Sun-Times critic fired after leaving Glee Live! early, mentioning song that wasn’t performed

Chicago Tribune | Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times veteran Paige Wiser was let go after her “Glee Live!” concert review in Sunday’s paper mentioned one song that wasn’t performed and described another that she didn’t see. “I’m at fault,” she says “I do understand what a big deal this was. I am ashamed, and it’s just a matter of making bad decisions when you’re exhausted.” Wiser, who had been with the Sun-Times for 17 years, explains what happened:

I was told my kids’ cutesy reactions would be welcome, so I brought along my 6- and 7-year-old. Jack nearly decapitated himself falling off his seat, and Audrey started murmuring “I’m going to throw up” 10 songs into the set. I made her stick it out for three more songs, saying “This is Mommy’s job!,” but she looked so green I finally shoved the half-full cotton candy bag at her to throw up in, and hustled her out of there. What I should have done was written that I had to leave early, but I didn’t want to let the paper down, so I tried to make the review seem complete by including the encore “Friday” that I’m familiar with. Big mistake. I didn’t see it there, so it was a lie.

Wiser’s former colleague, Robert Feder writes:

Wiser said she’d been under intense pressure, citing chronic headaches, a car accident in which she’d broken a finger, and an experience with vertigo while covering Oprah Winfrey’s May 17 Farewell Spectacular from a skybox at the United Center.

Sun-Times editor-in-chief Don Hayner tells readers that “accuracy and honesty in reporting are essential parts of the promise we make to our readers. We regret the incident and apologize.”

Did the paper overreact by firing her? Submit your vote.

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  • Anonymous

    My basic formula for balanced reporting includes “don’t make stuff up.”

  • Trevor Butterworth

    Substantive error that isn’t “intentional” but is seriously misleading and yet excused because the basic formula for balanced reporting was followed.

  • Jacob Freeze

    Paige Wiser left the imbecilic puke-fest of Glee Live! because her daughter (apparently the only intelligent person in the audience) was about to PUKE, but in a better world that garbage world be “reviewed” by volleys of projectile vomit from a whole front row of fourth-grade critics!

  • Anonymous

    The journalist made up facts for this story. What other stories has she made up facts for? I can’t help but have doubts about her entire career. That may seem harsh, but she only confessed after she was called on it. I wonder if she has fudged other stories in her career and no one caught it.

    If the paper had kept her on, I would question its integrity as well. To keep someone on staff who admits making up facts for a story – no matter how superficial the story is – would make me wonder if accuracy was even a consideration. In my opinion, the paper had no choice but to fire her.

    By saying she couldn’t do her job accurately and honestly because she had a sick child is a slap in the face to busy mothers everywhere who can handle both child rearing and a career outside the home.

  • CJ Laity

    As she said, since the Sun Times is laying people off left and right, they couldn’t cut her any slack. She should have bitten the bullet and admitted what happened, perhaps not written any review at all.

  • Christie Smythe

    Oh, man. I need some thesaurus help here. Isn’t there a great word out there for puritanical people who end up in exactly the same situations, making exactly the same ethical transgressions, and finding themselves punished exactly the same way as others whom they demonized?  I’m looking some something a little bit more specific than “karma” or “irony.”

  • Anonymous

    ” I’d also like to see this outpouring of Puritanism take on something solid and consequential, such as accuracy.”

    How in the world do you square this with saying fabrication is trivial?

  • Trevor Butterworth

    No, I’m saying that fabricating the playing of a song in a Glee concert under duress is a matter for suspension and not firing. It *is* trivial. It is inconsequential. Other kinds of fabrication are not. The refusal to distinguish between the two because all lying is lying is the kind of foolishness that philosophy exists to disabuse us of. You can’t say, as per reply one and two, that all lying in journalism, no matter what it’s about, is a capital offense in the profession, but we must observe distinctions of severity between capital offenses among professions.

  • Dan Mitchell

    C’mon. You know the reason I used those examples, but you chose not to address that reason, and instead pretended that I believe that the severity of a cop robbing a liquor store is the same as a reporter lying in a story. Which is why, through pure intellectual dishonesty, you left out my garbageman example. Obviously, as I explicitly stated, I used those as examples of people in other professions doing things that run precisely counter to their core mission, not to say that the sin is equal in a general sense.

    You’re saying here that deliberate, purposeful lying to readers — fabrication — is a relatively minor transgression. I’m not sure how else to argue the point other than to repeat that it’s about the worst thing a journalist can do. Below, you state that problems with accuracy are worse. Not sure I get the logic. Presumably, problems with accuracy are generally not deliberate. So when inaccuracy is deliberate, that makes it less worthy of punishment? I mean, lies are by definition inaccurate, no?

