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Newspaper Says Writer Fabricated Column; Declines Award

January 30, 1986

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ The San Antonio Light, saying one of its writers had fabricated a column about a meeting between a homeless woman and a businessman, on Wednesday declined to accept a writing award for her from the Headliners Club of Austin.

The newspaper column writing award, which had been announced Friday for Betty Godfrey, will be presented to Kent Biffle of The Dallas Morning News, the runner-up, said Ernest Stromberger, chairman of the committee that runs the club’s annual Charles E. Green Journalism Awards.

Godfrey, who was hired in 1984 without newspaper experience, will continue as a columnist, said executive editor Ted Warmbold.

In a page-one story in Thursday editions, the Light said the winning columns were withdrawn from the competition after it learned that one column published last Easter Sunday ″was based on an apocryphal incident that Godfrey rewrote, changing the locale from Germany to downtown San Antonio.

″The column concerned an encounter between a young businessman and a bag lady who inadvertently ended up sharing a lunch in a downtown cafeteria.″

Quoting Warmbold, the story said: ″Betty is not a who-what-when-where-why journalist.

″But she has an uncanny ability to tell stories, to capture a moment, to take the human approach. That is her value to this newspaper. But that does not excuse any instance of taking liberties with who, what, when, where or why.

″That is inexcusable, but that is what happened in this column. We apologize to our readers and to the Headliner Club, for this serious breach of ethics.″

In a column written for Thursday’s newspaper, Godfrey explained her lack of journalism experience and apologized to her readers.

″I made a mistake,″ she said. ″I wrote a column about a young businessman’s encounter with a bag lady.

″It was not, as far as I know, a true story. I did not see it happen, but it was the same story that had been circulating around West Germany, when I lived there.″

Godfrey said she told callers and a man at a party that the story wasn’t true. In a commentary in Thursday editions, Managing Editor Ed Rademaekers said that man contacted the newspaper.

Before Godfrey was hired as a columnist in 1984 she told the editors she had never worked for a newspaper, Rademaekers said.

″We brought Betty into newspapering, but we didn’t do enough to teach her the craft,″ he wrote.

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