Deters Scandal? What Deters Scandal?

Cincinnati news judgment long has been distorted by parochialism; Cincinnati is the center of the Ohio universe and Columbus, let alone Cleveland, is a lesser world. Life exists in those distant pla

Oct 6, 2004 at 2:06 pm

Cincinnati news judgment long has been distorted by parochialism; Cincinnati is the center of the Ohio universe and Columbus, let alone Cleveland, is a lesser world. Life exists in those distant places but rarely is worth exploring.

That might explain why The Post and The Enquirer devote so little effort to crime in and around Joe Deters' office as state treasurer. Local TV hardly is in the game; hurricanes get better live coverage.

Compared to blanket coverage of Mike Allen's sexual antics, Deters' coverage is almost dismissive; Deters was there and Allen was here.

Even so, parochialism doesn't explain the dark hole into which most of the story has fallen since Deters returned to replace Allen on the November ballot. Now this Columbus-Cleveland axis of evil story is undeniably local — again.

The scandal revolved around money Cleveland stockbroker Frank Gruttadauria spent on Deters and gave to the Hamilton County GOP to support Deters' successful 2002 statewide re-election campaign. He wanted to be added to brokers handling state business. It was a good investment.

In the two years after Gruttadauria met Deters in 1999, his employers earned commissions on about $5.9 billion in trades for the state treasury.

The Hamilton County GOP had to return $50,000 from Gruttadauria, who also spent nearly $12,000 on meals and trips for Deters and his associates and raised money for Deters' campaign.

Convicted were Eric Sagun, then Deters' fund-raiser; Republican lobbyist Andrew Futey; and Matthew Borges, then Deters' chief of staff. Deters wasn't charged, and Gruttadauria is doing time for unrelated crimes.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Columbus Dispatch probed and covered the scandal aggressively, including the contribution to the Hamilton County GOP. Neither The Post nor The Enquirer played the same role as those upstate dailies.

Part of the problem was resources. The Post "jumped on the story," says reporter Randy Ludlow. "We published several front page articles ... on the flow of the money to Deters. ... We explained all of the major elements and who the players were."

Alone in the Columbus bureau and outnumbered by Dispatch and Plain Dealer reporters, Ludlow recalls, "We did uncover a couple of new twists that the 'Big 2' didn't have."

Then the ailing Post closed its bureau and Ludlow joined The Dispatch. The Post also abandoned the hometown candidate in 2002 and its editorial page endorsed Deters' unsuccessful challenger, Mary Boyle.

Also at The Dispatch is Spencer Hunt, formerly in The Enquirer two-person Columbus bureau. He calls the Deters story "old history" and refuses to talk about any direction from editors for daily stories at the expense of investigative or enterprise reporting. Bureau colleague Debra Jasper, now head of the Kiplinger journalism program at Ohio State University in Columbus, didn't respond to e-mails or telephone messages. The Enquirer endorsed Deters in 2002.

Coverage at The Enquirer might also have been handicapped by turnover in top staff and changing demands on the Columbus bureau. The paper changed publisher, editor, managing editor and metro editor during this period, and Jasper and Hunt left.

Deters denies knowing about payments to win business from his state treasurer's office. That recalls his response when someone took money from the property room under his authority when he was Hamilton County Prosecutor.

Knowing all this, most Cincinnati news media still are giving Deters a pass as he asks voters to return him to Hamilton County's most powerful office.

· · ·

Context is missing from coverage of Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw Israeli troops and about 8,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip next year. Settlers might resist but Israel successfully handled a similar brouhaha 25 years ago.

Then, another right-wing hard-liner, Menachem Begin, ordered evacuation of Yamit, a lovely seaside Jewish town whose settlers included emigrants from Finneytown and Amberley Village.

Yamit was part of the Sinai turned over to Egypt. Gaza is being evacuated as part of the deal with the Palestinians. Compared to the West Bank, which Jewish zealots equate with ancient Israelite kingdoms, Gaza has little hold on Israeli psyche.

Still, Yamit is helpful to our understanding of events there. Then, as now, settlers accused the prime minister of a stab in the back. There were scuffles and probably a few broken heads at Yamit when police and the Israel Defense Force did their duty.

However, Armageddon didn't begin. Settlers emigrated or found new homes in Israel. Yamit dropped off journalists' map.

· · ·

Curmudgeon notes:
· Media reporter Jim Romenesko posted this on Poynteronline:

Washington Post's Paul Farhi tells Brooke Gladstone, host of NPR's On the Media, "I was in Cincinnati with (John Kerry) ... and we were all fired up, because they passed the word that he was going to come out and make a statement, which suggested to us that he was also going to take questions. We were all arranged on the tarmac at the airport. He read a statement for about 26 seconds or so and he turned his back and walked away, and — it's moments like that that make you feel like a campaign stenographer rather than a campaign reporter. We are being fed what the campaign wants us to have and not, obviously, what we'd like to know about."

We know how you feel.

· CBS broadcast a story about George W. Bush in the Air National Guard. It was based on documents whose authenticity cannot be verified. It was a "gotcha" Dan Rather had been after for years. There is a clamor for Rather to retire.

Bush invaded Iraq. He relied in part on unverified information and forged documents. It's a fight he wanted before 9/11 and maybe since Saddam Hussein put out a contract on his father.

People crying for Rather's head look at Bush's and chant, "Four more years."

· A recent Sunday Enquirer page 1 story on school dress codes got it wrong. The photo showed a teenager wearing a T-shirt that said: Redneck Divorce "Git outta the truck!"

The story quoted the T-shirt as saying, "Redneck Divorce: 'Git out of the truck!"

The misquote doesn't affect the meaning, but anything between quote marks should be what was said, not a knowing paraphrase.

· Not to seem mean-spirited or prurient, but what did Mike Allen and Rebecca Collins write on their time sheets if they canoodled on taxpayer time?

· The Post and The Enquirer — if you read Friday AND Saturday editions — captured partisan efforts to influence everyone who watched, heard or missed the Kerry-Bush/Bush-Kerry confrontation. Most important were stories that assessed accuracy of claims and rebuttals. That's what newspapers can do in a lasting way that the best broadcast efforts cannot. Was local coverage itself biased? No. Could other/better news judgments have been made? Yes. Do partisans read through a personal political prism? Always.

Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.