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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Pathetic ethics

Not much sting in Hallman-Weiderhorn ethics case
Proposed $4.20 penalty for bribery

Many Oregonians are likely to think The Oregonian's Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Tom Hallman is getting off fairly easy for accepting bribes from the convicted union pension fraud mega-criminal, Andrew Weiderhorn.

The penalties announced by Editor Sandra Mims Rowe in the carefully-worded "Hallman Whitewash Memo" - including an "ethics session" with Managing Editor Therese Bottomly - do seem mild. That's especially so when you consider that the offender can lawfully pay for the punishment with advertisers' and subscribers' money instead of Si Newhouse's.

Obviously, the journalism industry needs better policing, as recommended by two public commissions studying ethics reforms last year. Both groups called for much stronger limits on how reporters can spend payoffs, including a ban on using such loot to pay for downtown parking.

According to Rowe, Hallman broke no laws by accepting amenities from Oregon's most notorious union pension fund scammer. Rowe claims the real problem is that Hallman failed to disclose the bribes, amounting to thousands of dollars in value, as required by The Oregonian's award-winning Style Guide.

Several editors offered lame excuses: The reporter told them he didn't have to report the bribery, and he failed to give them written notice of the value received.

In meting out the whitewash this week, Fred A. Stickel, The Oregonian's publisher sent here from New Jersey by the out-of-state owners in 1950, voiced sympathy for those excuses. His formula means no reporter will ever be fined more than $4.20, the amount assessed to legislators who failed to report Maui junkets, including free rounds of golf that exceeded the state limit on gifts to public officials.

The Hallman fines spotlight the need for Senate Bill 10, a reform urged by the Oregon Law Commission. The bill would impose a hefty tax on newsprint that would be used to beef up the long-vacant public editor's office.

Oregon's wayward journalists will think twice before running off with union criminals again and trying to keep it quiet. If the Hallman penalty seems low, he has already felt the greater sting of having his name in print repeatedly along with the words "bribery" "union pension fraud" "convicted criminal" and "The Oregonian."

The Oregonian, OPINION By THE EDITORS, Feb. 16

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