Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Plain Dealer: Chilled to the Bone

Good evening. I'm Steve Fought, substituting for Frank Szollosi. Guest hosts are never as good as the regulars (remember when Letterman was out of action?) and I don't pretend to be the entertaining host that Frank is, but I have agreed nonetheless to add my two cents' worth.

A news item caught my attention in Saturday's New York Times. (registration might be required).

The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest paper, has spiked (at least temporarily) two "profound" investigative stories dealing with corruption. Editor Doug Clifton claims he wants to print them, as do the reporters. It's "the newspaper" that doesn't want to print them, he says. I've never heard a "newspaper" speak, so apparently he means the management or ownership of the Plain Dealer made the call to deep six the stories.

Clifton said the information is "under seal" or something like that. He is being very cryptic--most likely intentionally cryptic--and he has raised more questions than he has answered.

1. What does "profound" mean?

2. He says the stories would be of "significant" interest to the public. What does that mean?

3. Clifton apparently told Editor and Publisher magazine the stories do not involve "Coingate" per se. One wonders whether that also means they don't pertain to the Bureau of Workers Compensation scandal. In my opinion, they are two different, but related scandals.

Not to question the advice of the Plain Dealer's lawyers, but Ohio's shield law would seem to protect PD journalists and their sources. Ohio's law is arguably somewhat stronger than the First Amendment since it also includes the word "restrain" as a prohibited government activity. (Ohio Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 11).

Is this a clue that the Plain Dealer's hidden stories necessarily have a federal angle, since federal law, which does not include a shield law as such, could be seen to override the state statute?

Doug Clifton's comments raise more questions than they answer, and they provide disturbing evidence that the press has indeed been chilled by the Judith Miller/Matt Cooper/Karl Rove/Valerie Plame-Wilson incident.

As if the scandals sweeping state government weren't already dramatic enough, the sudden loss of nerve by Ohio's largest newspaper is yet another plot twist--and a disturbing plot twist at that.

My personal opinion: newspapers have an obligation in a free society to bring forward information when it has "profound" importance. Otherwise, they forfeit their credibility.

The chilling effect of the Miller case appears to have the Plain Dealer in the deep freeze.


Anonymous Sepp said...

Freedom of the press is just 1 more of the checks and balances of our system of Govt. An honest press is expected to report news and keep the public informed as to what the facts are. Far too often (here in Toledo especially) the newspaper reports--or doesent report-- news according to it's own agenda. Public officials that follow along with the editor's agenda will generally get a free pass meaning that the story will be slanted in that person's favor or swept under a rug completly. Our daily local is a fine example of public crucifixion of those that dare have an opposing viewpoint. The truth, the whole truth and, nothing but the truth would be a welcome change.

12:40 AM  
Blogger Lisa Renee said...

The over use of anonymous sources isn't necessarily a Free Speech issue, and really given Ohio's laws I'd tend to believe this is a matter of A) them wanting more publicity or B) if the source is that questionable then maybe it's better off not being published at this point.

Part of the reason many people have lost faith in the credibility of the media is this very issue. Truthfully, how many put a high degree of faith in an anonymous source?

While I believe at times it is necessary it has been over done to the point where you wonder is anyone willing to go on the record on anything slightly controversial anymore?

12:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rumor has it that this was a big story of corruption involving the Mayor of Cleveland and several of her cronies. Apparently some of the higher ups in Cleveland city government are on the take. Sound like Toledo?

2:36 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

Thanks for guest blogging Steve, and your trenchant analysis of the situation over at the PD. Let me get this straight...Rove leaks like swiss cheese pulled from a fish bowl and POTUS stands by his man, as a reporter for the NYT goes to jail over freedom of the press. No, it doesn't sound like Toledo, it sounds like Orwell.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

Conservative Bill Safire also warns of "chilling" effect of all this.

11:03 PM  

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