Category Archives: Online News

Journalism Stimulus Needed

“We need a journalism stimulus,” writes Craig Aaron, saying that journalism is too important to democracy to be left to the whims of the market.


Bartman, the Ball and Ethics


Bartman and the ball  —- photo


By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

The coronavirus batted the 2020 major league baseball season into limbo, but stories about baseball never get old.

Here’s one about the Chicago Cubs, a seriously maligned baseball fan and journalism ethics. Like many classic tales, it’s told, retold and people argue about the details in their favorite watering holes. Sometimes the story gets better each time it’s told.

It boils down to this: Was it ethical to name a baseball fan who deflected a foul ball, possibly costing the Chicago Cubs a trip to the World Series? This question has become a staple in some journalism ethics classes. I was reminded of that when a student named Maddie contacted the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, asking if news organizations violated the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics by naming that hapless fan.

That fan, as the world knows by now, is Steve Bartman. He was sitting in the front row along the left field corner wall behind the on-field bullpen on Oct. 14, 2003, during a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins in Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

A pop foul off the bat of Luis Castillo drifted toward Bartman’s seat. Cubs left fielder Moisés Alou raced to the wall, jumped up, and reached for the ball. At the same instant, Bartman, looking up at the ball hurling from the sky toward him, reacted by reaching up, fumbled it, and deflected the ball away from Alou’s glove as Alou cursed. The umpire ruled no interference.

Bartman stayed seated as television cameras broadcast live shots of him between multiple replays of the foul ball incident. His image became part of baseball legend: A diminutive fan wearing a Cubs baseball cap, glasses, headset and a green turtleneck shirt.

Angry Cubs fans cursed him and chanted an A-word I will not repeat. A phalanx of security guards surrounded Bartman and led him out of Wrigley field for his own safety. On his way out, fans shouted at him and pelted him with trash, beer and other drinks.

This happened during the eighth inning of game six of the National League Championship Series, with Chicago leading 3-0 and holding a three-game to two lead in the best-of-seven series. If Alou had caught the ball, it would have been the second out in the inning. The Cubs would have been four outs away from winning their first National League pennant since 1945. Instead, the Marlins sent 12 batters to the plate and scored eight runs. Florida won the game 8-3 and eventually won the 2003 World Series.

That’s how baseball was played. Now let’s see how the game of journalism was played.

                                 Ethical decision-making

The story was an example of an ethical dilemma because Bartman might have been in danger from irate fans. For that reason, I have argued that Bartman’s identity should not have been disclosed by Chicago and other media to protect him.

As I recall, it took about a day before an enterprising Chicago Sun-Times reporter, Frank Main, revealed that Steve Bartman was the fan who fumbled the ball. For a short time, the Chicago Tribune did not reveal Bartman’s identity. But after the Sun-Times went with the story, revealing Bartman’s identity, so did the Chicago Tribune and other media.

They flashed every detail they could about him, not only his identity, but where he lived and where he worked. As many as six police cars lined up outside Bartman’s home to protect him and his family. The Illinois governor suggested he join a witness protection program and Florida’s governor offered Bartman asylum.

Here’s where the ethics dilemma gets tricky. As I see it, if the Chicago Tribune or any other media withheld Bartman’s identity in the interest of protecting him, why identify him just because somebody else did? That’s copycat journalism, as I see it, and not standing your ground on ethics. If it was wrong before, then it was still wrong to identify him even if somebody else did.

Ethics means doing the right thing and sticking with your decision. I did not agree with the Sun-Times decision to name Bartman. I participated in a few public meetings on this issue and other journalists scoff at my view on this. News is news, they say, and that’s what journalists are supposed to report. The guy who fumbled the foul ball was all over national news, so journalists had to identify him, they said.

