Regular readers will remember that Rocky Mountain News columnist and editorial writer Linda Seebach recently wrote me, to criticize Hugh Hewitt’s demand that journalists who wish to interview him about John Roberts do so on his radio show, live. I published her comments in this post. I further explained that Seebach’s views appear to largely square with my own, since I understand journalists’ desire to keep their interviews under wraps before publication — but not the insistence of some that their interviews not be taped at all.
Seebach has expanded her comments into a column for her paper. She kindly mentions this blog in the column, for which I thank her. She also includes in the mix a defense of a hypothetical investigation of the adoption records of a Supreme Court nominee’s children:
[A]s lawyers know, exploring hypotheticals is often fruitful, so let’s explore this one a bit fu[r]ther – not talking about Hewitt and Roberts, now, about but some hypothetical important nominee and his former colleague who is now a prominent radio personality.
Suppose the reporter has received a credible tip that there was something dodgy about the adoption of the nominee’s twin Chinese daughters. Perhaps a former paralegal at the law office that handled the adoption alleges that the parents bribed someone and the radio host would know.
That should be checked out. If true, it is definitely a story, no matter how awkward for the children. If false, it should be quietly buried, which it can’t be if it is being broadcast.
And suppose the hypothetical radio host knows, or believes, that the allegations are true. What’s he going to say when asked live, on the air? He might not have been expecting that question.
Seebach then poses a number of other hypotheticals:
Or, suppose he has heard the rumors, but believes they were started by a disgruntled former paralegal who was fired on suspicion of dealing cocaine in the lunchroom. What’s he going to say about that? If she was charged and convicted, maybe he’d say so, but otherwise, probably not.
And – human relationships being endlessly messy – suppose that is what he believes, but in fact the paralegal is innocent and was framed by her boss, the real dealer.
And suppose her boss is actually the on-air host’s mistress. Or his secret gay lover. Who is blackmailing him. (Wave hypothetical flag again.)
Most stories aren’t like that. But sometimes they are, and perhaps the paper got badly burned on one of them a while back, and so now it has a policy. In which case, the reporter’s refusal may have nothing to do with the nominee at all.
There are two points I’d like to make here.
First: I agree with Seebach’s point that secrecy during the course of a journalistic investigation may not only protect the reporter’s scoop, but can also aid in the discovery of the truth — and the suppression of falsehoods. This is an insightful point.
And it is consistent with my proposal in the postscript to my original post on Hewitt’s suggestion: Hugh should simply agree not to run the interview live, but reserve the right to tape and broadcast the interview after the journalist’s story ran. If the interview ended up unnecessarily repeating some libel, Hugh could choose not to run it, and no rational person would blame him. But if the journalist left out critical facts favorable to Roberts, Hugh could bust them.
There is no excuse for a journalist to object to that. And I know Seebach agrees.
Second: Seebach’s column is not necessarily a defense of the New York Times‘s attempt to unseal adoption records as part of a routine background check. But I am curious to know what she thinks about that.
I continue to believe that the Times‘s actions were an inappropriate invasion of privacy. Conducting such an investigation based upon a credible tip, without attempting to gain access to sealed records, would present a different question, in my opinion.
I have written Ms. Seebach to invite her to address the non-hypothetical issue of the New York Times‘s actions in the comments, if she wishes.