Ohio newspaper withholds articles for fear of jailing
- 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
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
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
"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.