CHICAGO - Writing a one-sided news piece and inadvertently or purposefully failing to disclose a possible conflict of interest often results in a journalist losing his or her job. In a culture that harbors deep and growing mistrust with legacy media, such a violation of public trust can be another nail in the coffin of the dying mainstream news sources.
Failing to disclose conflict of interest is the first thing State Journal Register's senior reporter Dean Olsen did in a story he wrote about the Illinois-based Harris vs Quinn case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Olsen, as Illinois Mirror reports, is a union organizer affiliated with AFSCME - the public sector union that wants to require all state-assisted, home-based caretakers to be forced to be union members ... even when they care for family members.
In 2013, Olsen, an SJ-R staff writer and chairman of the Springfield Unit of the United Media Guild, was cheered as he explained to AFSCME Local 2600 how the Springfield Journal Register was unionized months before.
The second egregious offense Olsen committed is revealing personal information in the article.
The Harris vs Quinn plaintiff is Pam Harris, the mother of an adult disabled son. Harris receives a stipend from the state each month to help defray expenses of caring for her dependent son in their home. Pam's full-time job is caring for Josh, and she says she was compelled to find an attorney and file suit when Governor Pat Quinn handed over her family's private information to union seeking her membership.
Mrs. Harris had purple-shirted AFSCME members come to her door in 2009, pushing her to support their union in representing home care-takers.
She had a university professor defend the use illegal actions against her and anyone promoting the right-to-work side in her case.
She also had a mysterious stranger come to her door in the dead of winter saying he was delivering pizzas, asking to be admitted to her home to make a phone call. In fact, the unidentified man was not delivering pizzas, and he just happened to "visit" on the very snowy January 2014 night the Harris vs. Quinn case hit national headlines before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Harris family has consistently been very careful and protective of their privacy during the past five years, realizing as time went by just how important their case could end up being. Union supporters as well as right to work advocates agree that the Harris vs Quinn case could change public sector unions' status in the American work scene.
So when Olsen wrote a story in the State Journal-Register Sunday favoring AFSCME, sympathizing with the unions and against home caretakers like Mrs. Harris, he revealed previously private information they guarded. He told his readers where the Harrises live.
Mrs. Harris wrote to Olsen and the paper's managing editor in outrage Sunday night after running across Olsen's story on the internet. She wrote to Olsen:
How did you find out where I live? Did Mr. Lindall [tell you? He could have - because Governor Quinn gave both AFSCME and the SEIU all of our names and home addresses.
We went to great lengths to protect that information. Did it occur to you that someone struggling with a mental illness might now take it upon themselves to find me and my family and cause us harm? It's a valid concern, sir!
Will you be responsible for our protection?
Harris, who told Illinois Review Monday she was not aware Olsen was a union organizer himself, said Olsen did not call her to get her side of the story or get any quotes from her perspective. Instead, he quoted union activists and revealed her family's private information in his SJ-R story. Mrs. Harris wrote to Olsen:
I am not against unions. I am against forcing moms and dads to join a union and making the family home a union workplace. I am against even one cent of Medicaid funding being redirected to the union coffers and then ultimately ending up in politicians war chests - the very politicians who have done little to nothing to advance the quality of life for adults with significant cognitive disabilities like our son.
Yes, Harris v Quinn is a complex case with possible national implications. But at it's heart, it a case about a group of Illinois moms who REFUSE to allow their disabled sons and daughters to be part of a political scheme. You obviously didn't think that was important enough to include.
In response to her letter, Harris received a note from the paper's managing editor late Sunday night saying the paper would remove the Harrises' hometown from the web version of the story. Indeed, there was nothing the paper could do about the print version that included in the story the Harrises' hometown, where the words "Chicago-area" are now found in the story on the SJR website.
The U.S. Supreme Court did not issue a ruling Monday on Harris vs Quinn. The Court is expected to issue their decisions on nearly 15 major cases by the end of June.