    I agree that a lot of reporters have been punished way too harshly for trivial things. That has nothing to do with the case at hand.

  • Trevor Butterworth

    See above. I said suspension was fine. Let me reiterate, journalism simply collapses if it is to be ruled by an ethics based on absolutism, with no admittance of distinction or degree of punishment. I’d also like to see this outpouring of Puritanism take on something solid and consequential, such as accuracy. Finally, a profession with absolutely no capacity for forgiveness is worse than any religion.

  • Christie Smythe

    I think the solution is obvious. Clearly reporters should not be allowed to have children. I think some folks at Bloomberg LP might agree with that, at least as alleged in this lawsuit.  

  • Trevor Butterworth

    So according to you this is like a cop robbing a liquor store? Or a doctor deliberately causing harm to a patient? Well, why not throw her in jail? If it is the equivalent of theft and assault, then hell, yes! She clearly got off lightly.There has to be a sense of proportion. Ethics and the law routinely make distinctions, mitigating circumstances being one of them. Why, because absolutism traps you in a logical quagmire. When a profession that routinely makes egregious and substantive errors without any sanction but punishes the trivial – and yes, a song on a glee set is the definition of trivial – with absolute sanction, that profession is not only intellectually corrupt, but morally corrupt. I’d love to see the double standards at work if, say a regular worker with an unblemished 17 year record, was fired for lying about being late or missing an assignment, or taking a pencil home from the office cupboard.

  • Anonymous

    Trevor, if you think lying to readers is “trivial,” then I hope you’re in a line of work other than journalism.

  • Amanda Hamon

    Forgive me for making wild comparisons, but I seem to remember a similar incident happening in 2005 with Mitch Albom. Only he and his editors were suspended — not fired. Albom had filed a game column on deadline (before the end of the actual game) and stated two players attended who actually did not. In my mind, even though Albom has a large presence in Detroit, his misrepresentations were worse, in spirit, than Wisers’. All fabrications are unacceptable, but come on, she was dealing with two children after being told their reactions would add to her story. Albom simply did not put the effort into getting his deadline extended, or into checking whether the players in question actually ended up at the game. Perhaps it’s a matter of the writers’ differing statures, or perhaps it’s — and I hope not — their differing genders, but the punishment does not fit the crime here.

  • Dan Mitchell

    Well, as I noted earlier, she knowingly and purposefully lied to her readers. How is that “trivial?” That the subject of the story is fairly lightweight doesn’t really matter. I’d say the crime is in this case – unlike tweeting opinions, say — is a capital offense. This is like a cop robbing a liquor store, a doctor purposely giving a patient the flu, or a trash collector dumping garbage on someone’s lawn. We’re supposed to be in the truth-telling business. Outright lying is a direct contradiction of our mission, not a small ethical breach or a somewhat questionable act. That editors are employing zero-tolerance policies for silly things like tweeting and blogging doesn’t mean that the worst thing a reporter can do is now less bad just because the punishments are wrongly similar.

  • Ed Murrieta

    She need a plus-one-more press pass; then she could have taken a babysitter with her. 

  • Stephen

    Sounds like they were looking for a reason to get rid of her and she gave them a good one.

  • Dan Mitchell

    She knowingly, purposefully lied to her readers. She fabricated. I don’t know this woman at all, or the full set of circumstances, so I won’t go so far as to say she should definitely have been fired — but I do know that a “mea culpa” wasn’t going to do it.

  • Trevor Butterworth

    Suspension yes, firing no; this is a punishment wildly disproportionate to the crime – and seems to be part of a new trend where editors summarily fire reporters for tweets and other trivial matters. The appearance of being holier than everyone else is not, in itself, a source of editorial credibility. Moreover, hanging editors are to be feared just as much as hanging judges.

  • Mark A. Kellner

    I’d agree with Nick here: a suspension, a mea culpa — therapy, perhaps? — would have been preferable to the quick cashiering of a (presumably) valued employee and critic. 

  • Nick

    You do NOT bring your kids to your job. That’s like a movie critic bringing a kid to see the new Disney movie, the kid getting sick, and then the reviewer saying “The movie ends with a magical talking lion bringing peace across the land.”
    It’s unprofessional. However I’m not sure I agree with her being fired after 17 years. Suspension without pay maybe, but firing? Seems harsh. Still, she was unprofessional, and this is what happens when you don’t do your job right. At least she admits to it though, that shows some courage.