Letters: Critics should leave reporting to reporters

Posted: August 05, 2010

An editorial in Sunday's Inquirer states that I made "what some may view as a veiled threat to apparently try to spook" architecture critic Inga Saffron as she pursued a story on the Family Court project ("Twice-told tales").

The editorial did not explain what I allegedly threatened to do. That would be hard to explain. I don't believe I made any threat, veiled or otherwise. Nor did I attempt to "spook" Saffron. But I did raise a legitimate concern in citing Sprague v. Walter in an e-mail to her.

As architecture critic, Saffron was clearly hostile to the design and location of the Family Court building at 15th and Arch Streets. She expressed her antipathy in two columns. Then she switched to investigative-reporter mode and began probing the project's financing; the role of my boss, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille; and a potential conflict involving lawyer Jeffrey Rotwitt.

There is nothing wrong with a reporter aggressively pursuing such issues, but a columnist whose bias has been well-established should not.

After a series of exchanges, I sent Saffron an e-mail asking if she was familiar with Sprague v. Walter, a case involving a conflict of interest of a reporter that led to a painful libel judgment against The Inquirer in 1990. I did that without any direction from the chief justice. At the time, Saffron was pressing for answers from the chief and he was unavailable to respond. I suggested that she check with editors familiar with the lessons of Sprague v. Walter - since it seemed clear that she was not. Subsequently, staff reporters were assigned to the Family Court story, and Saffron returned to her role as a critic.

Stuart Ditzen

Assistant for communications

Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts

Philadelphia

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