Friday, June 19, 2009

Can't avoid it

Although I occasionally write on marriage issues and have been a fan of Chief Flynn, my initial reaction was that there is not much that is blogworthy about revelation of his affair with Jessica McBride.

But this brief post by Jay Bullock has changed my mind. I can't comment on whether McBride has broken a tenet of journalist ethics. She claims that the affair started after her story was written and she can prove it. She has been publicly embarrassed and may well have destroyed her marriage but none of us know the particulars of that. My impression of her is that she is a talented person with a bit of a penchant for getting herself in trouble.

But what about Flynn? As a general matter, I think persons in positions of great responsibility and authority ought to model exemplary behavior. Extramarital affairs are harmful to the social fabric and ought to be accompanied by a certain amount of ostracism.

But we are all human and there is no one whose behavior is always exemplary. Some sins become public and others do not. None of us can know the particular circumstances of these two individuals so our insistence upon propriety must be tempered with charity.

Under these circumstances, I think that Flynn ought to - as he has done - admit that he has wronged his family and apologize. That's it.

Jay thinks it significant that Flynn's arrival "was heralded, far too much so, by the morality squawkers on line, in print, and over the air. He was coming in to clean up the town ... [and] this Good, Upstanding, Irish Catholic ... was going to put Milwaukee criminals on notice ...." He says that Flynn's base "base of support expects--nay, demands--fealty to the straight and narrow."

Although I am not going to accuse Jay of this, his post hints at a fairly common argument to the effect that only those without moral blemish can call for moral fealty. This, it has always seemed to me, is a corruption of Jesus' call for forgiveness and direction that it is he is without sin who should cast the first stone.

This - for those us who pay attention to such matters - is a call for forgiveness, not a command to moral relativism. Forgiveness does not mean the absence of consequences just as the insistence on moral standards (also a Jesus theme) does not exclude the practice of mercy.

Flynn has been subjected to public humiliation and must now face the consequence of his action for his relationship with his wife and family. He has been - and will be - forced to bow and scrape in public. His image has been tarnished; his honeymoon with press and public ended. He has - and this is critical - admitted his wrong and asked for forgiveness.

I think that's enough.


illusory tenant said...

I can't help but sympathize with them both for having their personal correspondence revealed, and Dan Bice doesn't help matters by going on the radio and making prurient allusions to what he left out.

Nobody deserves that. Nor do I believe either of them owes an apology to anyone other than their own closest confidantes and even then, as they see fit, which is none of our business.

News value? Marginal. Ethical considerations? Plentiful. And not just on their part. On the part of Bice, and many others, I'm sure.


Sandra said...

I mainly sympathize with the young daughter and hope her needs are foremost in her parents' worries and prayers as they move forward.

Nick said...

I disagree with you on your point that "without moral blemish can call for moral fealty". We call those people's ability into question all the time. We have words to describe them, like hypocrite, and when it comes to politicians, we call into question policies they try to implement into law when their own personal habits are in conflict with their vision (hello Al Gore).

But what do we do with a Jessica McBride, who is not elected? I still think it is acceptable to hold her to a higher standard for two reasons:

1. She entered herself into moral debate through her writings, and public speaking. This was not thrust upon her.

2. She did more than simply say "this is a good way to behave". She, through her speaking, helped to change THE LAW, that affects even those who disagree with her. That brings her into the same realm as a politician.

Dave Reid said...

Yeah this story has been whispered around for awhile... To me what matters if Chief Flynn can keep crime levels going down. That's his job.

Clutch said...

IT: News value? Marginal. Ethical considerations? Plentiful. And not just on their part. On the part of Bice, and many others, I'm sure.

You'd think so, wouldn't you? Frankly, the most ridiculous thing I've read about this was this quote in the original Bice article:

Milwaukee Magazine Editor Bruce Murphy said Thursday that he was unaware of the relationship. But Murphy said he stood by McBride's magazine piece, suggesting it was tougher than anything written about the chief.

Asked if he planned to inform his readers about the affair, Murphy said, "I don't think it has any bearing on the story. It was a great story."

"I don't think it has any bearing on the story"? Now there's failure of ethics, leadership, and mentorship worthy of both a drop in circulation, and a Dart from the Columbia Journalism Review.

illusory tenant said...

Mr. Murphy publishes an online column every Tuesday, so perhaps he'll be expanding on his views tomorrow.

Elsewhere, a couple of bloggers have noted that the same journalist, then in the employ of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, was several years ago embroiled in a similar ethical quandary with a different member of the law enforcement community.

Yet the J-S never accused itself of impropriety.

I agree the CJR could see fit to deploy a whole quiver of darts.

illusory tenant said...

Also, my sympathies go out to medium-wave celebrity Charlie Sykes, who was making a meal of this affair on Friday, mentioning several times of the various principals that he'd "had dinner with them all."

Sykes promised more on his weakly television programme, Sunday INCITE!, but alas, he was preempted by golf.

illusory tenant said...

"every Tuesday ..."

Make that Monday.

George Mitchell said...

Bruce Murphy's posted account of the chronology appears to support Jessica McBride's. If so, she made a personal mistake and not a professional one. The Journal Sentinel is yet to be heard from on the matter of whether its stories were misleading.

Clutch said...

...and not a professional one

Murphy's conclusion requires taking McBride at her word when exculpatory, and dismissing her words when incriminating.

His article gives reason to believe that Bice was shading the truth, possibly deliberately. But this does not support the blanket assertion that McBride did not err professionally; rather, it supports iT's remark that "a whole quiver of darts" may be needed in this case.