CLEVELAND (TDB) -- Capitol Hill insiders insist Republican U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette did not pull strings with top newsroom managers at The Plain Dealer to have a Democratic critic in the Ohio blogosphere sacked. The blogger, Jeff Coryell, was ousted from his post Tuesday as a paid contributor to Wide Open. There have been numerous reports saying LaTourette used his influence to have Coryell bounced. Another of the Democratic bloggers on Wide Open, Jill Miller Zimon quit today in solidarity with Coryell and said the fact she had given money to Democrats in Ohio would probably limit her freedom to say what she wanted on the newspaper's site.
Sacking Coryell is generating a blogstorm, with critics (mostly Democrats) lining up to say LaTourette had him dumped. Although the congressman has widely been portrayed as the heavy, sources The Daily Bellwether spoke to all agreed that LaTourette did not ask for a firing, played no role in the sacking of Coryell, did not express anger, nor put pressure on the newspaper or threaten it in any way. The sources do agree that LaTourette spoke to The Plain Dealer's editorial page editor, Brent Larkin, briefly earlier this month about Coryell's work appearing on the newspaper's Web site. Coryell's name reportedly came up when Federal Election Commission campaign finance records were made public, and LaTourette mentioned to Larkin that Coryell had given money to the congressman's Democratic opponent, former Ohio Court of Appeals Judge William O'Neill. LaTourette is supposed to have said something like "what's up with that" during a brief chat, but did not suggest or demand that Coryell be fired, the sources say.
According to the insiders, the seven-term congressman -- whose district includes the eastern suburbs of Cleveland and Akron in a region near the Lake Erie shoreline known as Ohio's snowbelt -- never met formally with anyone at The Plain Dealer about Coryell. They added that he did not send an email or a letter of complaint, nor did he meet with The Plain Dealer's editor Susan Goldberg.
"Absolutely did not ask for anyone to be fired," is how one insider put it, and said the only conversation LaTourette had about Wide Open was with Larkin.
The insiders say that Larkin could back up their accounts, and that they expect and hope he will write something describing The Plain Dealer's handling of Coryell's ouster. They said it should help remove suspicions that the congressman pressured the newspaper.
One source said "there's nothing, nada. He didn't ask to have anybody fired. The only person he spoke to was Larkin and it was just a remark that the blogger had given money to his opponent, something like $200. I don't think that is out of bounds or pressure, to wonder what's up."
These insiders also say that LaTourette never spoke to Jean Dubail, the newspaper's online editor. They contend that anything Dubail told Coryell about the congressman would not have come from the congressman.
So far, LaTourette has not spoken publicly, nor has his office issued any kind of statement. Perhaps he never will. But if the story grows legs -- that a Cleveland area congressman was able to lean on his hometown newspaper and get someone fired -- he'll probably have to speak out and describe his version of what happened.