News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Fearing court sanctions, Ohio paper holds 2 stories based on leaks

July 10, 2005/Chigaco Sun Times

CLEVELAND -- The Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper, is withholding two investigative stories based on leaked documents because they could result in the type of court showdown that led to a New York Times reporter being jailed.

The Plain Dealer is trying to find a way to publish the stories without relying on the documents, editor Doug Clifton said Friday.

''It was documentation that would have been illegal to share, so there wasn't any ambiguity about what we had,'' Clifton said.

Clifton said he had never before withheld a story because of such concerns.

''The climate has always been different,'' Clifton said. ''Let's face it: During the Watergate years with Deep Throat, it was never even thought of. It wasn't even a remote possibility that someone was going to get subpoenaed because of Deep Throat squealing. That has changed so dramatically in the last few years.''

The stories dealt with local and state government. Clifton told the New York Times in Saturday's edition that ''the material was under seal or something along those lines.''

Says public could lose out

Wednesday, New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to divulge a confidential source to a grand jury investigating the leak of an undercover CIA operative's name. Another reporter, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, agreed to talk and avoided jail. CIA agent Valerie Plame's name was disclosed by Chicago Sun-Times syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

Clifton said the Plain Dealer had decided several weeks ago -- before Miller was sent to jail -- to withhold the stories because the leaked documents could result in subpoenas and court sanctions, including jail.

He wrote a column June 30 explaining to readers why it's important to protect sources and how the public would suffer if reporters' ability to gather news is compromised. He mentioned the potential consequences if the newspaper published the two investigative stories.

''I wanted the public to understand that this isn't an abstraction, that this is a real issue,'' he said Friday. ''Things that are important for the public stand in jeopardy of not getting reported because of the state of the law.''

The Plain Dealer, owned by Advance Publications Inc., has a circulation of about 370,000 weekdays and 480,000 on Sundays.


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