Tomase Gate: Where Were the Editors?

1210947092There’s a great line in the movie version of All The President’s Men, when Ben Bradlee (as played by Jason Robards) says to Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward:

“Now hold it, hold it. We’re about to accuse Haldeman, who only happens to be the second most important man in this country, of conducting a criminal conspiracy from inside the White House. It would be nice if we were right.”

John Tomase, reviled Herald beat writer, lays out how he “got it wrong” in the paper today, but nowhere, apparently, was there a hard-bitten editor to say, “Slow down kid. Ya don’t have it yet.”

To be sure there was a lot wrong with Tomase’ s “sourcing” on this. He seemed to be employing the Ferris Bueller method, as in: I know a guy, who knows a guy, who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night.

(Note for the college kids: If you’re going to write a story about physical evidence, you have to get your hands, or eyes, on it. Forget Journalism 101, that’s Survival Instincts 101.)

There’s also certainly an element of the 24-hour news cycle, the nonstop rush to make more “news,” beat the competition, and make the ESPN ticker, that makes otherwise good reporters do rash things.

So, again, why didn’t anyone stop him?

Instead, Tomase ran out a bad story, one that others were chasing, that should have been vetted way more thoroughly, and now his name is mud. In the old days, I suppose, Tomase would have offered to resign, or maybe been busted down to covering high schools.

It’s a different world today. Journalism jobs are scarce, and reporting jobs at the Herald are even scarcer. He says he is going to stay on the beat, a decision that we can assume was made by others, but one that seems highly dubious. In the best of times the Patriots are probably the toughest sports beat in town for anyone to do more than just regurgitate cliches off the quote sheet, and it’s hard to imagine him having any sources within the organization.

People still want his blood, which is their prerogative, but for the rest of his journalism days he’s going to have to walk around saying, “I’m John Tomase. Yeah, I’m the guy who screwed up the walk-through tape story.”

It’s too bad someone didn’t save him.