Laura Foreman is becoming a legend in her own time. Unlike Elizabeth Ray, who kissed and told, talented journalist Forman's problem is that she kissed and did not tell.
The Forman saga should have ended a long time ago - last Sept. 12, for example, when she was asked to leave The New York Times - but our era is determined to make a media heroine of her.
She was asked for her resignation from The New York Times Washington bureau for conduct that had occurred while she was employed some months before by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Her song began as a story of young love. At least, she was young - and also beautiful, raven-haired, languid, bright and Southern belle-ish. He, Buddy Cianfrani, was a slightly worn Philadelphia politician 20 years older whom she slept with, took some $20,000 worth of gifts from and yet continued to write about in The Inquirer.
Now, this all should be behind us by now, but the February Esquire magazine features another exhaustive article on Laura's "conflict of interest" written by Chicago reporter Eleanor Randolph, with such lines as:
"Foreman has excited not only sympathy but empathy. Many couples see in her something of themselves. . . Laura Foreman has become more than an individual; she is a phenomenon, a category . . . The affair would go down in the history of our times as the first case in which a woman reporter lost her job and her reputation because she slept with the subject of her stories."
Now, all of this is most interesting because it represents a new kind of consensus that is growing up over the ethical-moral double indemnity that women face. The only problem is, Foreman is these ethical-moral conflicts about Joan Little was to black women prisoners: "heroines" we can do without.
It has long been obvious to me that a woman journalist suffers a double whammy. No source, I used to say, tells a male journalist not to come back for information because she won't sleep with him.
Indeed, those few of us women journalists who used to work overseas had our own precious little one-liners about our plight. Most of us agreed that, in places like Latin America, is was best to move in and out fast to avoid problems. As one charming young Newsweek woman staffer put it," All roads lead to the airport."
But I also felt it gave us a kind of double level of morality in which we were experiencing more than men and dealing with ethical questions far more intricate and delicate than most men in the business ever faced.
What is disturbing about the Foreman case is that the interpretation that is growing up excuses women from even the most basic and time-worn of professional ethical demands and makes us, instead of news people living up to a higher calling within the professional life, kids who are excused from even the most simple journalistic credos.
Randolph is probably right when she says that most of the women in journalism in Washington feel that "Laura Foreman's punishment was more severe because of her sex."
And she quotes another Washington media creature, Barbara Howar, who occasionally masquerades as a journalist, saying how she would resolve the dilemma. "When the chips are down, I will go with the friend. I will protect my friendshp rather than be a professional. Maybe that's sad commentary on me as a journalist, but I don't consider myself a Valkyrie of journalism."
Because one doesn't want to be a Valkyrie, does it then follow that one should be a pygmy?
That it seems to me, is what we women reporters are trying to be by using the Foreman case as our theme song and by repeating the key - the ultimate - question the article raises: "What would have happened if Laura had been a man and Buddy had been a woman?"
Well, hell, we've all gone through the era when the men in the business accused us of sleeping with every man we got exclusive interviews with. My colleagues used to accuse me of sleeping with everyone from Castro to Allende to Sadat (Peron was excused - he was, after all, 85).
But almost nobody makes those accusations anymore. In this super permissive era, unless you deliberately break other, related rules, nobody gives a damn about your private life. So in effect, nothing different would have happened "if Laura had been a man and Buddy had been a woman.
There just is no mystery as to what a woman journalist should do when she is having an affair with a man she is writing about. It is the same thing a man in journalism or politics does about anything from love to stock or other human "conflicts." She should tell her editors and write about something else, period.
And if we can't figure out that basic truth, we shouldn't be in the business - not because we're womenor because we're immoral but simply because we're dumb.