As some of you

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As some of you may know, Andrew Sullivan has called me to task for not naming the ABC News reporter at the center of the article I published last Friday in Salon.com.

If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, I’ll briefly explain. If you already know the story, skip ahead by clicking here.

In the July 13th article I described how ABC News received a timeline from Gary Condit’s office detailing the congressman’s activities on the days surrounding Chandra Levy’s disappearance. Producers at ABC knew that key facts in the timeline were wrong because parts of the timeline had to do with one of ABC’s own reporters. The timeline said Condit had met with the reporter on the day of Levy’s disappearance (May 1st) when in fact he had not. ABC confronted Condit’s legal team only to be told that the timeline was just a work-in-progress, a rough draft, and so forth. They eventually decided to give Condit’s office the benefit of the doubt – assuming that this was just an honest mistake, rather than a deliberate attempt to create a false alibi for the congressman. Further complicating the situation for ABC was the fact that the reporter has been alleged to have had a romantic relationship with Condit. (This run-down obviously omits a lot of key details. So if you want the whole story do read the whole article.)

So the question is why didn’t we name the reporter? Andrew says that the media has one privacy rule for its own and another for everyone else. It’s a pretty good point – and one that I was thinking myself before I even started reporting the story. Frankly, I think it’s true. And this case is a pretty good example of that fact. I don’t have much doubt that – given even her minor role in the case – you’d know this woman’s name if she weren’t a reporter for ABC News. ABC has a story to report; but it’s implicated in the story on a number of levels. So they’ve essentially put the reporter on ice, and squelched the story. (This was the gist of my article – and thus in a sense Andrew and I aren’t that far apart.)

But where do Salon and I fit in?

I found out the name of the reporter while reporting the article. And her name was confirmed to me by a source with impeccable knowledge of the situation – just not on the record. And that’s the point: no one would go on the record with this woman’s name.

If this were just a question of her as a reporter that might not have been a problem. But it’s central to this story that there are rampant rumors about her alleged romantic involvement with Condit. And a major metropolitan daily, The New York Post, has published the allegation.

Normally, a mere allegation counts for nothing. But in this case it’s different, because true or not these allegations have affected ABC’s willingness to confront the story, or at least that’s what I argue.

But we didn’t have any confirmation that this affair allegation was true. In fact, we had a firm denial from an ABC News executive.

So the question we faced was this: do we name this woman in the context of allegations of an affair when no one will go on the record identifying her, and we have no evidence validating that the allegations of an affair are true?

Framed that way, the question doesn’t seem that hard to answer.

I wouldn’t publish an article alleging that two people were having an affair unless at least one of them was willing to confirm it. And I feel pretty confident saying that since I publicly criticized the Washington Post for doing so just last Friday.

Andrew says that “If ABC News is right about their reporter’s relationship with Condit, this is one instance in which there are no real privacy considerations. As long as ABC News says there was no affair, then the reporter has nothing to be afraid of in disclosing her name.”

But this isn’t an argument so much as a logical trap, a cleverly packaged catch-22 from which the folks at ABC could never escape. I think Andrew may be right when he says that the reporter and/or ABC News have a duty to come forward with this information (that was really the point of my article, after all) but that’s obviously a bone he has to pick with ABC and the reporter, not me.

Having said all this, though, there’s still a problem: there really is a lot more solicitousness for this woman’s privacy than there is for many others who aren’t in the media. To make a point we could have cut through all the reportorial niceties noted above and simply named her. And in a sense I suppose that would have made things more fair. But this would just be a ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ situation or a case of (the wingers’ favorite phrase) defining deviancy down.

Now there’s one other point Andrew brings up that I’d like to address. He says that spilling the beans on this reporter woman is precisely what a me-zine is for. I don’t agree. I’ve written a lot of things in these virtual pages that I probably couldn’t have gotten an editor to go along with. But I think that when I write an article for a magazine and we come to some sort of agreement about how to proceed on an editorial question that I have an obligation not to do an end-run around them and take some information that we agreed not to publish and spill the beans on Talking Points. It would depend on the situation, of course. If the magazine did something really egregious I might use my site to get out some important information. But that doesn’t apply here.

So as you’ve probably surmised by now, I’m not going to post this woman’s name. In his email to me Andrew said that if I had “the balls” I’d publish the woman’s name. Frankly, if this is a test of my editorial manliness, I don’t think I’ve got much to prove – given all I’ve published here. And since the whole issue here is tying a man and woman together sexually in print, I’ll just stand before you in the spirit of the moment, wag my finger and say: my balls have nothing to do with that woman, the un-named off-air reporter from ABC News.

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