Anonymous Justice

Friday, April 02, 2010


The Cleveland Plain Dealer sparked an ethical controversy when a front-page story alleged that one of its legions of anonymous online commenters was a local judge, and that the judge had posted controversial comments about at least three cases over which she presided. Plain Dealer editor Susan Goldberg talks about the expectation of privacy on the internet and why the newspaper decided to publish the judge’s online identity.

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Comments [7]


There is no issue: a publication is responsible for anything potentially libelous appearing anywhere in their publication (even advertising!), so they have every right to review each and every comment on their web site. Further, as listed in every T&C for every web site that has them, you agree to play by their rules - not doing so can get you banned.

Did they need the email address? No. All they needed was the IP address, which is readily available to them for each and every comment posted, along with the date and exact time of the comment. Therefore, the PD can end the debate by sifting their database for lawmiss' comments: they'll know the who, when, and where for each.

One last thought: who creates a "household account" for commenting on a newspaper web site? That is the silliest fabrication I've ever heard!

Apr. 08 2010 10:44 AM
larry morgan

Bob Garfield misses the point of the real issue in this controversy:

GARFIELD: Now, I have to tell you, Susan, that if I were the editor of The Plain Dealer and I had been shown the evidence that this commenter lawmiss was a presiding judge over the very cases on which lawmiss was commenting, it would be all over my page one. I have no quibbles there. However, I might also say whoever got this information or their boss should be fired, including possibly me. This is quite a conundrum, but, you know, how do you, the editor who made that easy decision, deal with the editor who permitted her staff to dig into private information about commenters?

The point is that a sitting judge made comments germain to an ongoing case outside the bench. This is outrageous conduct and Garfield has the naive audacity to chastize the Plain Dealer for exposing such conduct. JUDGES DO NOT DISCUSS CASES OUTSIDE THE BENCH, Bob, go look at judicial ethics policies. Your interview is a major disappointment.

Apr. 07 2010 08:23 PM
Paul Vitello

I don't see the issue here. The Plain Dealer has served the public well. There is no question of their having violated a 'source.' The judge is no such thing. She is a public official with immense power over citizens' lives, who visits a commercial website, (assuming it was not her daughter), where she engages in a kind of insider trading -- using her privileged information as a judge to violate rules of evidence, principles of transparency, and the constitutional right to a fair trial. The Plain Dealer runs a commercial website. It forewarns commenters that their annonymity may be breached for cause. Whether the cause is the commercial interest of the newspaper, or the investigative needs of the police..they tell people that annonymity is granted at the website's discretion. To that list of reasons, I think it is amply justifiable to add the interest of a newspaper in informing the public about a judge's lack of judgement or ethics.

Apr. 06 2010 11:13 AM
Ray Y from Akron, OH

Wow. Scary that a judge would be online trying to influence public opinion about an ongoing case. Should be grounds for removal--abuse of power. I think Bob's interview was balanced.

Apr. 05 2010 03:13 PM
Uos from nyc

Wow, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has a terrible privacy policy.

Apr. 03 2010 10:34 AM
Tom Hanks from Durham, NC

Howard Thompson has the right question. The interview was very protective of the media, rather than being objectively critical. The Cleveland Plain Dealer Editor was hypocritical and self-righteous. New name - The Cleveland Double Dealer.

Apr. 03 2010 08:14 AM
Howard M Thompson from Livonia, MI

I think the obvious question is:

Would the Plain Dealer have reacted this way if the offending comment that sparked the investigation hadn't been made about a relative of a Plain Dealer employee?

Apr. 03 2010 07:48 AM

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