But have a heart. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics encourages journalists to “minimize harm” and show compassion for people affected by news coverage. The Bartman case shows how news judgment is influenced by what other journalists do. Ethical decision-making involves coming to your own conclusions, not simply doing what other journalists do. Think for yourself. Don’t follow the herd. That’s herd mentality.

                             Concern for Bartman’s safety

I was working for the Chicago Tribune as a reporter when all this happened. If I had been editor of the Tribune at the time, I would have stuck with the decision the newspaper made initially, which was to withhold Bartman’s identity for the sake of his safety. It probably would have been an unpopular decision, possibly even ridiculed by other journalists. So what? My conscience would have been clear if Bartman had been hurt. It was wrong to put him in that position.

There was concern that some fans might track him down and take revenge.

Besides, the guy never asked for that notoriety and wanted to protect his privacy. He was not a public figure. Bartman apologized and said he wanted to move past it and return to a quiet life.

He released a statement saying he was “truly sorry.” He added, “I had my eye glued on the approaching ball the entire time and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even see Moisés Alou, much less that he may have had a play.”

Bartman declined interviews, endorsement deals and requests for public appearances. His family changed its phone number to avoid harassing phone calls. He has declined a $25,000 offer for an autographed picture of himself and declined a six-figure offer to appear in a Super Bowl commercial.

Cubs players came to his defense, saying they lost the game, not Bartman. At first, Alou was angry, but was quoted later saying that he would not have caught the ball anyway, and then he said he was joking, and that it was time “to forgive the guy and move on.” His final comment in a 2011 documentary was: “I’m convinced 100% that I had that ball in my glove.”

                                  The saga comes to a close

Bartman’s father came to his defense. He told the Chicago Sun-Times: “He’s a huge Cubs fan. I’m sure I taught him well. I taught him to catch foul balls when they come near him.”

Chicago being Chicago, some blamed the foul-ball affair on the Curse of the Billy Goat, named for a well-known story about a Greek restaurant-owner who cursed the Cubs when he was ejected from Wrigley Field for trying to bring his goat into the ball park. Others said the Neanderthal behavior of Cubs fans reflected poorly on Chicago’s sports culture. Bartman’s seat in Wrigley Field became a tourist attraction, but he never returned to the ball park.

Chicago had not won a World Series since 1908. The championship drought ended in 2016, when the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians for the World Series championship. It offered a chance to make amends with Bartman. On July 31, 2017, the Cubs owner Tom Ricketts presented Bartman with a championship ring.

Expressing his gratitude, Bartman said the ring signified “that I am welcomed back into the Cubs family and have their support going forward. I am relieved and hopeful that the saga of the 2003 foul ball incident surrounding my family and me is finally over.”


The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or


President Excoriates Media photo

“Every American has a role to play” in combatting the coronavirus menace, says the president.

That includes journalists, although President Trump does not seem to recognize that. He excoriates them every chance he gets.

NBC’s Peter Alexander asked him at a news conference: “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”  The president answered: “I say that you are a terrible reporter, that’s what I say. It’s a very nasty question. It’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.”

Actually, it was a soft-ball question that offered the president a chance to appear presidential and to comfort a nation under attack by a viral pestilence. The president’s drumbeat of negativism is not helpful.

On Sunday, President lashed out against media again, tweeting: “I watch and listen to the Fake News, CNN, MSDNC, ABC, NBC, CBS, some of FOX (desperately & foolishly pleading to be politically correct), the @nytimes, & the @washingtonpost, and all I see is hatred of me at any cost. Don’t they understand that they are destroying themselves?”

Actually, this attack dog mentality against the media appears to be destroying his credibility at a time of extreme urgency, when public trust in credible sources of information is vital to public safety.

“Americans have little trust in the information they are hearing from President Trump about the novel coronavirus, and their confidence in the federal government’s response to it is declining sharply,” according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Just 46 percent of Americans now say the federal government is doing enough to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, down from 61 percent in February, writes Domenico Montanaro. According to the poll, he writes, just 37 percent of Americans now say they had a good amount or a great deal of trust in what they’re hearing from the president, while 60 percent say they had not very much or no trust at all in what he’s saying.

