Bob Greene is a good man
I took the news of the forced resignation of Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene — for having had sexual contact with an 18- or 19-year-old woman 11 years earlier — very hard. You see, in 1995, Greene and I were the two most vocal voices in America in defense of a 4-year-old boy taken away from his family and given over to a birth father whom the boy had never seen. The boy, Danny Warburton, was known as “Baby Richard,” though at the age of four, he was hardly a baby. The Illinois Supreme Court, in a vote of 5 to 2, overturned a lower-court ruling to leave Danny with his parents and his brother, and to hand him over forever to a birth father who soon after abandoned the boy again. The justices did not even provide a way for Danny to communicate with his family, the only family he had ever known. At Danny’s birth, the birth mother had legally given adoption rights over to the Warburtons, a fireman and homemaker — his parents virtually from birth. Bob Greene in the Chicago Tribune and I, through my radio talk show and writings, poured our hearts out for this boy. I devoted half a year to writing an analysis of that horrific decision and the blood-is-more-important-than-love thinking that made it possible (it can be found in my book of essays, “Think a Second Time” (HarperCollins)). How could these Illinois Supreme Court justices use their power to hurt, rather than protect, a child? As the case involved Chicago residents, Bob’s voice was uniquely powerful. Against the judgment of those in the media who believe that the public easily gets bored with any issue, he devoted column after column to making readers like me weep for Danny Warburton and for his mother, father and brother. Were it not for Bob Greene, I would have known much less about the situation and not obtained the information I desperately needed to make my daily case against Illinois Supreme Court. Also, knowing that I had a major ally in the media enabled me to do something I have never done in 20 years on the radio — devote more than a month to the same subject, every day, for three hours. Bob Greene and I were obsessed with the devastation wrought by five men on the Illinois Supreme Court against a little boy and his family. To say that Bob Greene has done more for children than almost any other American in the media is to say the obvious. And now his voice, at least in the Tribune, is stilled. So, let me say this on his behalf: I believe that every man and woman has a moral bank account. Our good deeds are deposits into that account, our bad deeds withdrawals. It is our task as human beings to try to judge others’ accounts fairly, since every one of us has withdrawals — and if our deposits are ignored, we are all doomed to be judged worthless by others. When assessing people, what is therefore called for is perspective. We need it when judging anyone: strangers, friends, spouses, employees. In the overall context of a person’s life, is there a large amount in the person’s moral account? Then, while not denying the person’s sins — the withdrawals from his or her moral bank account — we must acknowledge the large balance that remains. Despite this particular withdrawal, Bob Greene’s moral bank account remains quite large. I have never personally met Bob Greene. During the Danny Warburton crisis, we spoke by phone almost every day, and only occasionally since. So this is not a brief on behalf of a friend. This is a brief on behalf of a good man who sinned. There are many children in Illinois and elsewhere who lead better lives, who are more loved, because of Bob Greene’s work on their behalf. Bob’s own children need to know that and never to forget it. Their dad strayed morally, and he has acknowledged it. But their dad is a good man. They should know that a lot of us know that. And always will. Not least, the Warburton and Prager families. Whatever sins he has committed pale alongside the good he has done, just as whatever good the five Illinois justices did pales alongside the bad they did. When I realize that the five justices who ruined lives are still honored citizens in Illinois and that Bob Greene, who helped so many, is in disgrace, I recall the ancient Jewish proverb that the good get their punishments in this world and the bad in the next.
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