A debate about facts and ethics becomes a debate about hugging

It’s curious to me that my story yesterday about a St. Louis TV reporter’s questionable journalism has been distilled by so many into a black-or-white conversation about one question: Should journalists hug sources?

I really want to be talking about how sad it is that a large-market TV reporter covering a nationwide story had a key fact about the case dead wrong.

But first, let’s address the hugging thing.

I’ve hugged sources and will continue to hug sources. The same way it is sometimes most polite to accept a piece of pie in a source’s living room or tell a source you’re sincerely sorry for a struggle she’s having, it has sometimes felt appropriate to me to accept or offer a hug as part of my work as a journalist. There are times when backing off a hug when it’s offered would be awkward or rude.

The trick is to know when the emotion behind the hug would compromise my ability to do my job, or when the perception the hug leaves would compromise my integrity.

I’m actually an advocate for journalists embracing their humanness, and I’m vocal in my suspicion of black-or-white ideas about objectivity. My work in journalism lies in the changing nature of the relationship between journalist and audience/community. Frankly, I’m not a fan of living by a lot of strict rules in general. And a journalism that bans hugging altogether isn’t one I’m interested in.

Which is why I was interested in a Twitter conversation Wednesday night about journalists having been seen hugging Ryan Ferguson and his family. I wanted to see where the conversation went. My interest turned to curiosity and then outrage when the reporter I was talking to made it clear she was completely misinformed about a key fact of the story she was covering.

(If you missed my story, read it here: How a St. Louis TV reporter got both ethics and facts wrong.)

I’m disturbed by Melanie Moon’s cheerleader style of reporting on a controversial news story and her apparent pride in sitting squarely on Ferguson’s side. I’m also disturbed that she thought she could take back her problematic tweets by deleting them.

But I’m even more disturbed by the fact that she didn’t read or didn’t understand what the court ruling actually said. Even when faced with evidence that she was wrong, she didn’t back down.

I’m willing to forgive a hug (or sometimes applaud it). But I can’t forgive irresponsible distribution of facts.

Let’s pay attention to THAT problem, and bemoan the fact that so many people get their news from Moon and others like her rather than people who prioritize accuracy over emotion.

      News coverage of the dustup that focuses on hugging:

      News coverage of the dustup that focuses on facts: