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Published: Sunday, 3/7/2010

Editorial, full-page ad reflect healthy disagreement

A number of folks were startled when The Blade ran an editorial on Feb. 24 supporting President Obama's efforts at health-care reform - and then ran a full-page ad denouncing it.

The editorial argued that "enactment of a sound health-care reform bill this year remains urgent" and said "the President's proposal would greatly expand access to essential health care while beginning to contain its costs, without compromising its quality."

But Allan Block, the chairman of Block Communications Inc., sponsored a full-page ad that maintained that "the economy must recover before we can cure health care" and argued that President Obama's proposal will destroy jobs and reduce hiring."

Paula Steinker wrote to me that "as The Blade's ombudsman and a journalism professor, you must be very embarrassed The Blade must maintain at least the appearance of objectivity."

Sorry, Ms. Steinker, but I am actually very proud that this newspaper allows and is willing to air diversity of opinion - even among the newspaper's owners. John Robinson Block is the publisher and the editor-in-chief of The Blade.

His twin brother Allan is chairman of the board. They disagree on the health-care proposal, obviously - as I suspect do many family members in this nation. Neither brother has attempted to prevent the other from sharing his views with our readers.

That strikes me as being completely healthy.

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Thomas Pellitieri was one of several readers who found it odd that The Blade ran a long story about Tom Noe on the front page - especially since it was written by the Columbus Dispatch.

Why? he wondered. What was new? He also found the headline, which quoted Noe as saying, "God has a plan for me," highly offensive, especially since it appeared on a Sunday.

Good questions. The answer is that this is the first interview Noe, the former coin dealer and political power broker now in Ohio's Hocking Correctional Facility, has given since he went to prison following perhaps the politically most important fraud case in Ohio history. The Blade's exposure of Noe's criminal activities, including the theft of millions of Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation funds, was an enormous scandal, which experts think contributed to the landslide 2006 Democratic victories in Ohio.

What Noe now says about all this was something the editors thought would be highly interesting to the people in his hometown.

If Mr. Pelliteri found his statement "God has a plan for me" offensive, it needs to be noted that these are Noe's words, not The Blade's. The editors thought that might provide some insight into how the man convicted of stealing $13 million from the state thinks.

Incidentally, the term that came to my mind when I read those words was not offensive, but chutzpah. (As in, what nerve!)

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Reader Kent Gardam thought The Blade showed bias toward the Jon Stainbrook faction in a March 2 story about the Lucas County Board of Elections. The Republican Party in the county, as everyone in local politics knows, is in a state of civil war, with both Mr. Stainbrook and Jeff Simpson claiming to be the rightful party chairman.

Both factions had their own candidate for the elections board. Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said she was prevented by law from trying to sort out which faction was which and instead picked an old GOP warhorse, Ben Marsh, to fill the seat.

Mr. Gardam didn't challenge the story's facts but thought The Blade showed bias by mentioning in the headline that Mr. Stainbrook was denied his seat, while not mentioning David Dmytryka, the Simpson faction's candidate for the board, till very late in the story.

Tom Troy, who covers politics for The Blade, said the emphasis was because Mr. Stainbrook, a far more visible figure, nominated himself to the board. Mr. Dmytryka is far less prominent and was essentially the Simpson faction's candidate for the board.

That makes sense to me, but I do agree with the reader that Mr. Dmytryka's name should have been mentioned far higher in the story, when the newspaper explained that neither candidate had been appointed. I don't think that there was any deliberate bias; the reporter was merely trying to relay a series of complicated facts on deadline, and it is far easier for anyone to later criticize how they happened to be put together.

Mr. Gardam also questioned The Blade's relating that Mr. Marsh, who is 82, lives in "a South Toledo retirement complex." He felt that it was designed to call attention to his age.

In fact, old-timers (like me) think of Ben Marsh in connection with Maumee politics, and it is pertinent that he now lives in Toledo.

Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660, or at my Detroit office, 563 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me at 1-888-746-8610, or e-mail me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply. Reminder, however: If you don't leave me an e-mail address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.

Jack Lessenberry is a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.



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