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   The Curious Timing of Ashcroft's Scott Ritter Investigation

Sun’s Curious Coverage:

The Curious Timing of Ashcroft’s Scott Ritter Investigation

by Alice Cherbonnier

The Associated Press picked up a little story from central New York newspapers and sent it over the wires. “Feds Get Sealed Case of Ritter’s Arrest” read the headline. That’s not what the Sun’s version said; they had Ritter “held” in theirs—with a two-column headline on page 3 of the main news section on Sun., Jan. 26. And the text of the Sun’s rendition of the story differed slightly, and in some cases significantly, from the AP version. But let’s not quibble. Let’s look at the substance here.

Scott Ritter, a conservative Republican ex-Marine and former UN chief weapons inspector who has been very vocal in his opposition of a US war against Iraq, has spoken widely all over the US, including in Baltimore. The story here is that, in June 2001, Ritter was alleged to have been caught in “an alleged internet sex sting,” his offense said to have been “trying to lure an undercover police officer posing as a 16-year-old girl to a restaurant.” The charges (“endangerment of a child”) were dismissed and the records were sealed. (We can understand the problem: it’s very doubtful Ritter tried to lure an undercover police officer anywhere.....)

The real story, though, is: Why is Assistant US Attorney William Pericak now seeking to obtain the sealed records “to review for possible federal charges”? The AP story tells us “Pericak refused to comment to the newspapers.”

This sounds like abuse of process to us, and well worth investigating. The AP story, and the Sun’s warmed-over version, don’t go anywhere near far enough.

Apparently other “major media” concurred with the assessment that this is a non-story that unnecessarily casts a shadow on a person who was adjudged to have committed no offense. The AP story was not picked up by, among others, the L.A. Times, Washington Post (though you can find the AP story through the Post website), New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and so on. Only the Sun among the major newspapers gave it play—yet did the public a disservice by not following through with the real story.

Now we’ll just have to wonder what Bush administration critic will next be the target of US Attorney General John Ashcroft’s office. What a great way to muzzle critics. Dredge up parking tickets, driving records, juvenile offenses, accusations of former spouses, you name it—and seek to unseal the records of closed cases “for possible federal charges.”

Warning to Laura Bush: watch out!

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Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on February 10, 2003.
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