Paper fires reporter over Pulitzer letter

TOLEDO, Ohio - A newspaper fired a reporter who wrote an anonymous letter to the Pulitzer Prize board critical of the newspaper's entry for its work in uncovering the state's coin investment scandal.

George Tanber, a reporter for The Blade for 14 years, was fired Thursday for "displaying a pattern of conduct which was dishonest, inappropriate, or both," the newspaper reported in Sunday's editions.

Tanber, who worked in the newspaper's bureau in Monroe, Mich., had been suspended last week while the paper investigated, after telling Blade editors Tuesday that he wrote the letter.

The Blade was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzers in public service. It broke the story in April 2005 about a state investment in rare coins managed by prominent Republican fundraiser Tom Noe. The scandal led to theft charges against Noe, and Republican Gov. Bob Taft pleaded no contest to ethics violations last year.

The letter claimed the newspaper knew about problems with the investment in 2004 and tried to cover up the fact for fear its investigation would be discredited.

"The bottom line is that Coingate should have been reported at least a year earlier and that Blade editors, once they knew the story was intentionally ignored, should have disciplined the responsible reporter and informed its readers," Tanber wrote in an e-mail message to The Associated Press on Sunday. "That's what newspapers are supposed to do."

Blade editors deny the newspaper acted unethically in its coverage of the investment scandal.

"The Blade and ethics are synonymous," said John Robinson Block, publisher and editor in chief, in the newspaper's published report. "We're a victim of a disgruntled employee."

The Blade hired outside investigators to help identify the letter's author, interviewed employees and public officials, and reviewed e-mail messages on Tanber's work laptop computer.

Tanber said the newspaper also examined two of his personal e-mail accounts without his permission as part of its investigation.

"I don't know if that's illegal, but it certainly raises serious questions that could have far-reaching ramifications," he wrote.

Tanber's letter did not challenge the accuracy of the stories. Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, has said it was not a factor in the judging. The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and The Sun Herald of south Mississippi won the public service award for their coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

The Blade, which won a Pulitzer in 2004, has a daily circulation of about 140,000 and is owned by Block Communications Inc.