CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The Cleveland Plain Dealer's feature section columnist Connie Schultz sounds cranked off in this item published by the alt/weekly Cleveland Scene. Three journalists on the PeeDee's staff in 2006, including the author of this blog, are scored for "breaking the basic rules of journalism."
What pap. In my case, I sent an e-mail from the Plain Dealer's bureau in Cincinnati -- where I was based before retiring last December -- to then editor Doug Clifton. The e-mail went out in January or February 2006. I cc'ed Connie and noted that newspaper stories appearing in Southern Ohio in early 2006 were pointing out she was the wife of Sherrod Brown, who was on a trip around the state announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Some of those stories identified her as a journalist employed by the Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper.
Now, I was not aware of her marriage. I live in Cincinnati and learned of it around the time the campaigning started. Downstate, Sherrod and Connie were not widely known. I also heard suspicions/complaints/snark from Dems in the Paul Hackett camp, and from some Repubs who liked then-incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine, that the PD's coverage would be biased for Brown. After all, they said, his wife worked in the newsroom. She was a columnist. She had recently won a Pulitzer. And she could influence how the campaign was covered.
Hackett was still in the primary and things were growing bitter on the Democratic side. The Republicans expected a tough fight ahead for DeWine. And, the PD was in the bag.
I composed the e-mail to Clifton, the gist of it saying that things were tough for reporters in the field. They should not have to be under a cloud. Connie probably should get out of the way. She should be at her husband's side for the race. My view expressed in the note: Her activity as a columnist/candidate's wife looked like a conflict. I did not want to have to defend myself or any stories I wrote against allegations they were crafted to carry water for Sherrod Brown.
Connie reportedly met with Clifton as a result of my e-mail. She implies that I should have known about her marriage because it was reported in the paper. "Does he not read the paper he writes for?" she says she asked Clifton.
Yes, I read the paper. Somehow I missed her marriage announcement. Perhaps I was in West Virginia covering a flood that day. Or I was in court, or out trailing a candidate around, or wandering around Appalachian Ohio. Perhaps I was drilling down into the baseball box scores. Or reading Phillip Morris. I missed the announcement.
I must add that I was never an avid reader of the features section where Connie toils, a part of the paper that grizzled old newsroom hands like myself called the "toy department." That's a journo term predating myself or Connie, and comes from the era when the City Room was the heart of a newspaper and the "toy department" produced mostly fluff.
So, the "basic rule of journalism" that I broke was to express concern in writing to the editor in chief that the Plain Dealer's coverage of the Senate campaign was being perceived as less than even-handed, to contend that there should be no possible way for Brown's opponents to assert an insider controlled coverage and tilted it toward the insider's husband. To this day, I am convinced I did the right thing to urge that she be eased aside while the campaign unfolded.
That said, I will add this: She probably ought to find a job outside Ohio journalism now that Sherrod is a Senator. I think active newspapering and a political marriage don't mix, and there is an inference that no bright line exists to stop Connie from promoting her husband's agenda. She may not be doing any promotion -- but too many people will always think she is. And it damages the journalists who are dedicated to playing things straight.