Romancing the source

It was an affair between Laura Foreman, a New York Times reporter, and Henry J. “Buddy” Cianfrani, a Pennsylvania state senator, that prompted A.M. Rosenthal, executive editor of the Times, to utter his famous line: “I don’t care if my reporters are sleeping with elephants, as long as they aren’t covering the circus.”

Rosenthal fired Foreman -- who’d covered politics for the Philadelphia Inquirer before going to the Times -- when her affair with Cianfrani came to light, a lesson to all those who cross the ethical line and literally get into bed with their sources or subjects.

Journalism: An article in the July 29 Opinion section about reporters getting romantically involved with their sources stated that Telemundo reporter/anchor Mirthala Salinas was on unpaid leave while the television station determined her fate for dating Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. She was on paid leave. The article also stated that Sarah Dodd, who married the Dallas police chief in 2006, still has her job as a City Hall reporter for a Dallas television station. She resigned July 14, 2007. For the Record —

But apparently that most basic of journalistic rules was lost on Mirthala Salinas, who remains on unpaid leave while the Spanish-language television network Telemundo decides her fate for dating Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa while she covered him as a political reporter.

Villaraigosa has many supporters who believe he will eventually weather this extramarital scandal, as Bill Clinton and many other politicians have survived theirs. On the other hand, some say Salinas’ career is over.

But history has shown that it may be premature to write her off.

In the years since Foreman and Cianfrani, many reporters have become involved with -- sometimes even married -- people they or their news organizations covered. Although none exactly mirrors the Salinas-Villaraigosa melodrama, they all raised ethical eyebrows at the time. These reporters haven’t just survived. They’ve thrived.

Some of the cases that became public include:

• Matt Cooper, then Newsweek’s deputy bureau chief in Washington, married Mandy Grunwald, a longtime media advisor for the Clintons, in 1997. He wrote about presidential politics while they dated. Today, he is the Washington editor for Portfolio magazine, and she is the chief ad strategist for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.

• Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, began dating James Rubin, assistant secretary of State for public affairs, in 1997. They wed the following year. While she continued to cover international events, he kept his job as a spinmeister for the State Department. She remains CNN’s chief international correspondent, based in London, and he is a freelance news commentator and analyst.

• Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent, dated Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan for 12 years before marrying him in 1997. Although she never reported on Greenspan, he was widely considered one of the most powerful people in Washington. She is still with NBC, and he retired from the Fed last year.

• Jack Welch, General Electric chairman, and Suzy Wetlaufer, editor of the Harvard Business Review, became romantically involved, although he was married, in 2002 after she interviewed him for a story. They wed in 2004. Today they co-write a column for Business Week magazine.

• Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell and television news reporter/anchor Marion Brooks had a four-year relationship during the mid-1990s. She is now an anchor for an NBC affiliate in Chicago, and he was convicted of tax evasion in 2006 and sentenced to 30 months in prison. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some of Brooks’ co-workers avoided her when working on stories about City Hall, fearing she would tip off Campbell.

• New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial and CBS television reporter Michelle Miller married in 1999. Although they met at a news conference, she didn’t cover him after they became involved. Today, she is a CBS network news correspondent based in New York, and he is president of the National Urban League.

• Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), and Philadelphia news anchor Renee Chenault married in 2001. She is still with the local NBC station and continued anchoring the news while Fattah ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Philadelphia.

• Pulitzer Prize-winning Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Connie Shultz married Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in 2004. She still writes for the newspaper. However, she was widely lauded for taking a leave of absence when he launched his successful bid for the U.S. Senate last year.

• In Dallas, television reporter Sarah Dodd and Police Chief David Kunkle married in 2006. Because she is a City Hall reporter, cops are technically off her beat. Both still have the same jobs.

In an ideal world, reporters would never get cozy with the “elephants.” In reality, intense relationships with sources or subjects, romantic or not, are common. And if the past is any indicator, no matter what becomes of Salinas in the short term, she may indeed end up covering the circus again.

Laura Castañeda is an associate professor of professional practice at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. She is married to an editor in the business section of the Los Angeles Times.