Once Hoffman's editor learned that Francis had physically hurt her -- so much so that a bodyguard and an officer had to intervene -- the editor should have made the call to end the feature and turn it into a news story. Skinny-dipping and other "experiences" aside, Hoffman was, at that point, in over her head -- and in danger. When a reporter is physically harmed in the course of an assignment, his or her editor has the responsibility to end that assignment and protect the reporter. Not even Francis' subsequent verbal abuse of the reporter appears to have prompted the editor to say, "enough."
Why didn't Hoffman's editor direct her to investigate Francis' background before arranging an interview? Through her Hollywood connections, Hoffman probably had already heard some rumors of Francis' behavior problems and run-ins with the law. But it is only after he roughs her up that an effort is made to check out his background. Not good.
To me, and to some other journalists and editors with whom I have spoken, the piece raises just as many disturbing questions about the editor's decisions as it does about Mr. Francis himself.
The way this story was pursued would make for a good debate at Annenberg or Poynter.