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Cops Investigate News Leak. Proctor & Gamble Uses Secrets Law to Enlist Cincinnati Police; Police Get Subpoenaed Wall Street Journal Phone Records; Press Outraged

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Cops Investigate News Leak. Proctor & Gamble Uses Secrets Law to Enlist Cincinnati Police; Police Get Subpoenaed Wall Street Journal Phone Records; Press Outraged

Article excerpt

Cops investigate news leak

Proctor & Gamble uses secrets law to enlist Cincinnati police; police get subpoenaed Wall Street Journal phone records; press outraged

Journalists and First Amendment experts condemned the use of law enforcement authorities to conduct a hunt for the source of news leaks about Proctor & Gamble to the Wall Street Journal.

As part of the police investigation, Cincinnati's fraud squad obtained from Cincinnati Bell records of telephone calls made from Cincinnati-area residents to the Journal's Pittsburgh bureau.

Police also obtained records of calls between Cincinnati and the Pittsburgh home of Journal reporter Alecia Swasy, who covers Cincinnati-based Proctor & Gamble.

In addition to subpoenaing telephone records, the fraud squad has interviewed P&G employees about the news leaks and informed company officials about those interviewed, the Wall Street Journal reported.

All the police efforts were made to investigate a complaint by Procter & Gamble that "highly confidential and proprietary company business information has been disclosed to people outside the company."

P&G claims the leaks violate an Ohio criminal statute prohibiting employees from disclosing business or trade secrets without employer permission.

In a statement, P&G said its complaint is not aimed at news organizations.

"Procter & Gamble fully respects the news media's First Amendment rights and protections and this investigation does not violate those rights. No news media outlet is being asked to turn over any names or any information. The investigation is focused on individuals who may be violating the law," the statement read.

First Amendment advocates, however, vigorously disagree--with some saying the P&G and Cincinnati police actions amount to an attempt to criminalize news gathering.

"I think, personally and professionally, that it's reprehensible," said David Lawrence Jr., chairman and publisher of the Miami Herald, and current president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

"We live in a country in which folks ought to have free opportunity and access to information without worrying about whether law enforcement is looking over their shoulder," he continued. "I simply tell you as one person in the business of preserving the First Amendment that it strikes me as a terribly high-handed and dangerous action."

In Cincinnati, the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists fired off a letter urging P&G chairman Edward L. Artzt to drop the complaint.

"The misguided action Procter & Gamble has taken threatens to trample the First Amendment and obviously reflects more concern in identifying a possible leak within the company rather than protecting any trade secrets," the chapter said.

In a front-page story Aug. 12, the Journal reported that the P&G complaint apparently stems from two stories written by reporter Swasy.

On June 10, the Journal wrote that B. Jurgen Hintz, executive vice president for the P&G food division, had resigned under pressure.

The next day, quoting unnamed "current and former P&G managers," the paper reported that the company was considering selling some of its food brands, including Citrus Hill orange juice, Crisco shortenings and Fisher nuts. …

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