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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Close Encounters of the Human Kind

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We have all known otherwise highly intelligent people of sound judgment who make absolute fools of themselves over the wrong man or the wrong woman.

This can sometimes become a public issue when it happens to the president of the United States or a city’s police chief.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, who has generally earned praise for his performance since arriving 18 months ago, has publicly apologized to his family and the community for becoming involved in an affair with a local journalist married to a Republican politician.

The story is an embarrassment not only to Flynn, but also to UW-Milwaukee’s journalism department, which employs Jessica McBride to teach journalism ethics, of all things, and to Milwaukee Magazine, which unknowingly hired McBride to write a profile of Flynn that apparently led to the romantic relationship.

Dan Bice, a political gossip columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, broke the story. But what Bice left out was the history of his own newspaper and its radio station, WTMJ, ignoring McBride’s glaring ethical conflicts when she worked for them in the past.

Flynn is a grown-up, as is McBride. Both are responsible for their own actions. Nobody gets off the hook.

Although Flynn’s image is generally positive, some have faulted him for arrogance and hubris in dealing with his peers in the criminal justice system and occasionally with the public.

Perhaps more willingness to listen to others would have spared Flynn incredible embarrassment. A police officer with experience in the community recognizes recidivists. There are men and women we meet in life who should carry warning labels.

 

Ambition Run Amok

I have known Jessica McBride since she began her journalistic career. She comes from an extended family of well-known journalists and writers.

Dave Berkman, a left-wing journalism professor who had an extremely low opinion of modern-day university students, once told me McBride was the most talented journalism student he’d ever taught.

But some forms of personal ambition turn almost pathological. Early in her journalism career, McBride worked for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and covered then-Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher, a publicity-seeking, right wing Republican with an eye on running for governor.

McBride and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provided Bucher with all the glowing coverage he dreamed of. But Bucher’s political ambitions were suddenly sidetracked by an unseemly divorce rumored to be caused by the reporter covering him.

It was only after McBride and Bucher were officially “dating” (they later married) that the Journal Sentinelbelatedly acquired journalistic ethics and reassigned her.

After McBride left the Journal Sentinel to begin a teaching career, the young reporter who had never expressed any strong political opinions suddenly became a fixture on weekend TV shows espousing the right-wing rhetoric of talk radio and Bucher.

Once again, Journal Communications was only too glad to accommodate her. In 2006, Bucher, a respectable married man again, was running for the Republican nomination for state attorney general. Despite the apparent conflict of interest, WTMJ radio hired McBride to do a right-wing political talk show.

McBride was fired a little more than a year later, allegedly for joking in bad taste about the murder of a black 4-year-old caught in a cross fire, but most likely because the show never was very good.

It wouldn’t have taken much investigation by a good cop to become a little more aware of McBride’s history. But at least Flynn had the class to publicly apologize for the hurt he inflicted upon his wife and family and to those who placed their public trust in him. He said he hoped to eventually win the forgiveness of the people of this city who so warmly welcomed him.

Despite the growing tabloidization of the media, most of us believe personal indiscretions should be resolved primarily by those directly involved.

Just as we all know friends who have wrecked marriages and families with toxic relationships, we’ve also seen prominent examples in recent years, including a former Milwaukee mayor and a former U.S. president whose marriages survived similar stupid behavior.

Flynn ultimately will be judged by the citizens of Milwaukee on his professional performance as chief of police. All of us have done things in our lives that require us to ask forgiveness of others. It’s the human condition. It’s what we do next that determines who we are.

Comment on this article at ExpressMilwaukee.com.