Monday, October 25, 2010

What did the Courier-Journal know and when did they know it?

"Don't worry about it. Everything's okay."

Those are the words that an attorney representing Jack Conway's brother in a drug investigation used in a conversation with one of the investigators, assuring him after the detective told the attorney he was scared of losing his job because he had tipped off Matthew Conway, hopelessly compromising the investigation.

But the words could just as easily have been spoken by the Louisville Courier-Journal to U. S. Senate candidate Conway himself after the paper apparently did everything it could to downplay the issue at a crucial time in a close campaign that the whole nation is watching.

Did Jack Conway illegally interfere in the investigation of his brother? It's hard to tell until more information comes out, but what is equally disturbing is the question of whether the state's largest newspaper was trying to minimize the public's attention to the issue.

Just go read at the story, printed on the worst news day of the week (Saturday) when the least number of people would notice it. It is one of the most confused and contorted news stories I have ever read. You have to read it several times even to figure out what is going on, and mentions Jack Conway's involvement mostly at the end and even then it appears to do it reluctantly.

Here are the facts as I have gleaned them from having suffered through about fifteen readings of what has to be one of the worst-written news stories of the year:

According to the story, Matthew Conway (hereinafter, "Conway"), an assistant Commonwealth's attorney, became the target, while serving as a Jefferson County prosecutor, of an investigation on drug use or trafficking. Conway is the brother of the state's chief law enforcement official, Attorney General Jack Conway. Conway was not only tipped off about the investigation, he was allowed by one investigator to read the complain filed against him. He also received a two day heads up that his house would be investigated, and lied, as did one of the detectives, to police about the investigation.

Conway has never been charged.

And what was brother Jack's involvement? Jack found out about it when a supporter was tipped off by one of the detectives in a restaurant. Conway called his brother and said they needed to meet. The next day, there was a meeting in Jack's home with his brother and an attorney. The attorney then called the Louisville Police Chief to "report" the detective.

"Report" him? For what? For tipping them off? That's rather strange. Or was he "reporting" him for investigating Jack's brother?

At some point between the meeting in Jack's home and March 10, brother Matthew's attorney called one of the detectives who had breached secrecy in the case and asked him if he was investigating Jack's brother. According to the detective, Conway's attorney called him back two or three times, at which point the attorney assured the detective, now scared for his job, "Don't worry about it. Everything's okay."

What does that mean? And by what authority could an attorney for the subject of an investigation tell one of the detectives investigating him that "Everything's okay"? Who was the attorney representing in his calls to the detective? Matthew? Or Jack?

In detective novel parlance, the whole thing smells to high heaven. And that's not the only thing that smells.

What is the Courier-Journal's response, given that it now has this information in its possession? To run the story on a Saturday, and to bury the details involving the Democratic candidate for U. S. Senate that it has editorially supported at the tail end of a long and convoluted news story.

I've written plenty of news stories in my time and I know how to write my lead--that's the sentence you start your news story with that includes as many of the most important and interesting facts of your story. The lead on this story was clear: you have a potential scandal involving a Senate candidate in a nationally covered race. And your headline is pretty clear too.

But what did the Courier use as its headline? "LMPD probes detectives who tipped off prosecutor under investigation." Huh? And here's the lead:
A Jefferson County prosecutor was tipped off by Louisville narcotics detectives twice in the past two years that he was under investigation for possible drug use or trafficking, according to police records obtained by The Courier-Journal.
That's the story? The detectives? Really? You've got people associated with a candidate of one of the nation's most closely watched political races calling detectives investigating his brother on drug charges and telling them "Everything's okay" and the story is about a couple of detectives?

You have to wait until the fourth paragraph to find out that there's any relation between the attorney being investigated and the candidate. And you have to read to the end of the story to find out that the candidate is actually involved in some way.

Ask yourself this question: If Rand Paul's name had been associated in some way with activities that appeared to be interfering with a criminal investigation of a sibling and it appeared that his connections had had an influence on the case, how fast do you think it would have taken the Courier-Journal to jump on the story? And how do you think the headline would have looked? Would the lead in the story have mentioned his name? Would you have had to read to the end of the story to find out the nature of Paul's involvement?

Not only is there a story here, but it not only involves Jack Conway. Thanks to its handling of it, the Courier-Journal has now made itself a part of the story. There a few questions they should be asked too:
  • Was the news story intentionally hard to read?
  • How long have they known about this story?
  • Why did they run it on a Saturday?
  • Why did they not include mention of Conway in the headline when it was obviously the most explosive aspect of the story?
  • Why did they bury the comments about Conway late in the story?
  • How would they have handled this story if it had involved Rand Paul instead of Jack Conway?
When you stop just reporting on events and get involved in them, you need to answer questions too.


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