Plain Dealer Reader Representative Writes on LaTourette-Wide Open Story

Reader Representative Ted Diadiun, sounding much more like an apologist for the Plain Dealer leadership team than an ombudsman, commented on the LaTourette-Wide Open story yesterday.

I have problems with Diadiun's chronology and characterization of the facts, but as I am trying to put all this behind me I will content myself with just one important correction. Diadiun portrays the involvement of Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Bainbridge Township) as originating with a brief exchange during an interview with reporter Sabrina Eaton for a story about fund-raising published on October 16th, followed by a single conversation with Editorial Page Editor Brent Larkin and an appointment with Editor Susan Goldberg that LaTourette subsequently cancelled. This creates the impression that LaTourette's role was late in the game and minimal in scope (i.e., that his dissatisfaction was limited to my $100 contribution to his opponent).

No. Emphatically, no. LaTourette's complaints were apparently triggered by my posting on September 25th on this blog (not Wide Open) about an upcoming fund-raiser for Bill O-Neill (D-South Russell). LaTourette must have contacted Brent Larkin (or someone) immediately because I was cautioned on September 26th about that post, and an extended discussion about LaTourette's displeasure over my participation in Wide Open occurred on September 27th. That's just four days after Wide Open officially began, and well before O'Neill released fund-raising figures that included my $100 contribution. Sabrina Eaton didn't talk to LaTourette until after the retirement of Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Navarre) was leaked on October 11th. I was informed on October 16th that LaTourette was "still complaining" and had learned about my contribution to O'Neill.

Nevertheless, and this is important, the heart of the disagreement is not such direct factual matters as whether or when LaTourette complained (it is conceded that he did complain) nor whether this extension of the "no contributions" rule from reporters to free-lance bloggers was a completely new development following in the wake of LaTourette's complaints (it was; there was no inquiry or discussion about political activities or contributions at all when we started). The heart of the dispute, as is so often the case in matters relating to people getting fired, is why those in power did what they did. Did Rep. LaTourette complain in order to get me kicked off the group blog? Did the editorial leaders impose this new policy on us in response to the complaints? These are issues to be decided (if at all) based on inferences drawn from surrounding circumstances.

I believed and still believe that the inferences support my conviction that the congressman complained to get me gone and the complaints caused the Plain Dealer to take the steps it took. At the same time, I recognize that intentions are simply not as knowable as physical events. It does not surprise me in the least to learn that a contrary interpretation of their motivations is being advanced by the newspaper. In their minds the ultimate decision-makers at the newspaper have persuaded themselves that LaTourette's complaints "had nothing to do with it," as unconvincing as that sounds to me. In an area as subjective as motivations for decisions, this kind of disagreement tends to happen.

Diadiun's piece seems designed to portray me as the villain in the drama, but I do not regret breaking the story of LaTourette's involvement nor of getting the story out as widely as I could manage. It was important and I laid out the underlying facts as clearly as I could manage in my press release. I had been constrained from telling the story while I was still at Wide Open, but when that was taken away I wanted to get it out ASAP.

However, there are some things that followed that are unfortunate, and these provide lessons about blogging that I intend to heed. It is unfortunate that I mistakenly reported that fellow blogger Dave had made political contributions, an error based on finding records of donations by someone in Ohio with the same name. I will try harder to check such things out before reporting them. In retrospect it would have been a good thing if I had waited some period of time and read over my press release in a calmer, more dispassionate frame of mind before sending it. I would have taken out some rhetoric and I would have been more clear about what were direct facts and what was inference based on the facts. I will try to do better on that score. I wish that I had been more clear in the course of telling my story that the Plain Dealer is not a monolithic entity within which every single person is to blame. In particular, Online Editor Jean Dubail was plainly not the problem. He is a visionary editor and I have nothing but respect for him. Like the other bloggers I believe in the concept of Wide Open as he imagined it. My issue is with a few decision-makers at the top of the organization.

Personally, I don't feel that what happened at Wide Open is a lasting set-back for innovative interaction between traditional media and the blogosphere. The pressure to find constructive ways to interact is too great. The apparent decision by the editors in charge of the Plain Dealer to never pay bloggers even the nominal compensation that we received strikes me as bad and unworkable policy, so I don't think that will last. And I hope that the two realms find common ground and mutual understanding quickly, to their mutual benefit.

Good recap

Thanks Jeff, good response to Diadiun and thanks for correcting the stuff that needed it.

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