Monday, April 25, 2005

Golden Boy Mitch Albom Tarnished, But Gets To Keep Job


The Detroit Free Press brass had their chance to take a stand. Instead, they cowered under their desks for fear of what might happen if they canned columnist-superstar Mitch Albom for penning a column about something that never happened but written as if he was there.
Albom's been on paid leave since April 7, the newspaper launched an "investigation" into what happened. Over the weekend, Free Press editor and publisher Carole Leigh Hutton wrote in a note to readers that Albom and four editors would be disciplined, and that the column would return.
"We took into account many factors, including the seriousness of the offense, the importance of our credibility, the history of those involved and Albom's 20 stellar years at the Free Press," Hutton wrote.
Which meant she left many questions unanswered, and still has. She clammed up when quizzed by Editor & Publisher's Joe Strupp. Pressed on why Albom wasn't fired for writing about something that didn't occur, she said only "I didn't think that was the appropriate discipline in this case."
And that's about all Hutton would offer, except to promise that the Free Press would publish an article at some point to explain what happen.
Then again, this was the same paper that spiked a bad review of Albom's latest book "Five People You'll Meet In Heaven," so don't get your hopes up.
And remember, Hutton is editor AND publisher. It's not just about the integrity of the news product, especially when your bottom line could fall through the trap door. And in a city like Detroit, whose two papers have since precipitous circulation drops, you can't lose whatever edge you may have.
And one of the few the Free Press may possess is Albom, who by all accounts has a genuine following and has justly built his street cred as a revered media titan in the Motor City. Until now.
The Free Press doesn't want to find out the hard way if giving Albom the boot will siphon away even more readers. After all, what's the use in having credibility if nobody's reading the paper, right?
The Free Press assumes most of its readers are in forgive-and-forget mode. And they may be right. So it really should come as no surprise the paper will welcome back Albom with open arms, or at least make sure the door doesn't hit him and his outsized ego on the way back in. But it's sad and pathetic all the same.
Look for Albom's next column and see if the words "I'm sorry" appear. Now that would be something worth reading about. Assuming, of course, it was true.

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