Ohio Channel YouTube Screengrab/ Scene Illustration
The Plain Dealer yesterday published a piece of media criticism
, which in and of itself is a rarity, but which was made even more rare because the target was Cleveland.com, its sister but separate organization.
The piece, written by TV critic Mark Dawidziak, was greenlit only after PD editor George Rodrigue sought approval from Advance higher-ups in New Jersey to cover the reporting, and resulting aftermath of said reporting, by the digital side.
The subject was the interview conducted by Cleveland.com city hall beat reporter Bob Higgs with Mayor Frank Jackson last week
. An interview on the multiple investigations of the mayor's grandson that was video recorded by the city and released in an edited version the morning after, without the name or voice of the reporter included, that was nothing short of propaganda. An interview, one of a softball variety unbefitting the serious allegations at hand, that the city hall beat writer did not turn into an article, despite its exclusive nature. An interview that Cleveland.com reported on based solely on the edited answers by Jackson that they could not compare to the original conversation because the city hall beat reporter did not record the interview himself.
Judging the video released by the city to be exactly what it was — a canned and edited platform in which Jackson faced nary a hard question and was afforded free reign to deny any impropriety in his grandson's criminal issues and carte blanche to defend a system of processes that had clearly broken down (in which Jackson nevertheless came off tone-deaf and defensive) — local media treated it as such. It was news, sure, but it was news that might as well been produced not by an interview with a city hall beat reporter but with someone from the city's communications department.
In a pre-recorded introduction that led the video, Jackson said, "You can choose to believe the media, or you can believe me."
Cleveland.com did not look great. Its city hall reporter had been roped into its production and dissemination. An explanation of how that came to be, and perhaps an apology noting the misstep amidst what has otherwise been aggressive and consistent reporting on Frank Q. Jackson's alleged vicious assault on a woman and possible ties to an execution-style murder on the near west side, was never offered, either on Cleveland.com or to reporters who reached out for comment from editor Chris Quinn.
The Plain Dealer, like others in the local media sphere, had concerns and questions, not least because of Quinn's well-known relationship with the mayor. Those questions weren't answered in direct communication between the two sides, but rather ignored, or never discussed privately at all. They then had to be run up the Advance chain of command.
That progression, and the bitter impasse that proceeded it, was the inevitable and predictable result of Advance's decision to cleave the operation in two to bust the PD union. This is what they signed up for. This sad state of affairs was their own doing. They might not be happy to have the constant bickering and territorial battles fought behind the scenes leak into public view in the pages of both Cleveland.com and the Plain Dealer, but they have no one to blame but themselves.
From the start, the relationship was strained, and it has only gotten worse. Not among the rank and file, who by and large are simply trying to do their jobs, but at the top levels, where pervasive disdain and distrust rule in tensions major and minor and barbs are lobbed from the high perch of 1801 Superior Ave. onto unsuspecting reporters below.
In this case, the tension was major. The PD saw what it felt to be incomplete coverage of the story running on its own pages in print and did the unthinkable — they decided to ask questions and report the story out. (And, one could argue, find a public outlet for six years of simmering frustrations over split newsrooms.)
Having bypassed every opportunity to set the story straight publicly or privately so far, Cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn was afforded another chance.
But in response to the PD's questions, Quinn, who has railed against politicians for lack of transparency, refused to explain what happened while chastising anyone who was concerned because they still don't know what happened, all in a venue where he could have explained what happened. How stunning and insulting for someone to ask questions!
And, once again, instead of putting down his leg to stop pissing in a corner to claim it for his precious fiefdom, he pivoted and merely re-aimed his stream at the PD, and every other outlet in town for good measure.
“I’m stunned that the people you talked with could make such insulting statements without having the facts. And I’m surprised an institution like The Plain Dealer would repeat them, also without knowing the facts. The questionable journalism here seems to me to be the piece upon which you are working, because your premise appears to be a false one,” Quinn said.
“The simple story here is that the team at cleveland.com has for three weeks aggressively and responsibly broken all of the ground on what is going on at Mayor Frank Jackson’s house and with the investigations involving his grandson,” Quinn said. “What people in this town know of this continuing story, they know because we unearthed it. Unlike with some other news outlets in this town that have been following in our footsteps, we have reported it with 100 percent accuracy. With every story we have produced, with every interview we have conducted, we have done so with the highest ethical standards in keeping with our well-known reputation for integrity.”
Those sentiments serve no purpose other than to further escalate a battle only one man is fighting to demonize local media and set himself beyond inspection or question.
Well, two, if you count Frank Jackson.
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