“I don’t believe I have done anything wrong,” Ms. Foreman told The Inquirer in a statement. “I may have done something injudicious. Certainly, I do not believe I ever wrote anything for The Inquirer which violated my own professional integrity.”
The Times told her she had to resign, even though the conduct in question had occurred at another paper. The Times, in fact, said initially that her work had comported with the highest ethical standards. But according to an account that Ms. Foreman wrote in The Washington Monthly in 1978, A.M. Rosenthal, The Times’s executive editor, told her that because the paper was writing tough stories at the time about conflicts of interest involving Bert Lance, a close Carter adviser, it couldn’t very well harbor a conflict of its own.
To others, Mr. Rosenthal uttered an unforgettable comment that has been rendered several different ways but in essence said that he didn’t care if his reporters were having sex with elephants — as long as they weren’t covering the circus.
In Philadelphia, Mr. Roberts, the Inquirer editor, appointed the paper’s top investigative team of Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele to dig into the affair. They produced a 17,000-word article, published on Oct. 16, 1977, that exposed internal rivalries at the paper and found that editors had looked the other way to protect a favored reporter, Ms. Foreman. It was among the first instances of a newspaper turning its investigative artillery on itself.
Mr. Roberts soon asked the managing editor, Gene Foreman — no relation to Laura — to prepare a comprehensive ethics code, something few newspapers had in that era. The new code required staff members to report potential conflicts to their managers and to take action to remove any conflict, by changing beats, for example. It also banned the widespread practice of accepting “freebies” from sources and others in their news coverage.
The point was to avoid even the appearance of a conflict, Mr. Foreman, author of “The Ethical Journalist,” a college text first published in 2009, said in a phone interview.