Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Plain Dealer: The response to its critics

THE PLAIN DEALER'S lengthy response to critics accusing it of a tardy response to the city's widespread political corruption amounted to little more than a journalistic non sola mea colpa. Although the paper has been relentless in reporting the FBI's work in turning up an avalanche of criminal activity that has already convicted some of the players, the PD defended itself from the critics who wondered why so much of the mischief went on right under its nose for so long.

Good question. And here's how Ted Diadiun, the PD's reader representative, explained the paper's late arrival on the scene in Sunday's voluminous report:
"It's easy to second-guess the coverage, or the lack of it, with the benefit of 10 years of hindsight. I was in charge of the Metro operation for several years in the' 90s myself, and I can tell you that things that seem obvious today didn't look as clear then." ,
In other words, there might have been a little smoke, but no fire. Huh? But he did concede that the paper was
"guilty of a lack of aggressiveness, of failing to put together threads of a story that a lot of people knew was out there and - perhaps - of failing to be as tough as it should have been on people its journalists liked and thought were doing a good job."
True enough. But who were the people that knew the story was " out there" and did nothing to protect the public trust?

Over the years there obviously have been many moving parts among the sinning pols and their beneficiaries and I find it hard to believe that not one aggrieved whistle-blower came forward with a sliver of information that would have led the paper to suit up a couple of its ace reporters to turn up the story. Cleveland politics have always been messier than normal, and more often than not, a hint that somebody might have his fingers in the cash register was a credible cue to go after it with the first team.

The paper has long had a roster of excellent reporters, some of whom ended up on another paper's honor roll. But the decision-makers at the top have been confused and overly-cautious at times and when in doubt, erred on the side of the polite conservative establishment. (See Kucinich, Dennis, for one glaring example. )

No matter how you come down on the coverage of a tattered political crowd, there can be little hope in today's media climate that the PD can improve its coverage as newsrooms, from the New York Times and CBS to the Weekly Reader continue to shrink. As I have lamented many times before, the disappearance of a healthy newspaper watchdog in any community is leading all of us down a very dark road well past the point of no return.

Of course, the PD's admitted early failure to go after a smoking gun in what turned out to be the city's biggest story of the year didn't help.


Harry Liggett said...

Great post, Abe. BJ Alums should have done it.

Grumpy Abe said...

Thanks, Harry. The PD's soft landing on the issue was a nice try, but given the range of the journalistic issue, not very persuasive. . Unfortunately there are many of our generation who remain passive to the tide that is sweeping newspapers out to sea. That's true of the indifference to many of the declines in the American experience. No, I don't think we can save the business. But even at funeral services, there are folks who will step up protect the honor of the dead.