Saturday, July 23, 2005

Cleveland Plain Dealer: plain exaggerated?

Less than 4 weeks ago, in response to court action against Time Reporter Matt Cooper & NYT reporter Judy Miller, Cleveland Plain Dealer editor Doug Clifton wrote a column in which he disclosed the paper will put the kibosh on high profile cases using anonymous sources, referencing "two stories of profound importance" that were languishing in their hands. In the piece Clifton said [emphasis added]
The public would be well served to know them, but both are based on documents leaked to us by people who would face deep trouble for having leaked them. Publishing the stories would almost certainly lead to a leak investigation and the ultimate choice: talk or go to jail. Because talking isn't an option and jail is too high a price to pay, these two stories will go untold for now.
One of the stories was about a federal probe of former Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White and the Plain Dealer published their story on Thursday after a weeky paper ran a story about the scandal. As expected a judge was asked to find out who leaked the memo and two affidavits filed by FBI agents that were referenced in the story. It turns out former defense attorney Jerome Emoff gave one of the documents (a memo describing an FBI interview with Ricardo Teamor, a confidant of the ex-mayor who pleaded guilty to bribery last April) to the Plain Dealer and permission to use his name if necessary. [emphasis added]

Plain Dealer editor Doug Clifton said Friday that Emoff gave documents to the newspaper, believing they were not sealed, and did not ask for a promise of confidentiality. "He said initially we weren't to use his name, but that should identification of his name become an issue, we could," Clifton said.

He said the newspaper would resist any order or request to discuss how an FBI affidavit was obtained. "We do not reveal a source once we've given the promise not to reveal the identity of a source," he said. "If we have to go to jail, I guess we go to jail."
Clifton now thinks he should have kept his mouth shut. In an effort to "dramatize" the possible consequences of the federal case involving Judith Miller and Matt Cooper by drawing parallels between very different situations, Clifton not only focused attention on what became a cause célèbre, he also turned it into
"a simplistic discussion of a chickenshit editor and a source he was protecting."
which looks pretty bad considering at least one of the sources who provided enough information for a story agreed to be identified if necessary.

Related @ DF: Cleveland Plain Dealer: Just plain wrong

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