Opinion: Media Mangle

Bloggers help readers learn ‘the rest of the story’

Cause for Cleveland columnist's resignation hidden from paper’s readers

Most readers think they’re getting the whole story when they read something in their morning paper. Oh, they might think that the wire services occasionally play fast and loose with objectivity, but their old standby home fish wrapper certainly doesn’t play those games.

If they believed that in Cleveland, they have another think coming.

Here’s a story that appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sept. 19:

Pulitzer Prize winner and Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz resigned today.

“In recent weeks, it has become painfully clear that my independence, professionally and personally, is possible only if I’m no longer writing for the newspaper that covers my husband’s senate race on a daily basis. It’s time for me to move on,” Schultz wrote in an email to her colleagues Monday.

Schultz had written for the newspaper for nearly 18 years. She is married to Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who will seek re-election to the U.S. Senate next year. Conservatives have criticized Schultz and The Plain Dealer, saying that she used her column to support her husband’s political career.

Both Schultz and the leadership of the newspaper have maintained that her words are her own, and pointed out that she began writing about workers’ rights and other liberal causes long before she married Brown in 2004.

First, an observation. Note how they proudly identify Schultz as a very liberal columnist, to whom they gave a daily forum to spread her ideology. Is it any wonder she married the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate?

But back to the story. The reader is left with the impression that Schultz is so fair and above-board, so interested in even the perception of bias, that she magnanimously stepped down from her coveted columnist post voluntarily so as not to be an issue in her husband’s upcoming campaign.

That is NOT what happened.

On Sept. 7, the political blog Third Base Politics ran this item:

In her column today, she talks about her experience at a Tea Party event in Avon, here in Lorain County. Reports are that she spent most of her time interviewing attendees for her column. That’s what they pay her to do, right? In her column, she pays a lot of attention to who didn’t show up. However, she fails to mention one of the speakers who WAS there. That speaker would be Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.

I wonder why she didn’t mention this. Why didn’t she mention that when Josh’s name was announced, that she rushed to the seats to sit in a row up front, and pulled out her video camera? …

Why was Connie Schultz so interested in Josh Mandel? Oh, please forgive me. I forgot to mention something else. Connie’s husband is up for re-election next year, and Josh Mandel is almost certain to be the Republican nominee.

The blogger then attached a video of the scene:

In her Sept. 8 column, Schultz admitted to two “mistakes” she made in covering the Tea Party event. One, she said, was not mentioning her husband’s likely opponent, Mandel, in her column about the event. The other was rushing down to the front box seats to videotape Mandel’s comments, when she had not done the same for any other speaker. Third Base Politics was correct in their assessment that this looked a lot like opposition research, and a huge conflict of interest.

Schultz does not mention the role of Third Base Politics anywhere in her mea culpa column, though it is obvious that without that blog post she would never have admitted her two “mistakes.” They would have gone unremarked and unreported, there would have been no subsequent outcry, and she would probably have continued doing opposition research on the newspaper’s dime.

Yesterday, Third Base Politics got to publish what had to be a very satisfying blog post:

It has just been announced that Plain Dealer Columnist Connie Schultz has resigned from the Plain Dealer.

Recall that we posted a story a couple of weeks ago, with video of her filming Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel at a tea party event. Mandel is the likely opponent for US Senator Sherrod Brown, who is also Schultz’s husband. Schultz was at the event to write a story about the tea party for the Plain Dealer, when she put the Plain Dealer into an awkward situation by creating a clear conflict of interest when she filmed Mandel.

This was an exclusive story to Third Base Politics. Schultz wrote a column apologizing the next day after our post. Before that happened, 3BP was the only source for the story.

And now you know the rest of the story. Just another reminder of how blogs and social media have changed the game for the mainstream media. They just can’t get away with the kind of stuff they used to get way with routinely. And that’s a good thing.

Jon Ham is vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of its newspaper, Carolina Journal.