See no evil?

by The West Virginia Record |
Apr. 21, 2006, 10:15am

A dirty little secret of most media bias is that it is invisible. Hunt hard for that offending word or slanted sentence, but you'll usually come up empty-handed.

That's because the most notable journalistic offenses are sins of omission. Like the fact that West Virginia's largest daily newspaper, the Charleston Gazette, hasn't written nary a syllable about a lawsuit filed last month against state Attorney General Darrell McGraw.

The Record's John O'Brien first broke the story on our Web site March 23, in which two out-of-state manufacturers accused McGraw of abusing his elected office. New York-based Leviton and Georgia-based Cooper Wiring Devices charged that he overreached by granting two of his plaintiff's lawyer pals state subpoena power, naming them "special assistant attorneys general."

The lawyers, Eric Frankovitch and Michael Simon of Weirton, coincidentially already were pursuing a class action lawsuit against the company. If it had been floundering for lack of and discernable "damages," it wasn't after their deputization.

For himself, Frankovitch explained that, all contingency fees aside, his interest was the equivalent of West Virginia's interest.

"A common goal is why the attorney general and us are on the same page," he told us at the time.

That such a lawsuit is big news, to anyone following the ongoing state debate over McGraw's anointed army of plaintiff's lawyer-crusaders, goes without saying. The allegation serious enough that if a court were to side with Leviton and Cooper, it just might stop him in his tracks.

Press freedom in the United States comes iron-clad because our Founding Fathers saw journalism as the most effective foil against government tyranny. As for the Gazette, it has always talked tough on the subject.

Remember the "sustained outrage" that inspired its late, activist publisher Ned Chilton?

It's safe to say that Chilton's mantra and the enterprising journalism it purported to inspire have fizzled away since his departure. Gazette reporters these days seem more content to take their cues from the state than protect the people from it.

One gets the feeling that the real reason the Gazette doesn't see this lawsuit as newsworthy is that the attorney general's office hasn't issued a press release on it yet.

Maybe it's forthcoming. McGraw apparently has relented to the criticism, rescinding those special powers bequeathed to the Weirton legal duo. He didn't say what prompted the change of heart, but we'll chalk it up to sunlight.

As the legendary U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote, it's the "best disinfectant."

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