Saturday, July 09, 2005

THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER told Editor & Publisher in an interview published yesterday that it has withheld publication on two major investigative articles because they are based on information from leaked documents, and the paper's legal counsel has warned the editor, Doug Clifton, that the reporters could be forced to name their sources or go to jail.

Like Matt Cooper, who writes for Time magazine, the Cleveland reporters are willing to risk jail time to protect sources, but the paper's management is not.

Clifton felt that, in the wake of the recent decision ordering reporters Judith Miller and Matt Cooper to name confidential sources or go to jail, it would be too risky for the Plain Dealer to publish articles based on leaked information. But he was not happy about the implications for journalistic freedom, so he took the unusual action of sharing the paper's decision with readers in a column expressing support for Miller and Cooper. He hoped that the public would thereby be stirred to greater concern over the threat to freedom of the press if they were aware that a major newspaper had decided against publishing specific articles out of fear that their reporters would be jailed.

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.

"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?"

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 said.

But apparently the public wasn't.

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