CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Faced with a firestorm of protest over his newspaper's bad-smelling coverage of a Clermont County murder case, Cincinnati Enquirer editor Tom Callinan has apologized for, in part, promoting a journalistic freak show. He said the publication, which is also online at Cincinnati.com, screwed up by publishing the jury's identities. He apologized and called it a "late-night, deadline decision that was wrong."
Somehow, that appears to lack the ring of complete truth.
The newspaper's employees no doubt retrieved the jurors' personal data in the fact-gathering process, then tried to figure out what to do with the information. Reporters probably were looking for the jurors and seeking out interviews. Callinan implies that there was a list that suddenly materialized and presto! it got published at the very last minute. He blamed the incident on rushing and over-aggressiveness. He admits voices were raised against publishing the juror's names, but adds those voices were ignored.
However, his apology came without a detailed explanation of the entire episode. It's a trust-us-
we-really-know-what-we're-doing apology, a pronouncement that seems issued from on high to the peons who buy the newspaper or click to its online content. It is an apology that smacks of a hierarchical era, when editors presided over the sacred rites of journalism and the hicks had to believe them.
"So how did the decision to publish the list of jurors' names happen? All I can say is that we lost our perspective. In being aggressive on a big story we rushed to a very bad decision." Callinan wrote, offering nothing else except to say that the murder of 3-year-old Marcus Fiesel was a big story.
Inquiring minds want to know: Why the rush? Aggressive on a big story? It was a trial, for heaven sake.
The Enquirer did not solve the murder, arrest the suspect, present the evidence, or even locate the victim's corpse, which is still missing. Outside of overblown headlines, prose and page display that went far beyond Yellow Journalism to the portion of the spectrum that causes skin to blister, the Cincinnati daily played no important role in determining guilt or innocence. The Enquirer was a leech at worst, a pest at best.
Callinan says it is important for the public to know about the people who serve on juries. But, again, he stumbles. There has hardly been a big push in that direction by Callinan prior to this mess on his watch.
There are jury trials every day in SW Ohio -- civil and criminal -- and about zero is ever written about the empaneled fact-finders who decide guilty or not, or what the preponderance of evidence shows. Some might even see in Callinan's apology an element of fraud when he declares. "It is interesting and not irrelevant that a power company lineman, restaurant server and psychiatric nurse are among those entrusted such an important and awesome responsibility. Certainly jurors bring those life experiences to the process. But it's not necessary to publish their names."
Every Ohio jury is comprised of everyday citizens. That might be news to the Enquirer's editor, but it has been a basic precept of the legal system since the days of the Northwest Territory and Cincinnati was settled in 1788.
As the leading newsroom executive, Callinan needs to be far more transparent and:
1) Disclose how long the newspaper had the names.
2) Disclose how the decision to publish the names was made.
3) Disclose what the arguments were against publishing.
4) Disclose where he stood at the time -- for or against.
The Enquirer's editor has not been forthcoming. He concedes the publication of juror names damaged the public's trust in his newspaper, but he won't elaborate.
Sorry, Mr. Editor. It is time for transparency. I call BS.
The full-text of the apology is HERE.