There are the working stiffs in the newspaper business, and then there are the poseurs, the local legends, the star columnist who may actually be the reason, or one among many that people buy the paper. Mitch Albom is all of these.
Which is why he may actually survive penning a column about something that never happened, but made it seem like he was there the whole time.
If you're tuning in late, Albom wrote in his April 3, Detroit Free Press column about two former Michigan State hoop stars flying to St. Louis for the NCAA basketball championship to root on their former team. Only thing wrong? The players never made it to the game. But to hear Albom tell it:
"[I]n talking to both players ... it was a chance to do something almost all of us would love to do: recapture , for a few hours, the best time of their lives."
Albom rolled the dice, writing a Sunday column on Friday for an event on Saturday. Oops. Now his column is suspended, and Albom's on paid leave while the Free Press investigates what happened.
Maybe I can help them out: Mitch lied.
And he took the newspaper's credibility along his journalistic road to perdition. Not quite Jayson Blair territory, but scary close, don't you think?
But wait, you say. Doesn't Mitch have editors? And why didn't red flags pop up in the newsroom like the cherry blossoms come spring? Excellent questions both. If Mitch gets canned and/or caned for this work, then the editors who slotted for the early Sunday edition of the sports section shouldn't be spared.
One excuse has already emerged, namely they were blinded by Mitch's star power. After all, it's not every paper that has a columnist who also pens runaway bestsellers like "Five People You Meet On Tuesdays With Morrie In Heaven." And has a radio show. And appears on ESPN. Sometimes he even writes for the Free Press.
In the end, that's why we're still talking about Mitch's column in the present tense. Mere mortals would've gotten the boot and an escort from the building by a couple of moonlighting bouncers who'd ensure the door wouldn't hit us on the way out.
Mitch is a brand, and the Free Press needs all the help it can get to differentiate itself from the Detroit News, where the gloating marathon is no doubt continuing unabated.
So, what becomes a legend most may wind up being a trip to the woodshed rather than the woodchipper. And that would be a shame, especially given that the guilty party has been less than contrite and seems more sorry about getting caught than acknowledging his misdeeds.
Getting rid of Albom should be as easy a decision as it was to run his column without question. Payback's a bitch, Mitch.