The news media’s job is to sift through propaganda, not promote it.
It is clear to me now that 60 Minutes wasn’t alone in practicing what has been referred to as “myopic zeal.” It was “myopic zeal” for sensational headlines, not necessarily for the truth, that contributed to overturning our country’s first post 9/11 terrorism convictions.
The local reporting of the Detroit terrorism case, the first terrorism prosecution after the September 11, 2001 attacks, is a perfect example of why confidence in the press has plummeted. Reporters appeared to go to extreme lengths not to alienate anonymous “court sources” and “Justice Department officials.”
It requires far less effort to report information that is simply handed over by anonymous sources than it is for reporters to examine the truth and motives behind the “hand-off.” A reporter should have a degree of skepticism when someone is unwilling to go “on the record.”
In reference to “deep throat,” the informant in the Watergate scandal, former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean, recently wrote that people leak information for “an array of reasons, not always honorable, and may be using the reporter's confidentiality to protect themselves... if they are releasing information obtained improperly.” He also went on to say that an individual might be “seeking to gain advantage by sabotaging a competitor or foe.” There are currently two investigations against individuals in the Justice Department regarding illegal leaks and retaliation. By not “considering the source,” the Detroit papers helped individuals in the Department of Justice (DOJ) carry out the retaliatory efforts against the lead prosecutor, AUSA Richard Convertino, which inevitably ended in the destruction of the case.
In June 2003, two defendants were convicted of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and document fraud. A third man was convicted of document fraud, while another was acquitted. Following the convictions, Rick Convertino was subpoenaed to testify in front of the Senate Finance Committee about the case, and since the honor of appearing before the Senate is normally given to the U.S. Attorney, attempts were made to discredit him. The events that followed placed the convictions in jeopardy.
Had the press taken a deeper look, it would have found that never before has the Department of Justice launched this multitude of investigations against one of its own cases or prosecutors, that the actions by the judge were questionable, and that the attorney who overturned the case had aspirations to be the U.S. attorney and was himself once accused of serious misconduct.
A comparison of other cases should have been done. For example, in a recent case in the Eastern District of Virginia, a federal judge found that an Assistant U.S. attorney entered a jury room and intentionally planted evidence that was excluded during trial. The department vigorously defended the case and the attorney. The U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the findings of misconduct and, after assigning the case to a new judge, expressed sympathy for the attorney who had denied the allegation. There are many such cases from which comparisons could have been made.
Federal Judge Gerald Rosen frequently spoke to the local and national media prior to his ruling, and while there was still a gag order on the case. Rosen chastised the former Attorney General for his public comments, but justified his own by claiming he knows “where the line is.” He engaged in ex-parte meetings and even agreed to be interviewed by investigators about the terrorism case he still presides over. The Associated Press ran a story about the inappropriateness of Judge Rosen’s conduct. The local papers didn’t print it. Why?
Craig Morford, the special attorney who threw in the towel on the terrorism convictions, was accused of severe prosecutorial misconduct in a high-profile case, and has vied for the positions of U.S. attorney in both the Northern District of Ohio and the Eastern District of Michigan.
Morford was the lead prosecutor in the case against former Ohio Congressman James Traficant. Traficant, not a lawyer, represented himself and was convicted. After the trial, Morford was accused of withholding evidence; suborning perjury; pressuring witnesses to lie; not disclosing benefits given to government witnesses, and providing incomplete and misleading testimony to the jury.
One witness, who testified under oath in front of the House Ethics Committee regarding Morford’s misconduct, was indicted by Morford but later acquitted by a jury — but not until after suffering great personal and financial losses.
After looking into these allegations against Morford, the Department of Justice took no action against him, but the local papers should have compared how differently the two investigations were treated. Had Morford’s “investigative” tactics been used against his own case the outcome would have been quite different. A team of federal agents would have had unlimited time to re-investigate the case, scrutinize all prosecution trial tactics and strategy, re-interview witnesses and retry the case again behind the scenes--- this time working collaboratively with defense attorneys and without a jury. Affidavits from individuals previously considered incompetent as witnesses, and opinions from people without knowledge of the case, would have been considered to be important. The judge, his staff, the defense attorneys and Morford’s colleagues would have all been interviewed for their opinions of him. Defamatory allegations would have been leaked to the media to influence the judge and the public about him and the case, and another prosecutor, not familiar with the case, would have turned over materials that normally would not have been considered to be discoverable.
The conviction would never have held up under such intense scrutiny and sabotage. No case could have.
But then of course, Morford wasn’t suing the DOJ.
Now that all of this political maneuvering has failed to get him the U.S. Attorney’s position, and with the terrorism case in tatters, Morford is back in Cleveland. Was this all myopic zeal? When the truth is finally told…you decide.