Americans begin to reap rewards of accountability

Friday, June 27, 2003 at 1:00am

What do Wall Street stock analysts, Roman Catholic bishops, New York Times editors, and your family pediatrician all have in common?

They are all now subject to a healthy trend that is affecting professions across America. They are being held more accountable for their actions.

This accountability comes in many different forms. Sometimes the driving force is the legal system, as in the case of the stock analysts who were indicted for providing clients with fraudulent information.

Accountability can also be demanded by more informal mechanisms. The Catholic Church was forced to confront the problem of sexually abusive priests primarily because newspapers like The Boston Globe first revealed the story. Parishioners then reacted with outrage and started employing their own leverage by withholding contributions, a tactic that finally got the bishops' attention.

Another informal but effective method of accountability is self-policing within a profession. Jayson Blair was fired by The New York Times after a reporter at another newspaper complained that Blair had stolen material from one of her stories. Then media critics at other papers turned up the heat on the Times, demanding more evidence and explanations. Finally, the two top editors were forced to resign.

The staff of the Harvard Business Review demanded the departure of their own editor, Suzy Wetlaufer, after she started an affair with a key source, Jack Welch, the head of General Electric.

One common thread running through all these cases is the principle of transparency. The public has a right to know how decisions are made that affect their lives and a right to object when they don't like what they see.

Consider the case of New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, who was forced to resign after he wrote a story based on someone else's reporting and did not tell anybody

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