Disturbing holding back of news

The Cleveland Museum of Art, a magnificent organization, has recently had a troubled time with three directors and four interim heads in the last fifteen years, a high rate of turnover for museums. Yesterday it announced a new director William Griswold but in a long article that had a lot of positive things about him, Plain Dealer reporter Arts reporter Steven Litt inserted this odd and unexplained passage.

Under an accord with the Cleveland museum and the Morgan, The Plain Dealer agreed Thursday not to publish news about Griswold’s impending appointment until 10 a.m. Tuesday — after the Cleveland board of trustees voted to accept the search committee’s recommendation.

The museums said that The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal agreed to the same conditions.

So the papers had the news but sat on it for nearly a week? Why should a news organization agree to such an arrangement? It is not as if there was any investigation going on that warranted secrecy. This is the danger when newspapers don’t face any real competition.

The PD has long been accused of being too cozy with the local elites. Their publisher (Terrance C. Z. Egger) also sits on the board of the museum and was accused of being the reason the paper sat on the story about the last director who resigned after it was revealed that he had been having an affair with a staffer who died under mysterious circumstances and were scooped by the local alternative weekly newspaper Scene. That newspaper also reported on the new director William Griswold and added this last sentence: “The 53-year-old Griswold, for what it’s worth, lives with his partner of 23 years, Christopher Malstead.”

Cleveland elites are a pretty traditional bunch. The fact that they hired an openly gay person to head one of its most esteemed civic gems tells us how far we have come, even if the state of Ohio still bars same-sex marriage.


  1. says

    So do you think they were afraid the Board of Trustees may not vote him in? Perhaps because he’s gay? Or maybe just to avoid even a chance of more embarrassment for the museum if by slim chance he was rejected.

  2. Mano Singham says

    I don’t think him being gay was the issue. At least I hope not. It may simply be that the museum wants to control the information flow about it via press releases and not have the media get ahead of it. But that should not be a good enough reason for the media to hold back.

    I want to emphasize that this is not a major news story in which there was a great benefit to breaking it early. I am just worried about what seems like another sign of collusion between the media and the institutions that they cover.

  3. corwyn says

    It is simply a trade-off between the ability to get the information in advance in order to write a proper article, versus not getting it until the institution is sure they are ready to go public. The institution is under no ethical obligation to release the information before it is fully certain, and might be under an obligation not to until it is. However, both the institution and the media benefit from having a fully informed and correct article as soon as the information is made public.

  4. says

    It is not as if there was any investigation going on that warranted secrecy.

    Perhaps its anticipation that nobody will give a shit?

  5. Frank says

    A few weeks ago, I was listening to WCPN’s Friday morning news round-up, The Sound of Ideas. About halfway through, they started talking about MetroHealth’s new master plan, even though it was not mentioned in the list of topics at the top of the show. The host mentioned that they “weren’t allowed” to talk about it until 9:30. I thought this was odd, and slightly disturbing. Why should the subject of a story decide when media organizations are “allowed” to discuss it?

    As in this case, what would the harm have been? Even something like “MetroHealth to make a major announcement regarding infrastructure at 9:30” would have been better than silence. If I remember correctly, the host mentioned that the PD and WKYC had also agreed to keep the silence.

  6. hyphenman says

    Good morning all,

    Non-news news stories are often embargoed.

    The State of The Union Address is perhaps the best-known example. Broadcast and print organizations have the full text of the President’s speech hours, if not occasionally days, before the speech is actually delivered.

    One of the reasons President Bill Clinton got so much grief was that he was notorious for not locking down the text of his speech until the last minute and then quickly going off script, which also drove the person running the teleprompter nuts.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  7. Mano Singham says


    The question is whether the organization released the information to reporters on its own with an embargo on release date (which is an acceptable practice) or whether the news organization got the information independently and was then asked to hold on to it, which is not. In this case it was not clear what the situation was.

  8. hyphenman says


    In the case of non-news news, as, I think, this is the case, I’m not too upset.

    You are right, however, in saying that the overall buddy-buddy nature of American journalists public-relation toadies is increasingly disturbing.

    I think that was the best part of the Glenn Greenwald interview.


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