Cleveland Plain-Dealer Fires Blogger After Congressman Complains

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In August, the Cleveland Plain Dealer hired four political bloggers, two on the right and two on the left, to write a group blog called “Wide Open.”

One of the bloggers on the left was Jeff Coryell, known as YellowDogSammy on Daily Kos. In previous blogging positions, but never with Wide Open, Coryell had frequently criticized Rep. Steve LaTourette (R) of Ohio’s 14th district. Coryell had contributed $100 to LaTourette’s opponent in the 2008 election. LaTourette complained to the online editor at the Plain Dealer (presumably on the assumption that Coryell would be a pain in LaTourette’s side throughout the campaign) who then took the issue to the top editor at the newspaper. They asked Coryell to never write about LaTourette as a condition of working at the paper.

Coryell declined and was fired. What’s stunning is that even though the Plain Dealer knows the difference between journalists and bloggers—it hires journalists to write objective news stories and hires bloggers to write partisan commentary—it held a blogger it hired (with the instruction of being partisan) to the non-partisan standard of journalists. Journalists in many newsrooms can’t give money to politicians because it might compromise their objectivity in the eyes of their readers. That makes sense. But a blogger isn’t objective! They are explicitly hired not to be objective! You would almost expect that they find multiple ways to support the candidates that represent their politics.

What’s even stranger is that the firing came only as a result of pressure from an elected official. The Plain Dealer is arguing that the pressure from LaTourette is irrelevant because “had we known that he had contributed to the opponent of a person he was writing about, we wouldn’t have hired him in the first place.” Except, as Coryell points out, he has donated money to other candidates, but those donations don’t seem to be relevant.

On Wide Open, the online editor is saying, “Our concern was that since Jeff and the other Wide Open bloggers are paid, his views might be taken as those of the paper, which could raise legitimate questions about our fairness.” Which is nonsense, because no one would expect a blog, that features two liberal posters and two conservative ones, to stand for the views of the paper on each individual post. Moreover, the Plain Dealer could have simply put a disclaimer at the top of the blog reading, “The views of this blog do not represent the views of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.”

In the end, the newspaper valued its relationship with a congressman more than it valued one of its employees. Simple as that.

Update: The second liberal blogger on Wide Open has resigned.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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