The Cleveland Plain Dealer has finally issued an explanation for its takedown of a recording
of its pre-endorsement interview with candidates for governor. It was originally vanished by the recording party (the Plain Dealer) and its parent company (the Northeastern Ohio Media Group) and replaced with an audio recording that couldn't capture the pure disdain and disinterest shown by the Plain Dealer's eventual endorsee, incumbent John Kasich.
It wasn't enough that the Plain Dealer removed it from its own site. It also demanded -- through Chris Quinn, the VP of Media Content -- that a site more slanted towards Kasich's opponent (Ed FitzGerald) remove the clips of the interview it had uploaded
. What it looked like was a media entity reliant on First Amendment protections using its weight to deprive another journalistic outlet of the same rights. PlunderBund, the site posting the video clips, obliged this request despite having a clear fair use defense.
No one from the Plain Dealer or the Northern Ohio Media Group explained this removal. The video simply disappeared and was replaced with an audio recording. Quinn's removal demand offered no further explanation and simply asserted NOMG's claim to the entire video recording.
This removal happened October 24th. Now, on November 5th, one day after
the election, the Cleveland Plain Dealer (and NOMG's Chris Quinn) has broken its silence. Ted Diadiun, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's "reader representative" posted the following "explanation" Wednesday morning
Diadiun says it's a post he should have written "a week ago." He offers excuses as to why he didn't, but that doesn't change the fact that someone
should have addressed the removal at some point during the intervening 10 days.
Here's part one of the Official Excuse:
The contest for governor was among the last endorsement interviews the Editorial Board did. Each of the previous interviews had been reported with a story in the newspaper and online, along with an online audio file of the entire conversation.
None, however, had included video coverage, nor was that discussed with Kasich, FitzGerald or Rios. So the candidates arrived at the interview assuming that it would be conducted the same way, and that the cleveland.com post would be audio only.
When the governor's staff saw the video on cleveland.com later that day, they were chagrined, and contacted NEOMG to ask what happened.
Note that the governor's staff asked about the video in a "chagrined" fashion. Later in Diadiun's post, Chris Quinn -- the content VP demanding video removals -- says this:
He [Quinn] says no one had asked him to remove the video, but he concluded that the candidates had been unintentionally misled, and he ultimately decided fairness compelled him to take it down, which he did on Oct. 24, about 30 hours after the video was originally posted.
Quinn says that "candidates
" (plural) expected an "audio-only interview" and that "fairness compelled" him to remove a video unflattering to the only candidate whose staff was "chagrined" to discover the recording. As Diadiun's column notes, opponent Ed FitzGerald's campaign posted clips of the video at his website, an act that would indicate he was fine with the recording he was never informed about.
In the interest of "fairness," Quinn made everyone
take the video down, including YouTube. Diadiun calls this move "straightforward and defensible." That's very dubious. Diadiun at least calls out Quinn for his refusal to speak about this incident until now.
But then he made another decision that, in my view, was not defensible: He elected to not explain his reasons.
So when the inevitable accusations of favoritism and questions about the journalism of the decision began to arrive from readers, political junkies and media critics near and far, they were met with stony silence.
But even this admonishment is a hedge. Diadiun uses Quinn's silence to explain why he, in his position as the "reader representative," didn't write this post a week earlier when it might have meant something.
Quinn also declined to discuss his reasoning on the record with me, which put both the news organization and its reader representative in an untenable position.
This issue was the obvious topic for last week's Reader Rep column – but if Quinn wouldn't discuss his reasons with me I would be in no more knowledgeable a position than the critics who were burning up their Twitter feeds with speculation.
I would look ridiculous trying to read Quinn's mind, and would look ridiculous writing about something else – so for better or worse, I opted to follow the sage advice that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.
So much for accountability. Quinn now claims the media group's history of transparency drove him to "break his silence." But the timing of Quinn's change of heart is no less suspicious than the motive behind the video's removal, even with
the additional facts/narrative delivered by Quinn and Diadiun.
Quinn undercuts his own "fairness" narrative by (again) referring to Governor Kasich.
"My initial reaction was that the video camera was in the room, and it was obvious that we were using it," he said. "But by Friday it was grinding on me, and I decided that it would have been very easy for the governor to assume that the video camera was there for our own use, and not for publication since we hadn't discussed it.
Quinn says it was the "right thing to do" to take down the video and roam the web demanding its takedown elsewhere. But it looks more like deference to Kasich than transparency. Even the Plain Dealer's "reader representative" Ted Diadiun isn't representing much more than Chris Quinn by the time his editorial is all said and done.
Early in the article he says:
As things turned out, [the video] was worth seeing, if only for the utter disdain Kasich showed toward his Democrat opponent.
But later, while defending the takedown, he says this:
[D]eletion of the video really did not deprive readers of any important information.
Which is it? Was it "worth seeing" or was it just completely extraneous? Diadiun's explanation goes on and on, trying to be all things to all people by gently reprimanding his boss for a lack of transparency, while still trying to downplay this as just an unfortunate chain of events that started with Quinn himself failing to inform the candidates that video was being recorded.
But it still adds up to a form of suppression, one very likely prompted by the governor's "chagrin." Quinn faced no objections to the video recording from any of the other candidates, but in the interest of "fairness" he made the video disappear from any place he could find it, starting with his own paper's website. Then he refused to discuss his decision until the election was over.
The whole story is a lot of things, but "transparent" and "open" it is not.