Tag Archives: Chicago Sun-Times

Bartman, the Ball and Ethics


Bartman and the ball  —- NBCsports.com 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 ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.


Is Buying Twitter Followers Unethical?

Is buying Twitter followers unethical?

News organizations rarely confronted that question before, writes Paul Fahi. The New York Times found the practice is widespread, and the Chicago Sun-Times suspended its movie critic for padding his follower count.

A critic says a falsified follower count is like a newspaper inflating its circulation figures.

Teaching the Agony of Ethical Dilemmas at DePaul

NBC 5 photo
Carol Marin in center of NBC 5 staff viewing the Laquan McDonald shooting video as it arrived before airing. (NBC 5 photo)

By Casey Bukro

“There is real agony to ethical dilemmas as we strive to be both competitive and excellent,” said Carol Marin, one of Chicago’s most respected journalists, as she launched DePaul University’s Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence.

Marin will be co-director of the new center with her longtime television producer, Don Moseley. Both recently won Peabody Awards for their coverage of the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the third Peabody for Marin and the second for Moseley.

Marin and Moseley were among the speakers at a reception celebrating the launch. The new center is dedicated to turning students into investigative reporters who dig hard, but with compassion for those afflicted.

Journalists do not always recognize or honor that delicate balance. In her remarks, Marin cited the McDonald case as an example of how hard it was to strike that balance at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5.

“When the video of that night was finally released by the city under court order, we at NBC 5, from the president of the station all the way down to the working ranks of the newsroom, stood at the assignment desk together and watched it,” Marin said. “Saw the officer fire 16 shots. Saw an explosion of droplets fly out as the bullets hit. Saw Laquan McDonald spiral and fall to the ground.

“The pressure of being first to report is a real pressure,” she said. “But better to be late than be wrong.”

Continue reading Teaching the Agony of Ethical Dilemmas at DePaul

Undercover Investigator Insults Journalists

By Casey Bukro

David R. Daleiden said he misrepresented himself and falsified his identification while investigating Planned Parenthood because that’s what journalists do.

What an insult to journalists! Ethical journalists know that telling lies and deception while covering the news destroys their credibility. Who would believe a journalist who lies, cheats or steals?

That’s why the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics clearly states: “Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.”

True, there’s a qualification. And journalism lore is rife with tales of Hollywood-style derring-do, with reporters pulling off grand deceptions.

The Mirage tavern, a study in journalism deception.
The Mirage tavern, a study in journalism deception.

In 1977, the Chicago Sun-Times bought a tavern and staffed it with reporters and photographers to show the extent of corruption and shakedowns by Chicago city inspectors and others who took $10 or $20 payoffs to ignore safety or health hazards. Then the Sun-Times published a 25-part series that documented the abuses and crimes in the Mirage tavern.

You’ll still get an argument from some journalists who say it was a terrific story and resulted in major city, state and federal reforms. The talk at the time, though, was that the series failed to win a Pulitzer Prize because the investigation was based on deception, and that was wrong.

Continue reading Undercover Investigator Insults Journalists

Take This Job and Shove It


Dave McKinney

 Dave McKinney


By Casey Bukro


Once again, one of Chicago’s top journalists is telling his bosses  to “take this job and shove it.”

The latest example is Dave McKinney, a highly respected  Chicago Sun-Times political reporter and Springfield statehouse bureau chief.

McKinney complained of being “yanked from my beat” and placed on temporary leave after staffers for Bruce Rauner, candidate for Illinois governor in an election that was only weeks away, made accusations against McKinney and his wife “in a last-ditch act of intimidation” trying to kill a story about Rauner.

McKinney pointed out that the Sun-Times editorially endorsed Rauner’s run for governor.

“Readers of the Sun-Times need to be able to trust the paper,” McKinney wrote in his resignation letter. “They need to know a wall exists between owners and the newsroom to preserve the integrity of what is published. A breach in that wall exists at the Sun-Times.”

Journalists were quick to come to McKinney’s defense.

