Jean Dubail Calls BSB on Alleged Political Firing
I just got off the phone with Jean Dubail, the Plain Dealer's online editor. The highlights?
The paper admits that Steve LaTourette (R-OH-14), or his Congressional Office, complained about liberal blogger Jeff Coryell's employment with the Plain Dealer. As everyone knows from yesterday, during last year's Congressional campaign Jeff wrote negatively about LaTourette on his personal blog, and made a modest contribution to Lew Katz, LaTourette's opponent. Congressman LaTourette apparently still has a couple twigs up his about all that.
However, today Dubail vehemently denies LaTourette's complaints to the paper affected the outcome of Coryell's employment. Asked specifically whether Jeff Coryell would have been fired had LaTourette not contacted the paper, Dubail state he would.
This, of course, I have trouble buying into as credible. Afterall, several alternatives to censorship and termination were being discussed at the PeeDee until LaTourette contacted the paper, and raised specific issues about Coryell.
BSB: Jean, you've read Jeff's account. I'm curious, did LaTourette contact the paper and raise concerns about Jeff's employment, and did that in turn affect his employment at the paper?
Jean Dubail, PeeDee: True, LaTourette – or his office – did complain. But, as I have explained, people make threats like that all the time, I think any responsible journalistic organization that receives a claim like LaTourette's - you owe to pause and examine. In this case, LaTourette has not liked what we've wrote for a long time, way back before Jeff blogged on the site. You know – he- um – I - trying to think of an example. But, well - I’ve just been told through our Washington bureau he’s been unhappy for some time.
We discussed this issue among ourselves, but no action other than talking to jeff occurred at first. At some point the campaign finances came out, and Sabrina [Eaton] wrote a story that mentioned the [Jeff's] contributions. At that point Susan Goldberg [Editor of the Plain Dealer] became uncomfortable for this reason.
If we had set this up in such a way that these people were unpaid, I don’t thinlk we’d be having this converstation. The fact they were paid on a regular basis, for Susan, got into some uncomfortable territory for us. For her, it felt like – to having someone regularly paid by the Plain Dealer, supporting a candidate in a partisan race, could raise questions about our fairness. That weighed far more in her mind more than anything LaTourette said her mind more than anything.
What does it mean when someone says not going to talk anymore. Generally means nothing – a threat like that has little credibility. Mike White [former Mayor of Cleveland] never spoke to reporters from the Plain Dealer for six year, but that never kept us from writing about him as aggressively or industriously as ever. The same thing here with LaTourette, we ran a story this weekend about investments of our congressional delegation. He or his office refused to talk to Steve Koff for about a week in a half while we were working on this story. I think its ridiculous to suggest he did that because of Jeff Coryell, he did it because he didn’t want that story out there. So you can see, I don’t think a threat like that has any credibility. The number of the times this sort of thing happens you couldn’t count on , or excuse me, you could count on one hand. However people perceive it, that kind of pressure never works. The issue of the campaign contribution was an issue, Susan one of her jobs as eidotr is to be very mindful of the reputation of the paper. You hope the paper ihas a rep. of fairness of objectivity. We thought it was reasonable that he not blog.
Clearly there are some problems with Jeans statement. First, they openly admit that LaTourette's office put political pressure on the paper. There's no denying that. The issue is whether they bowed to that pressure. The defense the paper claims is that LaTourette's claims were reasonable, and that they had a duty as a fair paper to look into them and take action.
For a normal reporter, this might be fair. However, Jeff, and all three other bloggers, were hired for their political activism and interest. The paper was fully aware of these interests when they made their hires, and they subjectively reacted to these "reasonable" concerns only against Jeff, only after they were raised by a politician. Selective enforcement of censorship - ultimately termination of employment - are certainly at play here. To insist otherwise is ludicrous.
Furthermore, Dubail insists that Jeff's employment would've still ultimately terminated had LaTourette not contacted the PeeDee. But in the same breathe, Dubail acknowledges the papers were considering other options, such as a disclosure about Jeff's political involvement, over termination or censorship prior to LaTourette's contact with the paper. So the Plain Dealer's story doesn't quite synch up.
BSB: Would these events transpired the way they did, even if LaTourette had not contacted the paper? Why was the disclosure option rejected in favor of termination?
Jean Dubail, Plain Dealer: It wasn’t rejected. We had just started discussing. We discussed some sort of disclosure in individual posts, or a more general disclosure in our about the author section. Frankly the issue didn’t seem that pressing, we’d eventually do that. We were overtaken by events when the contribution came to light, then in a different ballpark entirely.
You had asked if the idea if some simple disclosure was rejected or accepted. I thought that’d resolve it, and jeff was agreeable, but in the course the contribution came to light. We had to deal with that issue. Clearly a simple disclosure wasn't enough...
Im sure at some point, maybe a commenter, or a conservative on wide open, or a person on the forum would’ve brought it up [the contribution] at some point eventually. These days the way the blogosphere and journalism works. There are no secrets. Everything comes to light. We’d be dealing with this eventually
Might not have happened this week, but I expect it would have happened eventually...Wouldn’t have happened this week, but eventually.
"In the course" is a good way of saying LaTourette started smacking the paper around to get rid of Jeff.
So there you have it. Dubail also disclosed that the paper is in discussions of how to apply this standard to Wide Open and the Plain Dealer in the future. I look forward to hearing how that works out for them, since Tom Blumer - another Wide Open author - has filed election complaints in OH-2 in the past, David Stacy has allegedly made political contributions, as have Jill Miller Zimon.
...But of course, a Congressman didn't call to bitch about them.