Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Letting Joe go

The Enquirer let Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters off real easy today. The story concerns a report by a team of lawyers sanctioned by the American Bar Association calling for reforms to Ohio's capital punishment system. From the Enquirer's story:

The study said the chance of getting a death sentence in Hamilton County is 2.7 times higher than in the rest of the state. Further, a convicted killer from the Cincinnati area is 3.7 times more likely to be sentenced to die than a convicted killer from Cleveland and 6.2 times more likely than one from Columbus, the study found.

"We don't plea-bargain death penalty cases," Deters said. "We take cases very seriously. If proof is not a problem, we seek the death penalty.

"Tell me: Who is on death row that shouldn't be?" he asked. "To these people, it's not about innocence, it's about whether their lawyer could have been a little trickier."

Deters also said nobody from the bar association study team called him.

The print version of the story also allows Deters to spend three paragraphs calling the authors of the study a group of liberals.

The Enquirer contains a link that says "Read the ABA's full report." That's a good suggestion, because it looks like Jon Craig and Sharon Coolidge, the two reporters who wrote that story, never read the full report, only the executive summary.

The report criticizes Hamilton County for much more than just the rate at which capital punishment is sought. An example (page 161 of the full report):
Furthermore, the Ohio Supreme Court has, on at least fifteen occasions between 1981 and 2004, rebuked Hamilton County prosecuting attorneys for misconduct during the guilt and sentencing phase of capital trials. The Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court has stated that “Hamilton County has a greater number of [ ] cases” in which prosecutorial misconduct has been found, and added that “the record speaks for itself.”

Ohio’s discipline system for attorneys also appears to be ineffective in disciplining prosecutors whose misconduct in capital cases has time and time again been criticized by the Ohio Supreme Court. The Ohio Supreme Court has identified three prosecutors by name who it found to have engaged in misconduct in capital cases; however, none of these prosecutors have been subject to discipline and one was later promoted and appointed to a Municipal Judgeship in Summit County, Ohio. Similarly, Joseph T. Deters, Prosecuting Attorney for Hamilton County, has overseen an office which has been repeatedly rebuked by the Ohio Supreme Court for misconduct in over fifteen capital cases. Nonetheless, since he began work at the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Deters was elected to the offices of Hamilton County Clerk of Courts in 1988, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney in 1992, Ohio Treasurer of State in 1998, and re-elected as Treasurer of State in 2002. Deters was re-elected as Hamilton Prosecuting Attorney as a write-in candidate in 2004, gaining 57 percent of the vote. As of 2005, no attorney in the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has been terminated for misconduct.

Or this, from page 163:
In Jamison v. Collins, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted a writ of habeas corpus to a death-row inmate, Derrick Jamison, as a result of the State’s suppression of various pieces of exculpatory evidence. The court found that the petitioner’s efforts to seek discovery of exculpatory material at trial were complicated because the Cincinnati Police Department (C.P.D.): "routinely selected certain information and evidence from its files that it judged to be relevant to a homicide case and assembled these documents into what was referred to as a 'homicide book.' Rather than turn over the entire case file to the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office, the C.P.D. would only provide this 'homicide book.' According to petitioner, this 'homicide book' did not contain all of the evidence gathered by the police. This fact is undisputed by the [State]."

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that no exculpatory material was included in the “homicide book,” and members of the C.P.D. also testified that “they received no training from the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office as to what constituted exculpatory evidence.” Jamison was permitted discovery prior to the federal habeas corpus proceeding, in which several pieces of previously undisclosed exculpatory evidence came to light. The Sixth Circuit found that the prosecution was not able to evaluate whether evidence within its possession constituted Brady material since “it was intentionally kept in the dark regarding the exculpatory evidence.” After the Sixth Circuit granted the petitioner’s writ of habeas corpus, the State of Ohio elected not to re-try Jamison.

There's more in the report. But why wasn't any of this in today's story? Why no mention of the homicide books or the lack of discipline? The reporters let Deters get away with discrediting the report because they didn't have the ammunition in hand to challenge him. Deters asks why the no one from the panel interviewed him, but it's clear from the full report that a member of the panel interviewed someone in Deters' office. The Enquirer doesn't hold public officials to account, so when a report like this comes up, the reporting descends into a kind of he said/she said scheme. This can't even be called shoddy reporting, because the story is barely reported. Whoever from the Enquirer it was that interviewed Deters didn't challenge him, because they didn't have the background to do so, and that's because the Enquirer never challenges Deters.

Though the story was on the front page today, there are other signs the Enquirer doesn't care much about this. The politics blog never commented on it, and the editorial board paid no attention, not even bothering to call for a community conversation on the matter. By mid-afternoon, this story was off the top half of the home page, quickly buried by the Enquirer. It's clear the Enquirer is more willing to be tough on Marvin Lewis and a mother whose child died than it is with a prosecutor with the power to put people on death row.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday follies

On today's front page, we have the Nesselroad-Slaby interview across the top, and the sentencing of a teen driver in the second lead position on the right. Both stories jump to an inside page, and the interview story is co-written by a Community News report, a sign of things to come at the Enquirer. Neither of these stories, at a real newspaper, would rate those positions -- either because they wouldn't sensationalize those events or that most newspapers are more sensitive to the families involved than to exploit their tragedies this way. The effect of this is to push the headline on the troop reduction story below the fold, and this story doesn't jump. This all tells you what Enquirer editors think of Iraq news. Papers in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Akron and Louisville all put the headline of their Iraq stories above the fold. At the bottom of the page is a weird science story about Google offering a prize for landing a moon rover. Enquirer editors love weird science stories.

