Newspaper Columnist Resigns After Inquiry
   The Sacramento Bee says Diana Griego Erwin could not confirm the
   identities of her sources. The writer says she did nothing wrong.
   By James Rainey
   Times Staff Writer

   May 13, 2005

   The Sacramento Bee announced Thursday the resignation of an award-winning
   columnist, the latest in a series of cases across the nation in which
   journalists had been forced from their jobs because of questions about
   the veracity of their reporting.

   In an explanation to readers, Bee Executive Editor Rick Rodriguez wrote
   that Diana Griego Erwin could not adequately answer questions that first
   arose last month about whether "people mentioned in several recent
   columns actually existed."

   Griego Erwin, who shared a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 while at the Denver
   Post and who was a columnist for the Orange County Register, said in a
   statement to the Bee that she had done "nothing wrong."

   "This inquiry came at the end of a six-month string of personal crises in
   my life," Griego Erwin told The Times in an e-mail, "and, frankly, I
   didn't have the emotional reserve to answer The Bee's questions quickly

   The departure of Griego Erwin, who wrote three columns a week, continues
   the run of recent embarrassments for newspapers, many of which have cost
   writers their jobs.

   Last week, USA Today Pentagon correspondent Tom Squitieri resigned under
   pressure after lifting quotes from another newspaper and using other
   quotes without attribution.

   That followed on the heels of the resignation of veteran Atlanta
   Journal-Constitution reporter Al Levine, who pilfered information from
   two Florida newspapers without crediting them.

   Los Angeles Times reporter Eric Slater was dismissed last month when
   editors at the newspaper could not verify information in an article he
   wrote about fraternity hazing at Cal State Chico.

   The recent headliner in the string of news scandals was bestselling
   author, sports columnist and TV personality Mitch Albom, who was
   suspended from the Detroit Free Press for describing a scene in the
   stands at an NCAA basketball tournament game before the game had been

   With polls showing journalists already held in low esteem, the run of bad
   news has alarmed many in the business.

   Some reporters and editors theorize that shortcuts and sloppiness have
   increased because of more competition from Internet news sites and
   24-hour television news. Others think standards have been raised and that
   newspapers insist on more exact reporting than they did in the past.

   But there is agreement about a greater recognition of industry
   transgressions, which are posted immediately by several journalism
   websites, most prominently Jim Romenesko's column on the Poynter
   Institute's site at

   Managers at the Bee said concerns about Griego Erwin's work began on a
   Saturday in late April, when an editor could not get satisfactory answers
   to questions about a column.

   The piece centered on a fatal fistfight between fans after a Sacramento
   Kings basketball game. The column proposed that a fan had died
   needlessly, perhaps because of "male testosterone, alcohol and the
   sometimes unsavory fanaticism that's part of the sports experience."

   Those familiar with the situation said Griego Erwin could not provide
   more details to confirm the identities of an unnamed bar and a bartender
   The piece was held from its normal spot on the front of the newspaper's
   Metro section on Sunday, April 24. It ran two days later ? rewritten and
   with the suspect elements removed, two people familiar with the process
   said. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

   Bee editors reviewed several other recent Griego Erwin columns, and said
   that in about half a dozen cases the writer could not satisfy them that
   individuals mentioned in the columns were real. The newspaper did not
   identify the columns.

   "We are continuing to investigate. What more will happen I'm not prepared
   to say," Rodriguez said in an interview.

   Colleagues said the mistake might be especially hard for Rodriguez, who
   last month was elected president of the American Society of Newspaper

   Rodriguez said that during his tenure he intended to emphasize ethics and
   the watchdog role editors must play. On the organization's website, he
   listed his pet peeve: "Sloppy mistakes."

   Griego Erwin came to the Bee 12 years ago. She began her career as a
   freelancer for The Times before working for the Denver Post and the

   She was a lead reporter in a Post investigation that won a Pulitzer Prize
   for public service for articles about missing children. She also won a
   George Polk Award at the Post.

   Griego Erwin did not detail the personal crises that she mentioned in her
   statement, but Bee employees said she was going through a divorce.

   Asked about her future, Griego Erwin responded:

   "Plan? I don't have a plan. As I said, I've had a lot of personal drama
   lately and I just need a break. I plan on resting and sleeping a lot. I
   deserve it."