Thursday, July 12, 2007

Amy Jacobson’s whining, whimpering defense

All you women out there, you’ve come a long way, baby. Some of your sisters are now showing they can be just as dumb, at any given time on any given day, as your male counterparts. Equality, baby. Equality.
The Media’s take on the Jacobson firing:

You’re a reporter for NBC’s fully owned Chicago outlet, NBC-5 News and you have a day off. You screw up on your day off. Four days later, you are fired. What happened? The outlines of the facts related to the firing were reported by this journalist on Tuesday afternoon [See here].

This morning we read or listened to Amy Jacobson’s whining, whimpering defense. Feder in the Sun-Times, Phil Rosenthal in The Tribune and Zorn’s report on the Spike O’Dell interview. See here, here and here. But, in reality, there is little new in these Chicago mainstream media reports. These folks [Feder, Rosenthal] are selected by a media member in trouble because of their knowledge of the media business, but also for their propensity to ask softballs and not to follow up, O’Dell qualifies on that score, too; if they deviate from that, they get no answers and don’t get invited back by the next person in trouble. That’s the great hardball Chicago MSM media for you. There are some exceptions, but they are few and far between. Bad money drives out good money. And, bad journalism drives out good journalism. For more correspondents' views on Jacobson, see here.

The surprise here is that CBS-2 News broke its blue code of silence on its follow reporter, Amy Jacobson, albeit a competitor. Indeed, CBS-2 News VP/News Director Carol Fowler sat on the tape for a few days, claiming, “It had no news value.” Who would possibly be interested in the credibility or judgment of a competing journalist? Viewers? Gee, you think so? This journalist concedes that there was a salacious element to the tape and salacious certainly sells in local news. But, there was plenty of legitimate news value to the tape, too.

The Facts: We enter the world of Amy Jacobson

Think about it. You are working on a missing wife [Lisa Stebic]-suspected murder story. Of course, the police, for legal reasons these days generally do not use the word suspect until they are about to make an arrest, but clearly the husband [Craig Stebic] in the case is probably viewed by the audience to whom Amy Jacobson reports as a murder suspect. We will use the phrase, below, in that sense, not in the current sense used by the police. The public has read that when Lisa Stebic disappeared, Craig Stebic was about to be evicted from the home he was sharing with his estranged wife, which couldn’t have made him too happy. He continues to live in the home.

Last Friday, you are driving from your Chicago North side home to the East Bank fitness facility [in the Chicago Loop, probably about 20 minutes away] for some swimming time with your young boys, 2 and 3. Apparently, you are wearing a bikini without a jumper, or something, to cover yourself, for modesty reasons as you walk through the reception area of the East Bank Club [either that, or you don’t mind doing your reporting in your bikini, see below]. You get a call from the murder suspect’s sister, Jill, inviting you out to the murder suspect’s home—so she can talk with you. They have a pool and she has some young kids, so your kids can do their swimming there, she says.

You call your husband and ask him if he minds you taking your young kids swimming with the murder suspect, his sister and the sister’s kids. He apparently says that is fine, so long as you think that will “advance the story.” A very understanding husband. Perhaps more so than some would expect.

When radio host Spike O’Dell asks you on Wednesday if you thought of getting a sitter for your kids, you say it is your sitter’s day off and besides you wanted to spend time with you kids while furthering your story.

You don’t think of trying another baby sitter or day care provider. Apparently, you have only one, even though you are a professional woman, with two kids, working sometimes 72 hours/week, you contend. You don’t think of asking your husband if he could maybe take some time off of work and take care of the kids, so you can go back home, change into casual but more presentable reporter clothing and leave the kids with him, and he can take them swimming.

Apparently, you don’t think of calling anyone at NBC to see what they think of you going out to a murder suspect’s house in a bikini, kids in tow.

We don’t know the above about not calling NBC for sure because O’Dell asked few if any follow-ups, which, as suggested above, is why Feder, Rosenthal and O’Dell were selected by Amy or her agent for the interviews. But we doubt Amy would have been fired if Amy had received pre-approval from NBC.

