Tag Archives: Chicago Tribune

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.


Newsroom Ethics Panel



Carol Marin, Chicago journalist

By Casey Bukro

“Fake news began with the cavemen,” asserts Carol Marin, a leading Chicago television and print journalist.

A caveman returned to his cave, telling heroic stories about his exploits. “The demons he killed were enormous,” Marin assured an audience gathered to hear a newsroom ethics panel featuring some of the Chicago region’s best-known journalists. “It has always been a presence in our lives.”

The topic was “Fake News” versus “Real News.” The place was the WGN-TV studie in Chicago.

“Facts matter,” said Margaret Holt, the Chicago Tribune’s standards editor. “It all begins with facts.”

Holt recited a famous dictate of Chicago journalism: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Take nothing for granted and check out everything.

“The job of journalism is to get facts, get facts clear,” said Holt.

Don Moseley, a political and investigative television producer offered this: “Specificity, for people who watch and read. Specificity.”

Moseley is co-director with Marin of DePaul University’s Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence.

Marsha Bartel, WGN-TV investigative producer, believes “people have become too passive. You’ve got to do work on your own. I urge everybody to become better consumers.”

Maggie Bowman, a documentary file producer for Kartemquin Educational Films in Chicago, said audiences weigh information given to them.

“It’s up to us as storytellers to be transparent, like who funds us,” said Bowman. Resita Cox, a City Bureau reporter, agreed: “Explain how you got to where you got to.” City Bureau is a nonprofit civic journalism lab in Chicago.

Holt added: “Also, ask what’s the voice that is missing. Have more voices. Look at who is missing.”

This was the next question: How do you determine the reliability of sources, and whether to use anonymous sources?

A two-source rule is helpful, said Marin. “We spend a lot of sleepless nights looking at the pieces of the story,” including the motives of sources.

Moseley: “When you use anonymous sources, you vet them, their background and the foundation of their knowledge.”

Bartel: Most sources have a motive. “I take the sources as a lead” and look for documents to verify what the source said. “Work it and work it and keep adding pieces of information. I really try not to use anonymous sources any more, unless there is no other option.”

Moseley: “Think carefully before you use them.”

Next question was how social media complicates the lives of journalists.

Social media can help develop a story, said Cox, but “is the person telling the truth? Is this a story? You have to go the extra step and verify sources.”

Next question, what is a conflict of interest?

Holt pointed out that the late Jerome Holtzman, a former Chicago Tribune sports writer, wrote a book entitled, “No Cheering in the Press Box.” It warned sports writers to avoid taking sides in reporting sporting events, but Holt said that advice applies to all journalists.

“There has to be personal separation,” said Holt. “You cannot separate yourself from your social media presence. You have to be careful about how you present yourself in the professional world.”

Marin added: “We don’t take a side, we don’t belong to anyone’s club. It’s very hard to impress that on young journalists. We’re not there to support, but to present the facts.”

On the issue of copyright and fair use, Bowman said “fair use is a way of finding the balance in copyright material.” It’s difficult, she said, to use copyright material without paying exorbitant fees. She typically uses seconds or minutes of television clips for historical content, for example.

“As users of copyright material we continually defend our right to use it,” she said. Fair Use laws, she said, allows “free expression in our democracy,” adding “we can’t make things completely objective, but we can be transparent.”

For a source on fair use, free speech and intellectual property, Bowman suggested going to the Center for Media and Social Impact at cmsimpact.org. It is based in Washington, D.C.

On television, Marin said journalists often fail to explain the difference between news and analysis, a point of view. “In a lot of ways we fail.”

The next question wondered about a reporter’s rights in public and private settings, considering that journalists sometimes are told to leave the premises.

“If someone asks you to leave their house,” answered Cox, “you have to leave the house. But the sidewalk is public. Trespassing is a big thing. You have to figure your way around it.”

When covering government, said Marin, officials will try to set the rules.

“None of them really like the press,” said Marin. “But it is our job to cover them whether they like it or not. They are public officials.”

Holt added: “Arm yourself with education before you get into this. Army yourself. There is all kinds of training. There are things you can do even before you get into this position. We will fight. It’s incumbent on us to know what we have a right to.”

Bartel pointed to an alarming change in attitudes toward reporters since she first started covering presidential national conventions.

At the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, she said, “we were shouted at, called liberal media. I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s a very different atmosphere and felt like this was not a safe place to be.

“In this environment, you need to defend yourself and speak out” because there is a tendency to attack reporters.

On the issue of making mistakes, Holt said, “we all make mistakes and own your mistakes. What’s the point of making mistakes if you don’t learn from it? The people who make the most mistakes have the most challenging jobs. If you make mistakes over and over again, that is on you. Do the best you can in the time available. You build your credibility day by day.”

