In an amazing bit of local news, Chicago Tribune Columnist Bob Greene has resigned under pressure for
“inappropriate sexual conduct some years ago with a girl in her late teens whom he met in connection with his newspaper column.” I quoted last part exactly because as fellow blogger and actual journalist Bill Dennis points out, Greene’s activities aren’t spelled out too clearly. Had it been anyone other than one of their own, the Tribune would have been much more explicit.
I tried to look up Illinois law to figure out what sort of legal trouble he might be in. These laws are clearly not written for non-lawyers like me. I think that Bob Greene is old enough that he’s in big trouble if the girl was under 17.
(What a mess! If I were a teenager in this state, I wouldn’t have a clue what activities are prohibited by these laws. There are age cutoffs for the victim at 9, 13, and 17, and a variety of different definitions of conduct that overlap in complex and seemingly contradictory ways. Most of the applicable stuff is in the Bodily Harm section, although some of the Sex Offenses might apply as well.)
I wasn’t a big fan of Bob Greene’s because his subjects usually didn’t interest me, but he always seemed like a nice guy in his columns. I’d like to think that this is all just some over-reaction, but…Bob Greene was huge around here. I’m cynical enough to believe that the Tribune management must have tried pretty hard to interpret its journalistic ethics and standards in some way that would keep him on the job. I’m afraid it means something that they decided to ask for his resignation.
Perhaps I’m underestimating the Tribune’s commitment to their ethics policies, and therefore overestimating Greene’s transgressions, but it’s hard to believe they would nail him for personal misconduct that doesn’t rise to the level of criminality or affect the credibility of his writing. However, if his credibility is in doubt, the Tribune owes us enough of an explanation for us to perform our own re-evaluation of his writing.
According to a new Tribune story, Bob Greene had a dinner date with a high school student who had visited his office for a school project. She was old enough to consent to sex, and they apparently got it on. No big deal, and certainly none of the Tribune‘s business because she wasn’t a source or subject of any story. However, Greene later wrote a piece about her, presumably without describing his relationship with her, and that’s what hung him up with the ethics policy. The more we learn, the smaller this story gets.
[Note: This article has been updated to remove dead links.]