You tell the Sun-Times Feder that you learned some pretty interesting things about the case in your visit with the murder suspect’s sister, but presumably you didn’t think anything learned would be so interesting-- as you didn’t bring a camera crew with you.

I mean, think about it. What in the world could be so important? Is the sister going to tell you that she saw the wife leave the home safe and sound and the sister was with Craig Stebic for a week straight, so he probably wasn’t involved in anything untoward. She hasn’t told the police that yet, but she wanted to tell a reporter, first. Yeah, right.

What was so important here, that couldn’t possibly wait, was that the murder suspect’s sister was upset about something CBS-2 News had aired,
And the sister was returning to Iowa tomorrow.
Apparently, Amy couldn’t drive out or fly out to Iowa to get that story. No, the best solution would be show up in a bikini, with her kids in tow.

Amy’s whining defense: CBS-2 news took a cheap shot?

Amy admits to “a lapse in judgment,” but not one for which she should be fired.

However, she sort of argues that her problem is not so much from her lapse of judgment but more from the cheap shot of CBS-2 news first shooting or obtaining video of her visit and then airing it. It shows her apparently looking to the pool area or the perimeter of the house yard, with a towel around the bottom of her bathing suit and a bikini top. She is either looking to see if her kids are OK, or looking out to see if anyone is filming her and talking on the cell phone.

I suppose this is when she got her really incisive insights from the murder suspect’s sister. Oh yeah, the video shows the murder suspect, or technically, the person of interest or something, in the back yard, bare-chested and putting on a shirt. Amy says this is terrible editing by CBS and she is looking at her legal remedies. Amy, of course, in her eleven years with NBC-5 News, never aired anything that was edited in an other than totally fair way.

That would be a ridiculous lawsuit—Amy, NBC journalist, had an expectation of privacy when looking out from a murder suspect’s house? Yes, sir. Slander, defamation? The media have no First Amendment rights when they are covering other media? A novel legal theory, which if put into practice, will certainly help her employment prospects.

Amy’s second defense: only female journalists get treated this way.

Amy’s other argument. It is so unfair. If she were a male, this would be no big deal. Really? So a male journalist working for NBC News goes out to cover a female murder suspect. He is wearing swim trunks, Speedo or otherwise, and takes his kids along to be watched by the female murder suspect in the pool? While he questions the murder suspect’s brother? And, Amy is sure this would be Okay. To prove this, she would cite what? She wasn’t asked and didn’t say. Neither did Eric Zorn when he adopted this theory, see above link to this journalist’s story of yesterday.

The most bizarre sob to O’Dell by Amy was her last defense: she went to the Stebic home in her bikini because she would do anything to “help find Lisa Stebic.”

Jacobson’s Bad Choices

In short, Amy Jacobson had numerous choices to make to deal with the above. At almost every turn, she made the wrong choice. I know it. She knows it and almost everybody reading this knows it. Unlike what NBC suggested, this was not a close call, or at least should not have been. It may reflect that journalistic ethics is an oxymoron in local news. The guiding rule: Do whatever you can do to impress your bosses that you can help with ratings and get the story. Blood, guts, gore, salacious, whatever. Use your gender if it helps. If you go to far, they will throw you overboard. But, you can work in another city.

This journalist doesn’t see Amy working for CBS-2 News after she implicitly threatened a lawsuit and slammed them for a cheap shot. Amy certainly can’t work for NBC-5 News, or even ABC-News. In Chicago, she has no credibility left with the public, or with the folks who run things.

Maybe she can go to Atlanta and take NBC-5 News Marion Brooks old job, who apparently had a similar, but worse problem in that she had a four year relationship with Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell that began when she was an Atlanta News Anchor. Or to Telemundo in LA, to take newscaster Marthala Salinas’ job, who is on leave for having an affair with the Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villlaraigosa

Some women perhaps might feel good about all of the above, including Brooks and Salinas. It shows female professionals can make the same dumb choices men make when dealing with professional gender issues.

All you women out there, you’ve come a long way, baby. Some of your sisters are now showing they can be just as dumb, at any given time on any given day, as your male counterparts. Equality, baby. Equality.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Obama, McCain, Giuliani and Cox and many other pols at