Moseley recalled that in speaking to a class, Holt pointed out that baseball players who sit on the bench during a game make no mistakes.

Race relations complicate the life of a journalist, Cox pointed out.

“I feel like we’re at war with each other,” she said. “I’m a woman of color and reporting in an era of Trump.” There are stories that don’t tell both sides, she said.

Marin said she opposes the idea of expecting African American reporters to cover African American issues. She would object to being identified as a white reporter with Swedish heritage, she said.

“We lose reporters who see nuances” by attempting to pigeon hole them according to ethnicity, said Marin.

Bartel added: “I think we are giving too much voice to the KKK. When I started I thought everything was black and white. Now it’s all shades of gray. The world is not right or wrong, black or white.”

In a similar vein, Cox said: “There are stories that are outright wrong and we don’t have to give a platform to those people.”

Holt said journalism often is “driven by white, older men. It’s difficult if you are a young reporter to balance this stuff. Part of what you bring to the job is you come from a different place. That is a valuable voice. Young people see the world differently from those with a more traditional view.”



Digital Journalism: Another Failed Business Model?

H. Iris Chyi.
University of Texas media researcher H. Iris Chyi says heavy shift to digital news was a mistake. Chyi photo.

By Casey Bukro

Here’s an interesting idea: The rush of newspaper management from print to digital journalism was a terrible mistake.

Cyber media was supposed to be the next big thing, the answer to plummeting circulation, advertising and readership. Soon it became clear that digital journalism got off on the wrong foot with a “bad business model,” this new way to get the news for free. That set an expectation of reluctance to pay for it.

“What if almost the entire newspaper industry got it wrong?” asks Jack Shafer on Politico.com.  He is Politico’s senior media writer.

“What if, in the mad dash two decades ago to repurpose and extend editorial content onto the web, editors and publishers made a colossal business blunder that wasted hundreds of millions of dollars? What if the industry should have stuck with its strengths–the print editions where the vast majority of their readers still reside and where the overwhelming majority of advertising and subscription revenue come from–instead of chasing the online chimera?”

Fascinating speculation, and Shafer admits it’s a contrarian viewpoint, but he bases it on a study of 51 U.S. newspapers by two University of Texas researchers, H. Iris Chyi and Ori Tenenboim. They published a paper in Journalism Practice, an academic journal.

That paper, said Shafer, “cracks open the watchwords of the newspaper industry to make a convincing case that the tech-heavy web strategy pursued by most papers has been a bust.” That strategy, Shafer adds, “has been a losing proposition for most newspapers.”

Come to think of it, history shows an “all eggs in one basket” strategy can lead to disappointment. The U.S. economy’s reliance on petroleum led to high costs and disruptions by unreliable sources. The electric power industry relied heavily on coal until air pollution and other problems forced the industry to turn to alternative and cleaner energy sources, like solar power. Nuclear power was heralded as the technology that would turn deserts green, but safety concerns derailed some of those hopes.

Continue reading Digital Journalism: Another Failed Business Model?

Plagiarism: A Renaissance for Attribution

he Young St. John the Baptist
Piero di Cosimo, “Young St. John the Baptist” (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

When New York Times critic Carol Vogel previewed an artist’s retrospective, readers were quick to question her report.

By Stephen Rynkiewicz

Renaissance artists might have struggled with the idea of plagiarism. Florentine salons respected tradition and uniformity, and apprentices in Piero di Cosimo’s studio learned by imitating the master. National Gallery of Art curator Gretchen Hirschauer told New York Times critic Carol Vogel that Piero’s work entered American collections partly by accident. It was attributed to other artists.

But the concept of plagiarism has evolved. When Vogel previewed Hirschauer’s retrospective of Piero’s work, a few readers were quick to question her report. It started with a list of Piero’s peculiarities, citing contemporary Giorgio Vasari, who’s still studied in paperback. But the wording was close to an even more common source, Wikipedia. The print passage is shortened online, and ombudsman Margaret Sullivan suggests Times editors might take further steps if a pattern emerges.

The word plagiarism first appears during the Reformation. The Random House Dictionary defines it as “to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas.” Universities have moved beyond the Renaissance academy, with rules against copying and paraphrasing. The Society of Professional Journalists ethics code simply says, “Never plagiarize.

Yet the practice continues. Evidence of plagiarism in Sen. John Walsh’s Army War College research puts him under pressure to withdraw from the November election. Repeated instances on the website BuzzFeed got a producer fired last month. And delegates to SPJ’s 2014 convention will consider adding another ethics directive: “Always attribute.

Continue reading Plagiarism: A Renaissance for Attribution