Dafydd: Weep, Wail!

Is this the whiniest article ever?

Newspaper Withholding Two Articles After Jailing
by Robert D. McFadden
The New York Times
July 9, 2005
The editor of The Cleveland Plain Dealer said last night that the newspaper, acting on the advice of its lawyers, was withholding publication of two major investigative articles because they were based on illegally leaked documents and could lead to penalties against the paper and the jailing of reporters.
The editor, Doug Clifton, said lawyers for The Plain Dealer had concluded that the newspaper, Ohio’s largest daily, would probably be found culpable if the authorities were to investigate the leaks and that reporters might be forced to identify confidential sources to a grand jury or go to jail.
“Basically, we have come by material leaked to us that would be problematical for the person who leaked it,” Mr. Clifton said in a telephone interview. “The material was under seal or something along those lines.”

All right… why is the editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer calling McFadden of the Times, gloating to Cleveland readers that the Plain Dealer is not publishing a story because they obtained it illegally?
Am I missing something here? I mean, who the hell cares?
If the story is that important, surely they could “legalize” it by finding some on-the-record source that said something vaguely similar, then claiming that they deduced the rest by a brilliant puff of logic.
Reading further, however, we discover that the story of the non-story IS the story:

If anything, Mr. Clifton said, The Plain Dealer’s potential legal problem with the leaked documents was “even more pointed” than the cases of Ms. Miller and Mr. Cooper.
“These are documents that someone had and should not have released to anyone else,” he said. If an investigation were pursued, the newspaper, its reporters and their sources could all face court penalties for unauthorized disclosures.

The rack! The Chinese water torture! The Procrustean bed!

Mr. Clifton declined to provide details about the two investigative articles being withheld, but he characterized them as “profoundly important,” adding, “They would have been of significant interest to the public.” Asked if they might be published at some later date, he said, “Not in the short term.”

Wow! It’s “profoundly important,” but by golly, they just can’t bring themselves to tell it because they’re afraid. Why… why… could it be that the evil Ashcroft — oh, wait, I mean the evil Alberto — is brutally crushing freedom of the press by daring to prosecute people who leak classified information, information that was sealed by a judge, “or something along those lines?” (Nice and precise, Doug old bean.) Worse, they may call in the accessory after the fact and ask him who stole the tarts.
I have a real soft spot in my heart for the Plain Dealer; I sold them my first opinion piece mumblety-mumble years ago (I got very snide about 2,000,000 Japanese who signed a petition in Japan demanding that America tighten up its gun-control laws). But this reads like some ill-mannered, pre-pubescent brat explaining why he didn’t do his maths. I fully expected Mr. Clifton to add, “and then you’ll be sorry!”
So why is America’s newspaper of record publishing an article about a rival newspaper, two hundred and fifty miles away, and its trunk story? Oh, I should have guessed. Here’s the money quote:

“Take away a reporter’s ability to protect a tipster’s anonymity and you deny the public vital information,” Mr. Clifton wrote. And to dramatize the point, he concluded his column by telling readers that The Plain Dealer was itself obliged to withhold stories based on illegal disclosures for fear of the legal consequences.

Cue the melodramatic music. Imagine the following read like Lady MacBeth’s “out damned spot” soliloquy, as performed by Joan Crawford:

“As I write this, two stories of profound importance languish in our hands,” Mr. Clifton wrote. “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. How many more are out there?”

Languish?
Gosh darn those Republicans! For no reason whatsoever, they launched that ridiculous investigation of who sold the tarts to Bob Novak. The Democrats begged Bush not to waste time trying to find out who “outed” Valerie Plame — but nooooo-ooooo, he just had to sic Patrick Fitzgerald on all those reporters. What a tyrant!
Okay, ready with those violins? Here we go:

Mr. Clifton said he was surprised that there had been so little public reaction to his disclosure of “something that newspapers typically don’t reveal – that real live news had been stifled.”
“I hoped the public would be bothered by that,” he [sniffed].

All right, all right, the last phrase was actually “he said,” not “he sniffed.” But am I the only one who suspects this story of “profound importance” was actually some trivial little nothing, if it even existed at all, whose only importance was as a club to bash Bush? Look what you made me do!
For God’s sake. Grow up. If this is the cream of J-school and the exempt media, then maybe newspapers should start hiring mathematicians, musicians, bakers, or truck drivers: somebody who actually has some professional competence at something useful.
I don’t think Mr. Clifton would ever make it as a blogger.

One thought on “Dafydd: Weep, Wail!”

  1. Should We Start a MSM Gitmo?

    Dafydd, still blogging over at the Captain’s Quarters, has an interesting post on a NYT article about The Cleveland Plain Dealer. (That is sort of like a dead tree blog, for those of you who haven’t heard of it.) So, rather than giving you the breakd…

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