The Plain Dealer rolled out a preachy unwelcome mat the other day for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald that bloated the whole front page of the paper’s Forum section. Part tutorial, part public defender and part temper tantrum, the PD accused FitzGerald of dithering in failing to act promptly to withdraw his nomination of Jeannet Wright, the acting county treasurer, to treasurer.
It also accused the candidate, and Cuyahoga County executive, of a feathery, dismissive response to the PD’s disclosure that she had income from her rental properties. The full-page gasp was assembled under the headline “Fanning the flames of a fiasco”. It was impossible to underestimate the gravity of the issue, folks.
The paper asserted that FitzGerald’s “‘unwillingness to take responsibility for failures by dealing with them speedily and openly” was nothing less than a “serious defect in leadership” . (He waited four days to act after Wright’s landlordism was reported by the Plain Dealer. And waited another day before talking to the PD’s august editorial board about the issue – a serious affront with a life of its own).
How serious is all of this? Far be it for me to judge. So I’ll take it from the editorial that Wright’s conduct “could result in minor-misdemeanor charges that carry a maximum $150 fine or 30 hours of community service.”
As far as dithering is concerned, I recall that the PD itself was angrily attacked by critics in 2010 who wondered how it ignored a years-long public corruption scandal that sent former county auditor Russo and ex-county commissioner Jimmy Dimora off to prison, along with a bunch of other confederates.
The issue of the PD’s vigilance got so icky that Ted Diadiun, the designated reader’s representative and indigenous company man, finally lamented in print after the FBI outed the scandal:
“No stories were spiked, and no reporters said they were dissuaded from following up leads. It is true that reporters don’t have subpoena power, but what kept the paper from getting to the story ahead of the FBI was sins of journalistic omission – the failure to follow up leads, to cultivate sources and mobilize resources, to report aggressively on matters of keen public interest rather than accepting business as usual. In some respects, that is even more disturbing than the false charges that the newspaper was in bed with people it covers.”
So much for the lack of leadership by the public watchdog.
As a longtime political journalist in these parts, I concede curiosity as to why the PD chose this moment in a gubernatorial campaign to trash FitzGerald, who is challenging Gov. John Kasich, who the paper is likely to endorse. Read into it what you will, but one thought is worth considering: Is this the start of taking down FitzGerald in a county rich in Democratic votes that could provide the edge in a tight race?
Just a thought. Besides, I don’t have subpoena power.