CHICAGO: The Chicago Tribune's quick action to disclose the resignation of columnist Bob Greene should limit any damage to the paper's reputation, PR and journalism experts said.
Greene, who left the paper because it discovered he'd engaged in what it called "inappropriate sexual conduct" with "a girl in her late teens" several years ago, also could resuscitate his career with a major apology and explanation, experts agreed.
The Tribune disclosed it had asked for and accepted Greene's resignation in a story that ran on page 11 of late Sunday editions September 15. "The decision on how to handle this was made by the editors of the paper and top staff," said Gary Weitman, VP of communications for The Tribune Company, the paper's parent.
Weitman was in the meetings where the decision on Greene was made. He gave advice on handling the media response, and fielded calls on Sunday from all Chicago TV stations, CNN, AP, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fox News, ABC, and others.
The Tribune covered Greene's leaving as a news story in its Monday and Tuesday issues, and ran an editorial Tuesday explaining the decision.
While crisis communications guidelines talk about disclosing everything in a crisis situation, the Tribune did not disclose the name of the woman or details of what happened in the interests of privacy for those involved.
Nick Kalm, EVP/GM of reputation management with Edelman, said, "They're walking a very fine line, and they're walking it appropriately. I don't think it's going to have a long-term impact on the paper."
Richard Craig, a journalism professor at San Jose State University, agreed. "You don't want to punish the victim," he said.
Greene, a Tribune columnist since 1978, has been a correspondent for Nightline and has authored several books. He championed children's rights, and often wrote about abused children. "I'm sure (Greene) can recover, but he will never have quite the same image he had a week ago," said Craig.
To rehabilitate his image, Greene must write an apology and get a publication to run it, Craig advised.