No More Tuesdays with Mitch?

By: Joe Strupp If Mitch Albom gets away with avoiding serious punishment for an obvious journalistic breach ?- not to mention laziness -? of writing a column about something before it happens, and guessing wrong, then what does that say for anyone else in the news business? Should his fame as a bestselling author (of "Tuesdays with Morrie" and more), outweigh the outrage?

As you may know, Albom wrote a column for the Sunday, April 3, edition of the Detroit Free Press about the previous days' Final Four NCAA men?s basketball games in St. Louis. Unfortuantely, he wrote it on April 1, and it was no April Fool's joke. His story praised two former Michigan State University basketball players for jetting in to root on their alma mater in its losing bid against the eventual champs from the University of North Carolina.

?In the audience Saturday at the Final Four, among the 46,000 hoop junkies, sales executives, movie producers, parents, contest winners, beer guzzlers, hip-hop stars and lucky locals who knew somebody who knew somebody, there were two former stars for Michigan State, Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson,? the bogus column began. ?It was loyalty, sure. And it was exciting, no doubt. But in talking to both players, it was more than that. It was a chance to do something almost all of us would love to do: recapture, for a few hours, the best time of their lives.?

A great column and a nice thing to say about two former local athletes. Except it did not happen. Cleaves and Richardson were nowhere near the arena in St. Louis when Michigan State lost to UNC. Albom later found this out. But had he actually waited until the game occurred and went to search for the two players at the game, as a good reporter should, he would have found out the truth.

Albom admitted this, only after getting caught. But his actions were clearly irresponsible, given that "things don?t happen until they do," as one editor used to remind me.

Editor Carole Leigh Hutton has launched an investigation of the column, and temporarily suspended running more of Albom's work. But stronger action may prove necessary.

It recalls at least one aspect of the Jayson Blair affair -- the art of pretending to be somewhere you aren't. Yes, Albom did not have nearly the extent of lies and deceit that Blair promulgated over several years at The New York Times. Still, Albom?s sin of writing a column for a Sunday paper on Friday, which included false details of a Saturday event that had yet to occur, is almost as deceitful.

We all understand the need for newspapers to print some Sunday sections in advance. But someone should have picked up on this and raised a red flag at the paper, declaring that this approach had too many chances for error.

And it is not as if Albom is some new cub reporter still learning the ropes. He knows how such a move can backfire and, even if the players had attended the game, how it represents dishonesty with readers.

Of course this is the same Albom who was quick to cross the Newspaper Guild picket line years ago during the Detroit Newspaper strike, a move that many guild types in the Motor City still will not forget. At a time when much lower-paid staffers were braving the cold with pro-union signs, Albom -- who had other income from broadcast jobs that likely paid more in a week than some of his colleagues earned in a month, not to mention his lucrative book deals ?- stayed warm inside, writing away.

To add insult to dishonesty, the Free Press has kept the inaccurate column on its Web site, despite despite placing a note of apology atop the piece

Instead of just apologizing to readers, why not remove the column and give Albom the punishment he deserves? Anyone in the business knows that if any other reporter had done such a thing, he?d be fired, or at least suspended for a lengthy stint. Of course, when you are Mitch Albom you can write about Saturdays with Michigan State, and it doesn?t have to be true.


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