Topic: Business & Commercial

Firing the Messenger

The New York Times is immersed in yet another controversy with one of its reporters over an ethics matter. Susan Sachs, most recently the Times correspondent in Istanbul, ratted on two philandering colleagues (Times reporters who worked with her during an earlier stint in Iraq) to their wives, according to the paper. So the Times terminated her. Sachs denies the charges vociferously, and vows to fight through her union and through the courts if necessary.

But here’s what the Scoreboard wants to know: even if the allegations against Sachs are true, how can this be a legitimate firing offense? Exactly what workplace values is the Times asserting?

Neither the Times nor any other employer has a right to dictate that its workers must protect their colleagues’ extramarital affairs. This is not, under any reasonable measure, part of Sach’s job description. The Times apparently regards Sachs’ blowing the whistle on two gallivanting male reporters as a violation of loyalty to her employer, but that’s nonsense, unless the Times has recently acquired the Ashley Madison website.

Perhaps Sachs knows the two betrayed spouses. Perhaps they are friends. Certainly she feels, and rightly so, that she would want her friends to alert her if Sachs’ husband was fooling around on foreign soil. So she applied the Golden Rule. Can it be that this is now a firing offense at the Times?

It sure sounds as if the Times’ "old boy network’ is alive and well. The two exposed cheats complain to the Times management that they’re in hot water at home because Sachs tipped off their wives to their overseas exploits. "Don’t worry, boys," growls some cigar chomping editor right out of Front Page, "We’ll handle the bitch." Is that the way it happened?

Would the Times still stick to its apparent policy of aiding and abetting adultery if one of the womanizing Iraq reporters came home and infected his trusting wife with the HIV virus? Presumably. No wonder the paper likes to ridicule the Bush Administration’s marriage initiative: the paper has its own an adultery initiative. The Times, we can reasonably assume, would never presume to discipline reporters for cheating on their spouses: that’s personal. That’s none of the paper’s business. But another reporter blowing their cover …no, the Times just doesn’t want people like that working for them.

Needless to say, the paper’s management is seriously confused.

Was Sachs then "right" to alert the wives? This is unsettled territory. It all depends on how close she is to the people involved, what confidences have been exchanged, and the circumstances. Is one of the spouses pregnant, or trying to conceive? Has there been a history of infidelity? If Sachs is just a meddling busybody with no particular relationship to either spouse, then there is a valid ethical argument that she should mind her own business, but that argument becomes less persuasive the closer her relationship is with the couples involved. Nevertheless, the rightness or wrongness of her act doesn’t, or shouldn’t, concern the Times at all. The cheating reporters, the families of the two-timers, and Sachs have a great deal to talk to each other about. The New York Times should not be part of those conversations.

The Times is taking sides here when it shouldn’t, and the values it is representing as it does are highly suspect. The New York Times has revealed itself as a paper that is, like most papers, extremely self-righteous about uncovering the wrongdoing of others, but is offended when embarrassing secrets are revealed about the Times staff itself. Apparently the Times needs to be reminded that the villain in the all too common American tragedy of a family torn apart by infidelity is the adulterer, not the one who exposes him.


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