IT WAS A GOING away party for a fellow journalist, a fine bash at a local restaurant, and she was there. It was the first time I saw her, the first time for a lot of people. She was new in town and she arrived late after having covered something at the White House and she was dressed in striking black with a boa. People asked her name, but now almost everyone knows it. She's Laura Foreman. She's notorious and it ain't fair.
It's complicated. It's always complicated when you talk about love and sex, and how they mix with business. It's hard to get the facts and impossible to get inside someone's head. But the basic story has been in the papers and her lawyers has gone public with his protest. Everyone has been talking about it for weeks. It happened in Philadelphia.
Foreman, 34, was a political reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, became romantically involved with a political figure named Henry Cianfrani, 54, an ally of Mayor Frank Rizzo, a wheel in the local Democratic organization and something of a power is statewide politics. He was not your basic nobody and he was no piker, either. He gave Foreman gifts reportedly worth $10,000 including a mink coat and a Morgan sports car. Just how happy Foreman was to receive these items seems to be open to question. One report, for instance, has it that she attempted to return the fur coat but found out she could not and put it in cold storage.
At any rate, Foreman eventually was hired by the Washington bureau of the New York Times and reported to work last February. Her resignation was announced Sept. 12 following stories in the Philadelphia papers detailing her relationship with Cianfrani. In announcing her resignation, the Times said Foreman admitted the relationship but said it had never influenced her newspaper stories. Her lawyer maintains the Times concerned the resignation and says that Foreman has been hospitalized since Sept. 14, having suffered what he called a "mental and emotional collapse."
There are probably a couple of million things to be said about all this, but the first is that this is not exclusively about journalism. It is also about the emerging role of women in business and professional life and how they are being judged by standards that don't apply to men. But this particular case happens to be about journalism and if there is a consnensus within the Washington journalism community it is that Foreman has done wrong. She could not have had a relationship with a source and she most certainly should not have accepted gifts from him. If there is a cardinal rule in this business, it is that you do not accept anything of value from anyone. The rule says nothing about what you do when the person doing the giving is, say, a lover, but the feeling seems to be that in this case, you simply give up that beat and ask for a different assignment.
The point is that most of these rules were made by men to apply to men and the thing that strikes you about the Foreman case is how it could not have happened to a man. Male reporters, for instance, have been having affairs with women they cover for as long as there have been reporters, women and spare time. If there have neen few situations that are the same as the Foreman-Cianfrani-Philadelphia story, it is only because women have traditionally been neglected to the flunky level of political life. Suffice it to say, though, that some affairs have been conducted at fairly high levels and suffice it to say, too, that no man has been chastised by his fellows for this kind of activity.
Anyway, the rank of the women is not important. What is important is that it is somehow assumed that when a male reporter sleeps with a female source or with a woman connected with someone he is covering, he is urging her - that along with her body he gets, say, the campaign secrets. It is a play on the James Bond business, the notion that if you can seduce a Russian agent, she'll become a turncoat. That history has taught us time and time again that there is more chance of it happening the other way, seems to account for nothing. In the Foreman case, for instance, we are assured that she was not used by Cianfrani; that she could have been using him seems not to have occured to many people and so what we get is the news that a content analysis of her story indicates that she was not swayed by her relationship. To some, this must come pretty close to a miracle.
The point is that for all that Foreman may or may not have done, she is clearly being judged by standards that don't apply to men. Maybe she should have expected this. Maybe she should have known all along that she would be judged in the end as a woman and when it comes to that sort of thing - to men vs. women sort of thing - the expression "all things being equal" just doesn't make much sense. Maybe you could blame her for that - for living in the world as it should be rather than the world as it is. It is a mistake plenty of women make when they hitchhike, for instance, not understanding that some men think "liberated" is the same thing as provocative.
The Foreman case is a tough one - full of judgement calls. Anyway, it is not my intention here to make moral judgements. But in the end I do have to agree with a woman who denounced Foreman for accepting the gifts and getting too close to her source, but who concluded simply that she felt like yelling, "It just ain't fair."
In many ways it ain't.