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Ohio newspaper withholds articles for fear of jailing

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  • Greg Cannon
    This is the third time today I ve tried to send this article. The other article I sent this morning went through with no problem. This time I m not using the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 9, 2005
      This is the third time today I've tried to send this
      article. The other article I sent this morning went
      through with no problem. This time I'm not using the
      original headline as the subject line, to see if that


      Newspaper Withholding Two Articles After Jailing

      Published: 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

      In an earlier interview with the trade journal Editor
      & Publisher, which published an article on its Web
      site late yesterday, Mr. Clifton said that lawyers for
      The Plain Dealer and its owner, Newhouse Newspapers,
      had strongly recommended against publication of the

      "They've said, This is a super, super high-risk
      endeavor and you would, you know, you'd lose," Mr.
      Clifton told Editor & Publisher. "The reporters say,
      'Well, we're willing to go to jail,' and I'm willing
      to go to jail if it gets laid on me, but the newspaper
      isn't willing to go to jail."

      Mr. Clifton likened the situation to the cases of
      Judith Miller, an investigative reporter for The New
      York Times, who was sent to jail by a federal judge on
      Wednesday for refusing to divulge the identity of a
      confidential source, and of Matthew Cooper of Time
      magazine, who was spared jail after his source
      released him from a promise of confidentiality,
      freeing him to testify before the grand jury.

      In the most serious confrontation between the press
      and the government since the Pentagon Papers case in
      1971, Ms. Miller and Mr. Cooper were held in civil
      contempt last year for not cooperating with a federal
      prosecutor's inquiry into the illegal disclosure of
      the identity of a covert operative for the Central
      Intelligence Agency. The Supreme Court refused to hear
      the reporters' appeals on June 27.

      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.

      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."

      The Plain Dealer, founded in 1842, is a distinguished
      name in American journalism and was listed last year
      as the nation's 21st largest daily.

      Mr. Clifton noted that he had first disclosed his
      newspaper's decision to withhold publication of the
      two articles in a column he wrote for The Plain Dealer
      on June 30 in defense of journalists like Ms. Miller
      and Mr. Cooper who refuse to name confidential

      "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

      "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.
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