The president rates worst of all groups tested, according to the poll, and that includes public health officials, state and local leaders or the news media. When it comes to the news media, two-thirds of Democrats trust news media information, independents were split and Republicans overwhelmingly said they do not trust media information. Republicans think the coronavirus is blown out of proportion.

Public health officials got the highest level of trust at 84 percent, followed by state and local leaders at 72 percent. Americans were split 50 percent to 47 percent on whether they trust news media information or not.

“Having significant chunks of the country either not believing their president (who controls the fedral government’s response), the press (which is a gate-keeper for information), or both, could be dangerous in a pandemic,” writes Montanaro.

Divisions rooted in political squabble do nobody any good, and it’s a good time for President Trump to stop demonizing the media because it does not help his reputation as a credible source of information, and tarnishes the nation’s only real reliable network of information. They should work together against the coronavirus scourge.

The president should quit using  coronavirus briefings as a platform for attacks on the media, as he did recently, when he said: “It amazes me when I read the things that I read. It amazes me when I read the Wall Street Journal which is always so negative, it amazes me when I read the New York Times, it’s not even – I barely read it. You know, we don’t distribute it in the White House anymore, and the same thing with the Washington Post. Because, you see, I know the truth. And people out there in the world, they really don’t know the truth, really don’t know what it is.”

How do remarks like that fit into a briefing on the coronavirus, an existential threat to people across the world? It’s pandering to his political base, who can’t seem to let go of their political haggling as though that is more important than life itself.

Erik Wemple, the Washington Post media critic, writes: “Nearly five years into Trump’s nonstop attacks on the media, it’s bewildering to consider the proper way to rebut them, or whether to rebut them. They come in torrents, based on thoughtless, factless presidential eructations. They serve their political purpose: Solidifying a population of supporters who believe Trump over the media even when presented with evidence upending their inclinations.” He quotes a Trump supporter who says you have to live in New York to understand what Trump is saying.

This comes at a time when 15 states have ordered stay-at-home shutdowns or other emergency action, according to the Daily Beast. Governors are taking sweeping efforts to contain the coronavirus to “fend off the kind of onslaught of patients that has caused southern Europe to buckle,” The Associated Press reported.

The World Health Organization took note of the epidemic’s dramatic speed, the Associated Press reported.

“It took over three months to reach the first 10,000 confirmed cases and only 12 days to reach the next 100,000,” the U.N. health agency said. Across the U.S., governors and public health officials watched the European crisis from afar with mounting alarm and warned of critical shortages of ventilators, masks and other protective gear.

Worldwide, the number of infections exceeded 244,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. More than 86,000 people have recovered, mostly in China.

By comparison, the Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 influenza epidemic, infected 500 million people — about a quarter of the world’s population – from January 1918 through December 1920. The death toll is estimated at anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.

Climate Journalism Rage

Climate journalism rage: Emily Atkin describes how she put passion into reporting on climate change.

“In order to make an impact on climate journalism, I’ve learned, I need to turn my despair into rage,” she writes. “Only then can others feel the burning importance of the story.”


Extraordinary Times

Extraordinary times: We can no longer doubt that we are living through extraordinary times, writes Pankaj Mishra about the coronavirus pandemic.

“In fact, the last such churning occurred almost exactly a century ago, and it altered the world so dramatically that a revolution in the arts, sciences and philosophy, not to mention the discipline of economics, was needed even to make sense of it,” Mishra writes.


Covering Coronavirus Better

Covering coronavirus better: Shoddy coverage of the virus can cause panic and overreaction, writes Al Tompkins.

Limit adjectives, choose images carefully, frame stories with context, bust myths and get creative.

“The public is starting to freak out,” he writes. “Don’t add to it with screaming clickbait headlines and scary generic images.”