Our own little Judith Miller case…

I must give props to local Blogger Brian Griffin for bringing attention once again to an incident in January 2004 where five Cincinnati City Council members voted to subpoena Cincinnati CityBeat contributor Leslie Blade to testify before Council.

The Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter to Mayor Charlie Luken and members of Council in protest of that action.

Here’s the text of that letter, written by then-SPJ president Marc Emral:

David Pepper
Chairman
Law and Safety Committee
Cincinnati City Council
801 Plum St.
Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202-1979

Councilman Pepper:

The Cincinnati Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is alarmed with the recent subpoena of Cincinnati CityBeat reporter Leslie Blade issued by council. It sets a bad precedent.

We’re concerned that committee members’ questions about the story could proceed down a path that negatively impacts the ability of reporters to do their jobs and do damage to news gathering in the city. This subpoena could put a chill on relationships between reporters and their sources. The story was written largely from public records, which are easily obtainable by anyone. In our opinion, further questioning of the reporter serves no useful purpose.

We ask that the subpoena be withdrawn.

Thank you,
Marc Emral
President, Cincinnati Pro Chapter
Society of Professional Journalists

As Griffin so aptly pointed out, five Council members voted for the subpoena: Laketa Cole, John Cranley, Sam Malone, Alicia Reece and Christopher Smitherman.

The subpoena was never withdrawn and subsequently Blade testified before Council and no one but Smitherman questioned the reporter. Malone did not even attend the meeting and later declined comment, according to an account in CityBeat.

I became president of the Chapter in April 2004 and never fully followed up on this situation. Looking back on it, I think I should have. Though I believe, if memory serves me correctly, CityBeat editors felt satisfied with our response and realized not much was going to come out of the hearing, which ended up being true.

Despite no major pitfalls for the paper or the reporter (she testified, did not reveal sources, the Council member got to ask his questions with already-pubicly-known answers and that was it), it still riles me to think it happened. These five Council members got away with setting a horrificly bad precedent and slapping the face of journalism in Cincinnati. And we never really let them know we felt about it, held them accountable or really explained to them why it was such a bad, bad idea. I wonder how long it will be until it happens again? And I wonder if we’ll handle it differently?

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

3 thoughts on “Our own little Judith Miller case…”

  1. Thanks for the heads up on the weekend show. My workplace doesn’t give me much choice about the background noise, so I’ll have to catch most shows online later.
    See you around town! If you want to check out more local music, let me know, I’d like to get into more of the scene myself.

  2. What’s even more galling is that this effort to eviscerate freedom of the press came from council members — like John Cranley and Chris Smitherman — who pretend to be most concerned about our civil liberties.

    Another sad chapter for the First Amendment in Cincinnati.

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