into the news business if he wants to make big money. If you want to make big money, you go into real estate or crack dealing.

Once again, legitimate journalists everywhere are cringing and defending their chosen profession. We don’t like corruption among our colleagues because it undermines the integrity of our work. We walk the line every day and ferret out the facts with no reward beyond our paychecks.

So, if I could have a one-on-one conversation with Jared Paul Stern, if I could look him in the monocle and ask just one question, it would be this: “Dude, why are you wearing a clown suit?”

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter. He thinks clowns are creepy.

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