Thursday, December 16, 2004

Public response to Taricani's sentence

Romenesko points today to a column by the Providence Journal's Mark Patinkin on the sentence (six months' home confinement) handed to TV reporter Jim Taricani who refused to reveal the source of a videotape of one of then Mayor Buddy Cianci's cronies taking a payoff. (The source eventually came forward, but too late to avoid the contempt finding.)

Patinkin, in his own words, has "beaten up a few times on U.S. District Court Judge Ernest Torres" for the ruling. But the response from the public should be sobering for journalists. Patinkin estimates about 70 percent of the mail has been for Torres.

The general thrust is that Taricani's airing of the tape ahead of trial could have jeopardized a fair trial, that there was no "investigation" involved on his part and that the press is, to put it nicely, to damn full of itself.

Some reaction:
-- Having lived and worked in Rhode Island (state motto: the fix is in), I would fear more the likelihood had Taricani not aired the tape. I think that having the information out there more likely kept everyone honest and deterred any sweetheart deals.
-- I am concerned about one person's note that airing of the tape was held to sweeps week. As you might know if you've stopped in here before, I know and respect Jim, and I would hope he would not do that. But reality is that he works in a promotion-driven business, which is the underbelly of TV news and always leaves it open to criticism.
-- One respondent discounted the idea that this might chill whistle-blowing. "If I do not break the law in revealing information of wrongdoing, it is ridiculous to think I would be hesitant." The writer misses the point that much whistleblowing breaks the law -- or a rule or policy -- in some way, if nothing else for having unauthorized contact with a reporter. Anyone living in Little Rhody should understand that whistleblowing in that state is a fine art that helps keep things honest (or, as a U.S. attorney once told me, "It's like shooting fish in a barrel.")

But this comment from a reader is one that should provoke all journalists to deep thought.

"When you say 'the press,' " he said, "to most of us the image is of puffed-up hairdos, over-coffee chatterers and self-absorbed individuals who think they are handing down the tablets to a bunch of hayseed hicks.

"We see 'the press' as living in a bubble, and as you stated, not only lean left, but they LEAN so far left, that strands of their hair touch the warm marble of the hallowed halls they walk in.

"Do you have any idea how much we hate . . . yes HATE a story that has 'from confidential sources,' 'high administration officials,' or 'sources close to the investigation'? We hate that.

It's a message we need to listen to.

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