We Are Both Right

Mom Fired From Chicago Sun-Times After She Lied

When you become a parent, you learn very quickly how to make many things work at one time. When it comes to getting dinner on the table, making sure homework gets done, keeping dentist appointments, arriving on time for baseball practice and Boy Scouts, and dropping a carload off at religion class all in the same afternoon, no one does it better than a mom or dad.

(I think once you are a parent for ten years you should automatically earn a master’s degree in logistics.)

Sometimes though, trying to do it all backfires. Whether it means that dinner is burned or you show up at the doctor’s office on the wrong day, parents — even the most organized ones — make mistakes. Usually the fallout is limited and soon forgotten.

Paige Wiser wasn’t so lucky. Her mistake happened on a national stage.

Wiser, a television critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, was fired last week after a review she posted of a “Glee Live!” concert contained a write-up of a song that wasn’t performed and a song she didn’t see.

So what happened? Did Wiser forget what she saw? Did she take a bathroom break at an inopportune time?

Not exactly. According to different reports I’ve read, Wiser brought her young kids to the concert because her editor thought it would be nice for her to include their reaction in her story. Once there, her son hurt himself when he fell off a chair and about ten songs into the show, her daughter threw up. They left not long after.

Instead of explaining to her editor what happened, or even including her family’s trials and tribulations in the piece (“See how zany life is with kids! We party like rock stars too!”), Wiser made the choice to lie in print. The varied reports I read said that Wiser made her decision at 1 a.m., frantic about what had happened and with the memory of backing out of another story at the last minute lingering. (That time it was a case of vertigo that prevented her from covering Oprah Winfrey’s farewell party at the United Center.)

“I’m at fault,” Wiser told the Chicago Tribune. “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.”

The story was pulled from the web and Editor-in-Chief Don Hayner published an Editor’s Note on the paper’s web site. It reads in part, “Accuracy and honesty in reporting are essential parts of the promise we make to our readers. We regret the incident and apologize.”

It’s easy for me to sit here as a writer and an editor and say that Wiser was wrong, that she should have been fired. And I do believe that. The guiding tenet of journalism is honesty, for myriad (and obvious) reasons. And by publishing something that wasn’t entirely true, Wiser let her readers down. And yes, I acknowledge that it was a review of Glee Live!, not an in-depth look at the Paris Peace Accords, but  still, when you are a reporter, truth is a doctrine that must be upheld no matter how trivial the subject matter.

But  as parents, what we should be focusing on is the decision-making process that Wiser utilized in the wee small hours of the morning, desperate to keep it all together. It was flawed, yes, but I believe had Wiser best of intentions. It appears she was simply trying to hang on and get through the day. She was trying to keep her job, protect her kids and maintain the status quo. But parenting isn’t always that simple. Sometimes the lesson is that we can’t do it all and it’s OK to admit it, no matter how hard.

A colleague of mine made a remark the other day that made me laugh at the time, but it’s stuck with me and seems especially resonant in light of Wiser’s mistake. She was having a crazy, super-mom type of day and thought she was doing a good job of it all. As it turned out, she was slipping up left and right. But the pressure to get everything done, no matter what, was strong. “Look,” she wrote in an e-mail after the day was over and she was reflecting on what she should have done differently, “I can juggle everything and hop up and down on this ball!”

Sometimes though, when you’re juggling, and life tosses you a bowling ball, it’s fine to throw one of the bowling pins to someone else.

What do you think? What could Paige Wiser have done differently? What would you have done?