Something must be in the water at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In the past couple of weeks, longtime columnist Connie Schultz, who happens to be married to U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, has come out in favor of changing copyright law to “save newspapers” (the relevant columns are here and here). Its Readers’ Representative has also jumped on board.
This hostility towards blogs and bloggers is not a one-off aberration at the PD. In November 2007, columnist Dick Feagler went off, asking, among other things, “Have they ridden (implied: off the record) with a candidate in the middle of the night?” Feagler’s cozy brand of non-objective “journalism” has been one of one-party, one-paper-dominated Cleveland’s biggest problems for decades.
More recently, in what I take to be his second related video chat (HT The Future of Journalism via Instapundit) on the copyright topic, Readers’ Rep Ted Diadiun, pictured at right, calls bloggers “a bunch of pipsqueaks out there talking about what real journalists do” (at 10:00 mark of video at link).
As a blogger, and especially as one who participated briefly with three other Ohio bloggers at the PD’s Wide Open blog experiment in the fall of 2007, this demands a response. In my brief association with the paper, I saw one horrid example of non-journalism and was able to do, if you don’t mind my saying so, “what real journalists do” to remedy it. What I saw later in a matter related to that incident, well after the Wide Open experiment ended, gives me no comfort that the situation involved has gotten any better.
The incident in question involved Ahmed Alzaree, an imam in Omaha who had accepted an offer to become imam at the Islamic Center of Cleveland (ICC). PD reporter David Briggs ignored a, uh, wide open clue that the situation might merit further inquiry when Alzaree told him that he “would not confirm his hiring, at one point saying he would not come to Cleveland because a reporter was inquiring about his background.”
Alleged “real journalist” Briggs did not pursue a clue dropped right in his lap, even though the ICC’s previous imam, Fawaz Damra, had been deported for, according to Briggs, “railing against Jews and raising money for Palestinian militant groups such as Islamic Jihad.”
Yours truly Googled Alzaree’s name and found a sermon he had delivered in Omaha. In it, among other things, he quoted a portion of the Qur’an that spoke of end times, when “The Muslims shall kill the Jews to the point that the Jew shall hide behind a big rock or a tree and the rock or tree shall call on the Muslim saying: hey, O Muslim there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” Central Ohio blogger Patrick Poole dug further, and found that Alzaree had as guest speakers the likes of Wagdi Ghoneim, who had met with 2 of the 9/11 hijackers sometime before their terrorist attacks and was widely known before he “voluntarily” left the country for allegedly inflammatory terrorist-supporting speech.
That shook the PD’s Robert Smith to follow up on what Poole and yours truly had found. In doing so, “real journalist” Smith mentioned but did not link to my post on the PD’s web site, and did not identify me by name.
Almost a month went by. If there was any follow-up by the “real journalists” at the PD on Alzaree’s and his cohorts’ background and beliefs, none of it got to print or appeared online.
So “pipsqueaks” Poole and Blumer went to work again doing the work that the “real journalists” at the PD wouldn’t do. Poole plowed through the Internet Archive to find pages scrubbed from the web site of Alzaree’s Omaha mosque. These pages, put up at about the time Alzaree began his tenure there, referred to Israel as “the New Nazis,” called Israel’s treatment of Palestinians’ situation a second Holocaust, had links to a “charity” later determined by the government to be terror-funding front, and had coverage of the Iraq War delivered by the Revolutionary Communist Party. Yours truly found troubling evidence that many elders and other higher-ups at the ICC who had vigorously defended the dearly-deported Damra were still in very influential positions, creating an impression that Alzaree might be coming on board to start the terror-sympathetic cycle all over again.
Less than 18 hours after our “pipsqueak” posts appeared, “real journalist” Briggs produced a piece (“New Cleveland imam hopes to ease Muslim-Jewish relations”) that was largely but not entirely defensive. It was clear that Briggs, though sympathetic, had done a fair amount of work fleshing out Alzaree’s biography, and had looked for varying viewpoints concerning the significance of the end-times hadith. Still, while crediting Poole, Briggs again failed to mention his then-associate at the PD’s Wide Open blog.
Three days later, Alzaree “resigned” before he even started. The headline from the “real journalists” at the Associated Press read, “Blog critics force imam to resign at Ohio mosque.” Yeah, as if two guys 150 and 250 miles away from Cleveland could do all that. Zheesh.
There is reason to believe Alzaree is no longer in the U.S.
If the “real journalists” at the PD felt any remorse at being scooped, a telltale sign would have been an improved performance on the ICC’s next imam candidate. Seven months later, shortly after that imam was installed, Poole, in his July 9, 2008 Pajamas Media column (“Cleveland’s New Terror Imam”) on Sayed Ahmed Abouabdalla, demonstrated that nothing had changed. Poole found, among other things, that Abouabdalla teaches at a Dearborn, Michigan university with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and has served on the Fiqh Council, described by Poole as a “‘Who’s Who’ of convicted terrorist leaders, terrorist fundraisers, unindicted co-conspirators, and terrorist associates.”
Poole noted in his column that coverage of Abouabdalla by the “real journalists” at the PD at that point consisted of “two glowing …. articles …. (with no) indication that background investigation was ever done.”
In all this time, not once has any “real journalist” at the PD assigned to the stories in question ever contacted Poole or me.
And Ted Diadiun and Connie Schultz want to embargo and/or charge for the PD’s content?
I’ve got news for you, guys and gals: If the experience yours truly and Poole had with the paper’s “real journalists” is any indication, the money should flow in the opposite direction. In the Alzaree case, the two of us did hours of work informing our readers that your town appeared to be getting an imam who might be just as bad as the one your paper did 45 stories on in the early 2000s. But we “pipsqueaks” can’t be everywhere; your “real journalists” did no better with the next guy. Now safely ensconced at ICC, Sayed Ahmed Abouabdalla’s presence may pose as much of a potential domestic threat as Fawaz Damra’s ever did, or Ahmed Alzaree’s would have.
While many other establishment newspapers are displaying links to blog entries that comment on their stories and pulling blog content such as this that they find newsworthy, many at the PD (thank goodness not all) are, as Glenn Reynolds observed on Thursday, stuck in 2002, trying to lock up its content instead of actively participating in the exciting free-for-all known as New Media. How absolutely pathetic.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.
UPDATE: The first comment at Poole’s PJM column on the new imam seems particularly pertinent –
I think the concept of investigative, honest, unbiased reporting is so foreign to most MSM types, they classify anyone who does it as a “blogger.”
UPDATE 2, July 14 — John Kroll, who is the P-D’s online New Impact Editor, had a follow-up video discussion with Ted Diadiun on the afternoon of July 10 (“Two Pipsqueaks Sitting Around Talking”) that can be found here. I think the end result is that Ted had to dial back his criticism based on real journalistic and analytical blogs John cited. But I think Ted is clinging to a “we’re the only ones really doing journalism” assumption that a) isn’t true, and b) is, as seen in the story told in the body of this post, sometimes not done particularly well at the P-D.
I will concede the concern Ted raised, and I have raised it myself in conversations, though not here at my blog until now (as least that I can recall), that if newspapers disappeared, the blogs would not be in a position to fill the “watchdog” void. Perhaps more properly stated, the void between the watchdog work that is being far less than perfectly done and what should be done would widen exponentially. I think mechanisms would spring up to fill the void over time, but it would take a while, probably several years. Given politicians’ and others’ ability to do mischief, the time until those mechanisms came into being might be a really ugly open season for corruption.