Across the very bottom of the page is an Roecker & Boerger ad. It's a big one, two inches high. I thought it was just my imagination that these ads are getting bigger and more intrusive. Then I saw the Lexus ad across the bottom of the front page of the Sports section -- it's an odd shaped ad that at its peak is four inches tall. Yes, they are getting more intrusive. Anything for a buck.

Finally, over on the cover of the Life section, if the headline on the story about Bengals wives ("Inside Their Huddle"), isn't a euphemism for sex, then I don't know what "hide the salami" means. Newspaper people are trained to have dirty and twisted minds, because it helps such things from being published. As I said before, this wouldn't happen at a newspaper where the editors' sensitivies are more finely tuned.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More awards the Enquirer won't win

The Online News Association has announced its finalists for the annual awards for outstanding digital journalism. The Enquirer is not nominated in any category. The Enquirer says it's committed to the Internet and committed to business journalism and committed to community journalism, but that's clearly not enough. The Enquirer must also be committed to excellence in what it does.

The Data Center, for instance, isn't a bad idea, but in the end it's just searchable tables, and that's not journalism. Look at some of the nominees, and you see that the core of these sites is ambitious journalism. And though the Enquirer was shut out, Gannett overall did quite well. Nominees include USA Today for general excellence, the Detroit Free Press, the Des Moines Register, the Wilmington News-Journal, the Tallahassee Democrat, Florida Today (two times) and the Journal News.

With its emphasis on crime and courts and traffic and voyeurism and "fan faces," the Enquirer's web site is becoming an embarrassment to the people who work there. It's a shame there's not an award category for Best Security Camera Video Sponsored By A Replacement Window Company.

Friday, September 07, 2007

As a matter of fact, it is about me

The above-the-fold play given to the Slaby case and the posting of videos continues at the Enquirer. The web hits and newstand sales must be really good. I hope Callinan isn't going to claim again that the story "galvanized Ohio," as he did (wrongly) when he apologized for the Enquirer's behavior during the Marcus Fiesel coverage.

I've thought for a long time about canceling my subscription, and this week I've really thought hard about it. The only reason I continue to subscribe is that I want to support a local daily newspaper. Great cities have great newspapers, and if Cincinnati didn't have one at all, you might as well erase us from the map. So I pay my subscription, spend 90 seconds every morning reading what's worth reading in the Enquirer, throw it out and grumble about it. I know I'd be better off cancelling the Enquirer and subscribing to the Wall Street Journal or even USA Today.

Then I read this, a column in the National Journal about the demise of mainstream media, and the very question of whether we should continue to support newspapers as they twirl round the drain. The author calls that nonsense:
Nothing will kill the great newspapers more quickly than turning them into charity cases. And nobody should ever read a newspaper out of a dreary sense of civic obligation. Like great books, the best news shops have always drawn readers because they were feisty, well executed, and thrillingly alive to their own times. Their magnetism was rooted partly in the fact that they were optional, something you didn't technically need to get through the day, yet somehow couldn't live without.
So yes, this is about me, and whether I believe the Enquirer is serving my needs and the needs of my community. What cowards they are, the people who run the Enquirer. They're picking on a woman whose child has died, when they don't have the guts to take on a megalomaniacs like Si Leis or Joe Deters, or idiots like Jean Schmidt, and run them out of town. They won't take on Cintas and they won't take on Carl Lindner. We expect newspapers to keep powerful people honest and accountable, and yet the Enquirer chooses as its target a woman whose child has died. They're not going to rest until she's in jail or dead, or until they run out of videos to post and people stop clicking on their links.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

Just as the Enquirer gave me a big middle finger by putting the Slaby story across the top of the front page again, the world of journalism awards gives the Enquirer a big middle finger. The Society of Environmental Journalists announced its awards, and not only did the Enquirer not win anything, but one of its former reporters did. Spencer Hunt of the Columbus Dispatch, who quit the Enquirer when he learned what kind of editor Tom Callinan was, won second place for explanatory reporting for his series on coal in Ohio.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Enquirer has lost its conscience

I'm not providing links today. With a headline size more appropriate for the bombing of Baghdad, the Enquirer splashed across the front page today the story that the mother who left her baby to die in a hot car will not be charged with a crime. It has also posted on its web site video "that shows Brenda Nesselroad-Slaby's fateful movements on the day her 2-year-old daughter died in her searing hot SUV. The video shows Slaby removing doughnuts from her SUV, parking it, and walking into work. Her child remained inside for eight hours." That link this morning is the most prominent on the Enquirer's front page.

I'm not providing links because I'm not going to encourage people to view the video or the story, because that would only encourage the Enquirer to post more and more of this crap. The Enquirer doesn't care about the family, the community or the dead baby, only hits, hits and more hits. The paper has been shamelessly exploiting the deaths of children to sell more papers and to get more web hits. The death of this child was an accident, and I can't imagine how the constant drumbeat of big, above-the-fold headlines on this story serves the community. It clearly doesn't. The Enquirer is simply appealing to the basest instincts of its readers in a desperate attempt to gain readers and web hits.

If this is the tack the Enquirer is going to take from now on, it should just get rid of any pretension that its a real newspaper and convert to a tabloid. Margaret Buchanan, Tom Callinan and Hollis Towns should be ashamed of themselves.