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Journalist's real sin was breaking the rules of the trade

Ruben Navarrette Jr. on

SAN DIEGO -- The New York Times has done good reporting this year on some big stories about sexual harassment. But suddenly the newspaper has gone from covering the topic to being smack in the middle of it.

The Times recently suspended White House reporter Glenn Thrush while it investigates allegations of sexual misconduct by him toward several female colleagues. The allegations concern Thrush's conduct both during his tenure at the Times, and in years past, when he worked at Politico. A report by Vox.com's Laura McGann, who worked with Thrush at Politico, said that his inappropriate behavior ranged "from unwanted groping and kissing to wet kisses out of nowhere to hazy sexual encounters that played out under the influence of alcohol."

The 50-year-old journalist had been on something of a hot streak. After hiring him away from Politico last year, the Times gave Thrush the prestigious White House beat. He also got a gig as an MSNBC contributor, and a reported seven-figure contract to co-write a book on the Donald Trump presidency with fellow Times reporter Maggie Haberman. His theatrical haranguing of White House officials even earned him what has become his generation's version of a Pulitzer: being lampooned on "Saturday Night Live." Media reporters called him a "star."

Now Thrush's future is unclear. Times management is reportedly struggling about whether or not to add Thrush's name to the list of media figures who have been fired for allegedly making unwanted sexual advances toward women. The hall of shame includes Matt Lauer, formerly of NBC News; Charlie Rose, formerly of CBS News; Mark Halperin, formally of NBC News; and others.

The media takes care of its own. And, as a member of the Washington/New York media, Thrush has friends who are trying to contain the fire.

There is "the danger of comparing Glenn Thrush to Harvey Weinstein," worries Joe Scarborough, the co-host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

CNN host Michael Smerconish questioned whether "the pendulum might be swinging too far." He said that Thrush's suspension gave him "pause" because it seems that all the reporter is accused of is "bad judgment." In one example -- cited in the Vox.com story -- a 21-year-old intern said that, after a party, Thrush tried to hold her hand and kissed her twice before she started crying.

But Smerconish downplayed the misbehavior. Some of the other allegations about Thrush, detailed in the article, are much worse and include making unwanted sexual advances toward women with a lot less power than he had.

In a statement, Thrush apologized and blamed his behavior on "drinking heavily."

Smerconish acknowledged that Thrush was "boorish and hammered," but the host seemed skeptical that someone should lose his job over what some would consider sophomoric antics.

I don't see why this is even a tough call. Of course Thrush needs to be fired -- not just because of the allegations, and not just because the whole story is awkward for a newspaper that has tried to lead the way in exposing sexual impropriety in Washington and Hollywood.

 

No. Thrush should lose his job because the Times needs to take seriously the rules of professional conduct to which it holds other journalists. What is at issue is not whether Thrush is a good person, but whether he is -- and was ever -- a good journalist.

You see, I'm an old-school journo. I'm the same age as Thrush, and I've spent more than half my life writing for newspapers. And at each place I worked, whether it was as a reporter or columnist, my bosses were -- in their gruff and gravelly voices -- not shy about spelling out what was expected of me, what the rules of the profession were, and what would happen to me if I broke any.

One of those rules, which Politico had in place as well when Thrush worked there, was not to share a story with a source before it is published. That's common sense. You can't let the people you interview edit and massage your story before it runs. When you do that, you've stopped being a journalist; you've become a stenographer. You no longer report; you take dictation.

Last year, thanks to a Wikileaks dump, we learned that Thrush -- while working as a reporter at Politico -- shared a story pre-publication with John Podesta, then campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton. In an email, Thrush begged Podesta not to tell anyone about their arrangement. He even sheepishly called himself a "hack."

Well put, Glenn.

So the question isn't whether Thrush should lose his job in journalism. It's why he ever had one in the first place.

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Ruben Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

 

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