The Chicago Headline Club, with a membership of about 500 journalists, said it was “shocked and disappointed” at McKinney’s treatment, and called it “a sad day in the history of the Sun-Times and Chicago journalism.”  The news spread fast.

In response, Jim Kirk, Sun-Times publisher and editor-in-chief, called McKinney “among the best in our profession,” but his leave was intended to “ensure there were no conflicts of interest……” Kirk denied that the newspaper’s ownership and management had any role in the matter. He took responsibility for the decisions.

Chicago tends to take its journalism, and sometimes its journalists, seriously.

The last time such an open conflict over news ethics erupted was in 1997, when Carol Marin and Ron Magers quit as evening co-anchors at WMAQ-TV Channel 5 over management’s decision to hire trash talk host Jerry Springer as a commentator on their news broadcast. Springer was known for hosting a show that featured raucous domestic disputes.

Marin and Magers considered Springer’s role on their broadcast “an affront to their credibility and integrity.”

On the day she quit, Marin had a story in the Chicago Sun-Times, where she is a political writer, with the headline: “Credibility, Thy Name Isn’t Springer.”

The decision to hire Springer turned out disastrous for WMAQ-TV. Not only did it lose two admired co-anchors, its 10 p.m. newscast ratings plunged 13 percent.

Robert Feder, a media columnist for the Sun-Times at the time, wrote that Channel 5 executives admitted that hiring Springer was a mistake after losing the anchors and “sending thousands of viewers fleeing in disgust.”

Springer also quit WMAQ after only two nights on the air, saying “it’s gotten too personal.”

Television viewers often form bonds with TV personalities, who are usually attractive and friendly. It’s as though those people on TV are personal friends, sometimes.

Those kinds of bonds seldom form with the largely invisible newspaper writers and reporters, who sometimes describe themselves as “ink-stained wretches.”

In this multi-media world, McKinney did appear on television via Skype broadcasts, reporting on political developments in Springfield. But it’s unlikely that readers will flee from the Sun-Times over the McKinney affair, as viewers fled WMAQ over the resignations of Marin and Magers.

In one of those strange twists, Carol Marin collaborated with McKinney on the Rauner investigation. Marin responded, saying the Rauner investigation was fair and accurate, although a “scorched earth” philosophy is not unusual in a political campaign.

“And so the Rauner team went over our heads to our bosses at NBC5 and the Sun-Times….” with untrue accusations, she wrote.

Hardball is the way the game is played in Chicago in both cases. But the basic issues are the same: Ethics, credibility and integrity.








Picture This, A Newspaper With No Photographers

By Casey Bukro

Journalists are hardened by now to the continuous drumbeat of layoffs and cutbacks ripping through journalism these days, so it’s not easy to shock them.

But many were shaken by the news that the Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire staff of 28 full-time photographers, planning to use freelance photographers and reporters to shoot pictures.

It’s ironic, really. The Sun-Times is a tabloid, dating to 1844, which built a powerful reputation on the smart and creative use of photos. Of the eight Pulitzer Prizes won by the paper, two were for photography. It was known as a picture newspaper.

What was management thinking? In a statement, it said the “business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news.” Their vision is a video newspaper. Management usually has the final word in such matters.

Sun-Times reporters joined the laid-off photographers in a peaceful demonstration outside the newspaper building. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics says everyone, including our colleagues, is deserving of respect.

The laid-off photographers are taking it like the professionals they are.

But how many set-backs can a great newspaper take?

When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought the Sun-Times in 1984, it was recast in the gaudy Murdoch image, complete with bikini-clad pinups. It was his idea of what sells newspaper. Murdoch seriously misjudged Chicago, thinking it was a blue-collar town of steel workers. Some of his star columnists defected in disgust. And they keep going.

After selling off assets, Murdoch sold the Sun-Times and left it weakened.

In 1994, the Sun-Times was bought by a company controlled by Canadian-born press baron Conrad Black. In 2007, Black was convicted of fraud and stealing $60 million from company stockholders, and sent to jail.

And now, new management is set to work its magic. Let’s hope the Sun-Times catches a break this time. It could use one.