BREAKING: Congressman LaTourette Gets Blogger Fired From "Wide Open"

Today I was terminated from my engagement as a freelance blogger at the Cleveland.com blog "Wide Open" as a direct result of intervention of Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Bainbridge Township) of the 14th Ohio Congressional District, in retaliation for my previous blogging about his re-election campaign and my financial support for two of his election opponents.

In August, the Cleveland Plain Dealer hired four Ohio political bloggers to contribute to a daily political group blog called "Wide Open". In order to assure balance, two bloggers with liberal leanings were chosen, and two with conservative leanings. The other participants are Jill Miller Zimon of Writes Like She Talks, Tom Blumer of BizzyBlog, and Dave of Nixguy.

My participation in the project soon came to the attention of Rep. LaTourette. I had written extensively about LaTourette's 2006 re-election contest and I explicitly supported his challenger, law professor Lew Katz (D-Pepper Pike). I also wrote about what I regard as the suspicious connection between large amounts of campaign cash LaTourette received from the Ratner family of Cleveland, of the Forest City real estate empire, and their receiving an enormous contract to develop 44 acres of the Southeast Federal Center in Washington DC. LaTourette was a member of the powerful Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, which oversees the agency that awarded the contract (the General Services Administration). (That writing is here and was picked up here.) My wife and I also contributed a modest amount to the Katz campaign.

I was told by Cleveland Plain Dealer Online Editor Jean Dubail that Rep. LaTourette complained about my involvement in "Wide Open" to Cleveland Plain Dealer Editorial Page Editor Brent Larkin. I was also informed that LaTourette brought the matter of my participation up during an interview with Cleveland Plain Dealer political reporter Sabrina Eaton, when she talked to LaTourette about the retirement of Rep. Dave Hobson (R-Springfield). LaTourette mentioned that I had contributed the sum of $100 to the campaign of LaTourette's current opponent, Bill O'Neill (D-South Russell). Eaton suggested that he raise his concerns with more senior people at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. As a result of the conversation, Eaton reported my contribution in her story about third quarter campaign fund-raising by various Ohio Congressional candidates.

Cleveland Plain Dealer Online Editor Jean Dubail raised the matter of LaTourette's displeasure with my participation in "Wide Open" in discussion with the four bloggeres on at least two occasions. We discussed the possibility of my making a disclosure of my support for LaTourette's opponents whenever I wrote anything about LaTourette.

Today Dubail called me and asked if I would agree to never write about LaTourette on "Wide Open," as a condition of my continued participation. He said that the arrangement was sought by Susan Goldberg, Editor of the Plain Dealer. When I declined to agree that I would never write about LaTourette on "Wide Open," I was terminated by Dubail.

As a political blogger, I am a partisan. My political orientation as a progressive Democrat is an integral part of what I do and is completely transparent to my readers. This is a crucial component of being a political blogger/activist, and sets us apart from journalists in the classic sense. It was understood among the four participants in "Wide Open" that we are political partisans and that we would engage in political debate from our respective political points of view.

I am extremely disappointed that the Cleveland Plain Dealer bowed to pressure from an elected official, to the extent of attempting to limit what a freelance political blogger could write on a hosted group blog and of terminating the services of the blogger to please the offical. To me, this sad episode strikes a heavy blow at freedom of expression and the purported journalistic independence of a once proud newspaper.

Of course, I am appalled at this petty exercise of political power by Rep. LaTourette to retaliate agianst even so insignificant an enemy as me. I do not believe that a Congressman who stoops to the level of manipulating a newspaper to strike back at a critic deserves to remain in office. Fortunately, LaTourette has a strong opponent in 2008 challenger Bill O'Neill.

UPDATE: A former blogger had this to say:

I bet the PeeDee would have fired Tom Paine if King George would have asked. What a bunch of spineless ninees - the GOP aren't even in power anymore and these folks still bow down to them. Some free press.

Nice. Says a lot.

All said and done you're almost #1

Your independent "Ohio Daily Blog" ranks higher in "influence" than the over ballyhooed "Wide Open" experiment. Wide Open will suffer without your participation. It is their loss... by far !!

http://www.blognetnews.com/ohio/influence-index.php

congratulations

I can't believe LaTourette would be so klutzy as to complain. I guess you're having an impact. Keep up the good work in keeping the dialogue open.

--Tim Ferris

Selling your soul to the Pee Dee...

Shalom Jeff,

I have to say that I hope you've escaped with your sould intact.

B'shalom,

Jeff Hess

http://www.havecoffeewillwrite.com

That bites...

It's hard to believe they fired a political blogger for being...political. It's not as if you have hidden your thoughts, you are a blogger.

You know I was a bit in envy of you guys over here in the Cleveland area that blogging was being supported by your daily newspaper to the point they put a monetary value on your blogging and beyond the monetary aspect that they valued your opinions enough as political bloggers to have created the Wide Open format.

All I can say now is if I were one of the other three I'd quit in protest after what happened to you. It's not right and I hope Plain Dealer rethinks this.

Keep Up the Good Work

I regularly turn to your blog because you do such a good job of covering the news and in an honest way. I feel that I can trust your reporting about politics in Ohio to be accurate and fair.

I'm glad you covered this in the same way -- accurately reporting what happened and why with enough background so that we really understand.

When reported accurately, LaTourette and the Plain Dealer do not fare very well.

Keep up the good work. You are a better source than the Plain Dealer.

DIRTY DEALER

Need one say more...jeff buster

Disgusting, but predictable

Aside from Wide Open, I've not read the PeeDee for years. It is generally a mediocre rag. Wide Open was a breath of fresh air that I now feel obliged to ignore.

Not So Sure This Is the Whole Story

The problem with bloggers is that they report the events as if they are fact, then fall back under the opinion/blogger cover when challenged. You state many things in your article and make many conclusions. Some seem obvious but some require a leap of faith to believe. A $100 donation to a political rival, in a campaign of Millions of dollars seems suspect to me as a cause.

If it is the casue, then you are very correct in your anger. I however would imagine that the issues go further than $100 and a democatic vote in 2006. Only picking out 1 fact and making a story about it is very plain dealer like.

As for squashing your freedoms, why is it that eveytime someone stops getting paid to talk, we are tromping on their freedom of speech and the press?!?! I don't get paid to talk, the plain dealer would never hire me... does that make me oppressed?

Jeff = honest

Jeff's honesty is unimpeachable. It happened the way he says it did.

Clearly, you don't like his politics. Fine. But do not try impugn his integrity.

This is the same old, lame old dodge: "it's the media's fault." If you don't like the facts, you blame the messenger.

It is unacceptable to vaguely imply that Jeff did something other than what really happened. He was NOT hired as a "reporter," or a "journalist" or a "commentator" or a "columnist." He was hired as a progressive blogger. And he did a great job.

Freedom of Speech Is the Key

Jeff;

This is too bad. If we are to engage one another in the public square then we must earnestly protect freedom of speech. The Plain Dealer has made a big mistake, but this is not surprising from an industry that is going the way of horse drawn buggies.

BD
One Oar in the Water

Pee Dee

You should get your facts right before condemning The Plain Dealer.

What you did was far more subjective than exposing Mr. Latourette in this political debacle. You stated opinions and labeled them as facts, then you tried passing them as this grandiose picture which you decoded.

You are a great blogger, but your armpits smell and you need to shower more. Maybe you could trim your hair every once in a while as well.

Anonymous

I tend to discount the opinions of anyone who hasn't the stones to put his or her name to their words.

Guy Staniland

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