Chicago Tribune's Touching Homeless Teacher Story Gets An Embarrassing Grade of 'Incomplete'

Journalists love a good sob story about poverty. But is it always a full story? “Always check public records before you run a sob story,” warned Jim Romnesko on his media-news website. The Chicago Tribune failed to do its homework in a Labor Day story on Henry Wolfson, a 66-year-old longtime substitute teacher who’s been living in a homeless shelter the last four months.

Students felt so sorry for the teacher after reading the Labor Day feature that they went out and raised about $40,000. Weeks later, the Tribune located the rest of the story: “The teacher had gambled away close to $180,000, a fact the newspaper failed to mention.” Oops:

Wolfson had received $247,000 in 2007 from a trust established by his late parents, as well as $12,000 in 2011 from the settlement of a lawsuit against his sister and her husband. …[He] said Thursday that he had lost about $180,000 betting on horses in a little more than a year at off-track betting parlors.

Mention of the inheritance was in public court files that the Tribune did not consult before the column appeared. The newspaper published a clarification Thursday that said the column about Wolfson should have laid out those details about his finances.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis