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Violating a trust with readers

By
September 16, 2002


Bob Greene, a columnist with The Chicago Tribune, lost his job recently after admitting he nailed a teenage girl he met through his column “a number of years ago.”

Somebody sent the Trib an anonymous tip about the dalliance. They asked Greene about it. He admitted it so they suspended him and he offered his resignation.When it was accepted, Greene issued a statement that he “regretted” the incident and the hurt it brought on his family.

When I was a reporter and columnist for The Telegraph in Alton,Illinois, from 1969-81, Greene and I crossed paths a number of times, usually appearing on the same panels at newspaper association events or on college campuses at journalism seminars. The cocky Greene enjoyed the celebrity of a nationally syndicated column along with the always constant attention of young girls during these events, so it really isn’t a surprise that climbing into the sack with a teenybopper brought him down.

Understandably, the Trib took quick and necessary action by sending Greene packing. A columnist enjoys, at best, a fragile relationship with readers. Using the column to get your rocks off ain’t a healthy way to bolster that relationship.

Yet I can understand how he gave in to the temptation that so often came his way. I wrote a twice-weekly, often-controversial, column for a medium-sized newspaper in a Southern Illinois city. It wasn’t a national platform like the Chicago Sun-Times (and later the Tribune), but it provided modest celebrity in a town like Alton.

My column brought invitations for speaking appearances before civic clubs, high schools and other venues. Once, after speaking at a high school in Carlinville, Illinois, I walked back to my car (a flashy-red Triumph TR-6 convertible) to find two attractive high school girls waiting to “thank” me for coming to their school. One rubbed up against me while the other unbuttoned her blouse.

I said “thanks but no thanks” and got the hell out of there. Illinois law didn’t take kindly to adults exploring the joys of sex with teenagers and, besides, I had an Irish girlfriend whose temper matched her heritage.

But I was single for several years while in Alton and when opportunity knocked from a woman who appeared to be past the age of consent (and the Irish girlfriend was long gone), I didn’t run. And, given the ability of teenage women to look older than their age, it is possible that one or two of those willing, nubile young things may not have been as old as they should have been.

While age is an issue (especially when it involves an adult and a teenager), it is not the only consideration here. Using the celebrity of a newspaper column to improve your sex life is wrong. I know that now. I should have known that then.

Celebrity, whether large or small, is a powerful aphrodisiac. It feeds both your ego and your sex drive while blurring the distinction between moral and immoral behavior. I took advantage of a lot of women during that period of my life. If I could go back and tell each one of them I was sorry, I would.

It was a violation of trust with people I knew on a personal and intimate level.

Even worse, it was a violation of trust with readers of my column.

Unlike Bob Greene, my column’s pimping never became public during my tenure in Alton.

But it should have.

And it should have cost me my job.