Editor's note: Scandals may be fun, but they aren't always journalism

Jan 11, 2018
Originally published on January 11, 2018 6:55 pm

A few weeks ago, our political reporters caught wind of rumors about Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and an extramarital affair. We pursued the issue, but, without reliable sources to verify the rumors, we felt we couldn’t run the story.

Then, Wednesday evening, KMOV-TV broke the story, hours after Greitens delivered his State of the State address. The governor and his wife issued a statement confirming an affair had occurred and what was once a story we weren’t going to do became news.

It forced us to jump in the action. But how to report a story that has only an anonymous source talking about someone else? We report a story to provide context, history and reaction. And that is fine. That is what we do and we will do it with the usual journalistic rigor we apply to all our stories.

However, the circumstances surrounding this story raise so many ethical and legal questions for our newsroom, that I feel compelled to explain our stance, for the purpose of transparency. This is not just a matter of principle. With so much misunderstanding about how journalists do their job, we also feel it is important to pull back the curtain and reveal how we work our way through these kinds of stories.

Let’s start with the sourcing question. The ex-husband of a woman who he said had an affair with Greitens secretly recorded his wife confessing to the indiscretion. It is legal for him to have recorded her without her knowledge; Missouri is one of the states that allows for “one party consent” when it comes to recording conversations. Legal doesn’t make it ethical.

It also raises the question: Why would a husband record a wife without her knowledge when she’s confessing to an affair?

What’s more, it was her affair, allegedly. She has chosen not to discuss it in public. Her ex-husband felt it was fine to reveal it for her, although he wasn’t willing to go on the record himself. In the era of #MeToo, this is a perfect example of a man doing something against a woman’s will.

Even though the relationship was allegedly consensual, there was an element of the affair that is also an example of #MeToo. According to the taped confession, the woman said Greitens took a photograph of her in a compromised situation and threatened to make those images public if she revealed the affair. If true, not only is this clearly not consensual, but it may be criminal.

It is also a part of the story that is completely uncorroborated. There is no evidence that Greitens did this and he has denied it. There is also no evidence that Greitens is being investigated for threatening the woman.

We love being journalists. We love participating in this democratic experiment by delving into issues and reporting stories that help inform the public. We also take that responsibility seriously and are careful to verify the information, to check our sources and not to make assumptions.

Stories like Greitens’ affair are important to cover because they reveal hypocrisy and possibly criminal behavior. These are things that matter to the public, especially when we are talking about our elected officials. But it is precisely because they matter that we need to verify and check and re-examine the facts before we publish.

Follow Shula on Twitter: @shuneu

Copyright 2018 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.