Angry Blue October Fan Appeals Our Ethics To Washington Post
|Blue October fans, still carping|
Yesterday, in one of Washington Post feature writer Gene Weingarten's hosted chats, a reader wanted to know what the two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winner thought about my angle in the Justin Furstenfeld profile we ran in May. (Scoll down on page, it's in there, we swear...)
In that story, I asked Blue October singer Justin Furstenfeld to prove to me, by showing me either his prescriptions or notes from doctors, that he was as mentally ill as he claimed to be in several interviews.
And this anonymous reader wanted the Post -- the home of Woodward and Bernstein -- to weigh in on my journalistic ethics. (Okay, I'm not sure why she's asking the humor columnist about this, but that's those crazy Blue Meanies for ya.)The question:
A reporter for the Houston Press asked the subject of a profile piece to prove his (the subject's) mental illness by supplying medications or medical evaluations. The reporter's justification is the subject, a musician, makes his mental illness a big part of his songs, but there is anecdotal evidence he's faking it.
From the article: "it really did start with a simple request to see proof of his mental illness. And while a request like that might not be polite dinner-party repartee, it is pretty much standard operating procedure for a reporter...Would I do the same to, say, a cancer patient? In a word, yes. If somebody is claiming to be ill, and it is not obvious that he is sick, if he is not missing a limb or suffering from open sores, you just never know."
The reporter and singer have a long history and mutual axes to grind. Asking to see medication and claiming it's all in the name of honest journalism seems a bit thin. Honestly, the reporter's behavior infuriated me, but I'm not an expert on journalistic ethics and maybe his question was legit.
For the record, those grinding axes refer to nothing more than a negative review of the song "Hate Me" I wrote a few years back.
At any rate, here's Weingarten's response...
Hm. This is complicated, but I don't think the reporter did anything wrong, except possibly writing critically about someone with whom there are old axes to grind. That's potentially problematic, as this contretemps shows. But on the central issue: Of course, it was legit to ask the singer to prove his mental illness. His mental illness is inextricable from his career; if it's a lie, then his career is a lie. And that's news.