Cleveland's Plain Dealer: We're Holding Big Stories Because of Miller Jailing

By Mark Fitzgerald
Published: July 08, 2005 5:02 PM ET

CHICAGO Plain Dealer Editor Doug Clifton says the Cleveland daily is not reporting two major investigative stories of "profound importance" because they are based on illegally leaked documents -- and the paper fears the consequences faced now by jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

Lawyers for the Newhouse Newspapers-owned PD have concluded that the newspaper would almost certainly be found culpable if the leaks were investigated by authorities.

"They've said, this is a super, super high-risk endeavor, and you would, you know, you'd lose," Clifton said in an interview Friday afternoon.

"The reporters say, 'Well, we're willing to go to jail, and I'm willing to go to jail if it gets laid on me,'" Clifton added, "but the newspaper isn't willing to go to jail. That's what the lawyers have told us. So this is a Time Inc. sort of situation."

Both Miller and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper faced jail on contempt charges for refusing to identify confidential sources, but Time agreed to hand over Cooper's subpoenaed notes when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the reporters' appeal. Cooper later agreed to testify to a grand jury, saying his source had given "express personal consent" to be identified.

Clifton declined to characterize the two stories, saying only they were based on material that was illegally leaked.

Clifton's revelation that the PD was holding two investigative projects was actually first published in a column he wrote June 30 about the Miller and Cooper case. While the column garnered positive reaction, he said, almost nobody picked up on the disclosure tucked into the end of the piece.

"As I write this, two stories of profound importance languish in our hands," Clifton wrote. "The public would be well served to know them, but both are based on documents leaked to us by people who would face deep trouble for having leaked them. Publishing the stories would almost certainly lead to a leak investigation and the ultimate choice: talk or go to jail. Because talking isn't an option and jail is too high a price to pay, these two stories will go untold for now. How many more are out there?"

Clifton said he wrote the column to show that "there are consequences" to the actions taken against Miller and Cooper by a federal judge and special prosecutor.

"Some people might argue that you're being chicken-shit," Clifton said. "Well, I, I can respect that," he said, his voice trailing off.

Clifton said the Miller-Cooper case has not presented any problem in its ongoing reporting of the biggest current scandal in Ohio, sometimes called "Coingate."

"So much of that we are pursuing unambiguously with public records," he said. "We've had to rely very little on anonymous sources."

The scandal, first reported by The Blade in Toledo, revolves around a rare-coin dealer who was given authority to invest $50 million in state money in rare coins and other collectibles. Gold coins valued at $300,000 that were part of that investment were lost in the mail, the Blade reported. It later came out that millions of dollars in the fund cannot be accounted for.