The Ethics of Reporting on Rep. Weiner’s Wife’s Pregnancy

For those of you have been following every sordid detail about the Anthony Weiner scandal, one major piece might have caught you off guard: how quickly mainstream media outlets like the New York Times reported that Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin was three months pregnant, based on the word of several sources. It’s a huge story, but normally details like that are left to the tabloid trade. Politico’s On Media takes a look at the difficult decision news outlets faced in reporting this story.

The news that Anthony Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is pregnant had been known and agonized over in newsrooms, including this one, for more than 24 hours before it was reported on Wednesday night… For the New York Times, which broke the story, the decision was not a quick one. The paper published the story a little after 5 p.m. Wednesday night on its City Room blog after Gawker published an item saying it had heard that Abedin was pregnant.

Phil Corbett, the Times’s standards editor, emailed Politico: “We try to be sensitive to privacy concerns, and we weighed that issue here, too. But Weiner’s problems were obviously a big story, and his actions and words had clearly put himself, his private life and his marriage squarely into the news.”

He also made clear that the decision was the Times‘ own. “We don’t take our cues from Gawker on a story like this.”

Politico’s Editor-in-chief John Harris said, “We knew. We knew the Times knew. There wasn’t any doubt by late Tuesday of the facts of the matter.” But he was willing to take the risk of the Times reporting it first. “I felt our responsibility was much lessened. Anybody who had the slightest interest in this already knew it.”

Nonetheless, it’s fair to say that newsworthy though this story was, ethically it was on the line. And to that end, Politico includes the opinion of Bob Steele, the director of the Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University, who called reporting the story “ethically irresponsible and unfair.”