All the News That's Unfit to Print
In last Tuesday's Star Tribune, Deborah Caulfield Rybak broke the news that two Pioneer Press reporters, Chuck Laszewski and Rick Linsk, had been suspended by newspaper management for attending the October 5 Vote for Change concert at the Xcel Energy Center. (The blowout lineup included Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty, Neil Young, Bright Eyes, and R.E.M.) When the story hit the wires, it appeared in newspapers all over the United States and United Kingdom and popped up in several journalism and media websites and blogs.
One paper that didn't cover the story is the Pioneer Press.
The only mention of the dustup came in an after-the-storm column about ethics and credibility by editor Vickie Gowler that ran in Sunday's edition of the Pioneer Press. "It's not a new policy," wrote Gowler of the paper's ethics code. And indeed, many newsrooms have policies regarding the political activities of their staffs, governing things like lawn signs, rallies, donations, and the like. "It's not liberal or conservative," she continued. "It's simply the choice we make when we become journalists."
Within 24 hours of the Strib story, the Pioneer Press had received upward of 20 letters to the editor, none of which have been published. I got a copy of the letters in an e-mail that circulated around the PiPress newsroom last week. And, since the last song at Xcel was Patti Smith's "People Have the Power," this former Pioneer Press employee figured this space would best be devoted to some of those writers. (As the letter writers intended these notes to appear in the PiPress, their names will appear as initials here.)
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the St. Paul Pioneer Press has suspended two of its reporters, Chuck Laszewski and Rick Linsk, for attending a Bruce Springsteen concert during non-work hours. That's pretty frightening.
In the United States, citizens (that includes reporters, I believe) are not required to surrender their civil liberties to their employer. Unless they are working and being paid ("on the clock"), their time is their own.
I agree that reporters should exercise professional ethics in keeping personal bias out of objective reporting. That does not mean they have no personal preferences, passions, or opinions. Any thinking, feeling human being does. They should enjoy the freedom to act on them. Otherwise, to quote Kris Kristofferson from his Janis Joplin song, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
It's wrong for the Pioneer Press to suppress the constitutional rights that millions of Americans have fought so hard to defend, and for which so many even made the ultimate sacrifice.
D.M. Washington, D.C.
Chuck Laszewski and Rick Linsk were suspended for attending the Springsteen concert, the proceeds of which benefited MoveOn.org. Does this mean that Pioneer Press staff are also not allowed to wear political buttons, or to display political messages on their car, or to send whatever financial support they may wish to a candidate or political party? If the Pioneer Press places limits on their employees of how and when they can express their political freedom, especially in free time separate from work, then I see no reason the newspaper should claim any stance of impartiality. And I am curious as to where Knight Ridder has been sending its corporate donations--and from how high in the corporation the wording of this memo came.
Shame on the Pioneer Press management for suspending two of your workers for going to the Concert for Change. Silly me thought this was a free country and that we could do what we wanted. I guess that is not true if you are employed by the Pioneer Press. I wonder, do all your employees have to submit a daily itinerary? I also wonder who the Pioneer Press is going to endorse for president.
I could not believe that you would have the audacity to suspend reporters for attending a concert. I thought it was an American right to attend places of choice unless the speakers are advocating illegal activity. What will the paper do next, suspend reporters for attending a religiously oriented concert or gathering if the paper's management does not agree with the particular group? Your paper has entered into dangerous grounds when it exercises control over employees' private lives.
L.N. Scottsdale, Arizona
I read an Associated Press report about two reporters from your newspaper who were disciplined because of their patronage of a politically oriented concert.
Everyone in this country has a right to be politically involved. Your employment of someone does not force them to abdicate their right to free speech and freedom of association. Your ethics policy clearly violates both of these rights as enumerated in the Constitution.
For an entity like yourself that operates under the aegis of the First Amendment, your behavior in this matter is disappointing and very unsettling. I would have expected more from a newspaper in a state with a proud history of populism and civil rights.
M.T. Oakland, California
Shame on the Pioneer Press for suspending two of its reporters for attending a Bruce Springsteen concert. As a fellow journalist who is highly concerned with ethics, I can understand your reservations about their actions. It's true that attending this Vote for Change concert could be interpreted as a political act, but darn near everything we do in our lives is a political act, from which TV station we watch to what kind of gasoline we buy. To imply that singing along with "Born in the USA" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" (two of the songs played at the concert) constitutes a conflict of interest for a Pioneer Press reporter is asinine at best, downright idiotic at worst. America's readers should expect better from a quality newspaper like the Pioneer Press.
E.E. Cooperstown, New York
I cannot believe a newspaper would suspend its own journalists for attending a concert! You people are idiots. Support reporters Chuck Laszewski and Rick Linsk.
J.W. Covington, Kentucky
Regarding the suspension by the St. Paul Pioneer Press of two reporters for attending a Vote for Change concert which their editors thought was in violation of their journalistic neutrality: If that were the case, the Pioneer Press would also ask their staff not to attend services at a Catholic church, as the Catholic hierarchy has announced its members could not vote for Sen. John Kerry and still receive Holy Communion. Certainly showing up, let alone putting money in a collection box, at a religious institution that favors one candidate over another is also a compromise of neutrality then.
What about journalists who patronize businesses whose advertisements support Sinclair Broadcasting, which intends to air an anti-Kerry film on scores of TV stations across the country? What if they and their editors own stock in Sinclair?
Most people expect reporters to be neutral in their reporting; we expect editors to check the facts. We hope that the paper's news is truthful.
We understand that everything we do is political in one way or another but we do not believe that people's lives should be censored. At least not while the U. S. remains a democracy, which won't be for long if actions such as these suspensions continue.
I heard on the news tonight that you are suspending two reporters for attending a fundraising concert for the Democratic Party. If this is not reversed I will be canceling my paper both Sunday and daily.
K.G. St. Paul
The fact that you disciplined two employees for attending a Vote for Change concert speaks badly of your respect for not only the rights of your employees, but for the very fabric of our democracy.
I understand that the two reporters were not assigned to political reporting, which, in effect, makes their politics largely irrelevant. One might ask if the same policies apply to your executives and editorial employees. Is everyone barred from attending any political functions? And how about making donations to the candidates of one's choice?
My guess is that executives and editorial writers are allowed to practice their political beliefs without restriction, and that if the reporters had attended a Republican fundraiser they would not have been disciplined.
L.T. Detroit, Michigan
Why did the Pioneer Press inform their staff not to attend a rock concert? Why did the Pioneer Press suspend staff members for attending a rock concert?
Did the Pioneer Press tell their staff not to attend any NASCAR events? Did the Pioneer Press suspend any of its staff if they did attend NASCAR events? All 2004 NASCAR events have been nothing but Bush rallies. The Daytona 500 showed Bush for 30 minutes. The Republican Party has sponsored cars to run in NASCAR events. NASCAR has had the Republican Party register voters at all of their events.
The Pioneer Press should immediately return the staff members back to work. The Pioneer Press should apologize to the employees and then apologize to its readers.
D.S. Pearl City, Hawaii
I am appalled at the Pioneer Press's decision to suspend two reporters for attending the Bruce Springsteen benefit concert for MoveOn.org.
If a journalist is taking money from a political organization, that is an unethical conflict of interest. If a journalist wants to give money to a political candidate, because through their research they have independently decided they support that candidate's goals and views, that is civic responsibility. It is still the journalist's job to present both sides of every issue, and to look into statements made even by groups or people they support. But to say a journalist cannot have opinions is not only ridiculous, but dishonest on an Orwellian scale.
What next--will you say people who report the news can't vote?
K. G. Minneapolis
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