This is how crazy it is: The attorney general of Pennsylvania comes to a newspaper editorial board meeting Thursday and brings a lawyer, who says she won’t say anything because he’s advised her to shut up.
Note to Attorney General Kathleen Kane: The lawyer works for you, not the other way around. Deal with this yourself, and you’ll be better off in the long run.
Kane was embarrassed by a Philadelphia Inquirer story last week, which pulled the curtain back on a ghastly mess in her office — an investigation under way before she arrived that apparently caught several public officials taking cash, an investigation she shut down because, she says, it was badly managed, compromised by a sweetheart deal with a criminal-turned-informant, and a stone loser if it ever got to court.
Kane made a case for herself at a news conference last week, saying in part, “I’m not here to bash a newspaper. I’m here to bash the anonymous sources who didn’t even have the guts to put their name to it.”
By Thursday, Kane’s thinking had changed, so she walked into an Inquirer editorial board meeting she’d requested accompanied by Dick Sprague, a lawyer known in part for suing media organizations.
No case here
Journalists have an obligation to be fair and accurate, and I’ve come across a handful of reporters over the years who weren’t.
But I’ve known Angela Couloumbis and Craig McCoy, the lead reporters on the sting story, for a long time. If I owned a newspaper, I’d have no hesitation staking its reputation on their integrity. They dig deeply, they get it right, and they give anyone affected by their reporting ample opportunity to state their case.
Their story didn’t read to me as a slam on Kane. It was a fully reported exploration of all sides of the controversy, and the text and headlines fully represented Kane’s explanation for her decision.
Having read it and all the subsequent coverage, I’m still not sure what to think about the investigation and the decision to kill it, but one thing is clear: When journalists learn that somebody running an official sting got a bunch of politicians on tape accepting cash, that’s a significant story and you report it fully.
I’m confident there’s no libel case here, and I suspect Kane’s real targets are the sources who apparently got a lot of material from the investigative files to the Inquirer.
Some folks I talk to say they could have criminal liability for divulging information gathered in an official wiretap. If that’s true, it’s hard to see how Kane’s office could prosecute it, given her interest in the case. Someone else could.
If Kathleen Kane is the rising political star she’s made out to be, she should trust in her ability to navigate this mess on her own. If she’s acted in good faith and made the right calls on the investigation, she should be able to get that across to the public.
Walking into a meeting and letting your lawyer do the talking makes you look like, well, you fill in the blank.