A Tale of Two Editors

Cleveland Scene, a weekly owned by the New Times Newspapers, yesterday graced its readers with two fascinating stories. One is an account based on a 2002 FBI affidavit, sealed by a judge, that asserts that there is “probable cause” that former Cleveland Mayor Mike White was on the take. The other explains to readers that said affidavit is one of two documents that the rival Cleveland Plain Dealer had been sitting on, rather than writing about, because it feared prosecution for protecting a source.

We wrote earlier about Plain Dealer editor Doug Clifton’s editorial to readers revealing that his paper was sitting on two stories of “profound” public interest because they involved documents illegally leaked to the newspaper, and he was worried that, in the event of publication, prosecutors might come after the paper, a la Judith Miller and the New York Times.

No more. Once the alternative weekly in its own community scooped the Plain Dealer (on a story the Plain Dealer has been sitting on for some weeks), the paper put its own version up on its website last night (inexplicably labeling it an “exclusive”) and this morning it devoted much of its front page to it.

The affidavit in question was, according to the Scene, submitted by the FBI to a judge to support an FBI request for the authorization of multiple wiretaps. (According to the affidavit, White’s underlings would guarantee business firms contracts with the city in exchange for bribes, then kick a percentage back to the mayor.) To date, White has not been charged with anything, although some of his underlings have; the FBI says the investigation is ongoing.

It’s a hell of a story, and our kudos to Cleveland Scene and editor Pete Kotz for writing and printing it when others held back. Sometimes all it takes to move a cautious editor off the dime is another editor going first.

One more reason to miss the good old days when multiple editors slugged it out toe-to-toe in markets all over America. That competitive zeal led to some excesses; but it also led to a lot of excellent journalism that might otherwise have gone undone.

Thanks to the Scene and editor Pete Kotz for reminding us (and Doug Clifton) of that.

Steve Lovelady

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.