By: Allan Wolper
Allan Wolper Examines the Joel Rose Story
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by Allan Wolper
This much we know. Joel Rose, 64, a former Cleveland radio and TV
personality, killed himself Aug. 4 after reading a Cleveland Plain
Dealer story that all but convicted him of sexually assaulting at
least a dozen Ohio women by mail and telephone.
The article cited anonymous investigative sources and anonymous
victims and included a perfunctory denial by Rose, who may have
been the biggest victim of them all.
Rose’s wife, Lois, found her husband, sprawled out in the woods
on the edge of their property, alongside a copy of The Plain Dealer
in which he was featured – ‘Ex-TV Host Rose Under Investigation in
Porn Case’ – and that he had just picked up from his mailbox.
His .38-caliber pistol, just fired, was at his side.
After she called the police, Lois Rose went back to her house and
found four suicide notes, including one in which her husband
predicted he would be cleared of any wrongdoing by the DNA tests
he had taken the day before the story ran.
Rose was right.
Just 10 days later, The Plain Dealer published another Page One
story – ‘Evidence, Rose DNA Don’t Match’ – along with a subhead
that kept his legacy in shadows: ‘Former radio-TV personality is
not eliminated as a suspect.’
And, oh yes, one more thing. The typewriter taken in a sheriff’s
raid on Rose’s home was not used for the notes accompanying
pornographic materials sent to the female victims, just about
wiping out the case against Rose.
Why was the paper still calling Rose a suspect?
The prosecutors had shown Plain Dealer Editor Doug Clifton a copy
of the sealed affidavit – which Rose’s lawyers or relatives have
still not seen – that was used to get a search warrant to scour
Rose’s house for evidence. What was in the affidavit?
‘I saw it from a distance,’ explained Clifton. ‘I really couldn’t
tell you what it said.’ Clifton said The Plain Dealer might have
held back the story if Rose had emphasized his innocence. ‘We
would have happily heard from him something like, ‘This is a
scandalous injustice and a terrible lie,” said Clifton, who was
on vacation when the story ran. ‘But when we asked for his take
on what happened, he said, ‘Talk to my lawyer.”
Why did Rose keep his emotions to himself?
‘I told Joel not to talk to the news media or anyone else,’
explained Gerald C. Gold, who was then Rose’s attorney. ‘Are there
Plain Dealer rules on what to say when you are accused of something?
I guess I’ll have to tell my clients to yell real loud so they won’t
run stories about them.
‘I tell my clients not to talk to the press because I don’t want my
cases tried before they go to trial. When The Plain Dealer called
me, I told them the charges were absurd. Wasn’t that enough?’
Gold’s advice to Rose was not unlike the orders that Clifton gave
to Rosa Maria Santana, the police reporter who wrote the initial
story on the investigation, on how to deal with questions from the
press. ‘I can’t say anything,’ Santana said. ‘It’s company policy.
You have to talk to Doug about this.’
Clifton, for his part, said the paper was not a puppet of the
prosecutor’s office. ‘No one was selling the story to us,’ said
Clifton. ‘One of our editors [Assistant Metro Editor Edith Starzyk]
saw the cops when they raided Rose’s house. We were doing what we
were supposed to do. We always consider the potential impact on a
person’s life before we print something.’
Merle Pollis, Rose’s best friend and longtime radio sidekick,
doesn’t buy Clifton’s explanation. ‘The Plain Dealer might as well
have pulled the trigger,’ Pollis said. ‘He killed himself right
after they delivered the paper. I could understand them running
something if he had been charged with something.
‘What they did was simply unethical. Even after the DNA tests
cleared Joel, they still published a story saying he was a suspect.
What kind of journalism is that?’
The kind of journalism that prevailed in 1954 when Cleveland media
prosecuted Dr. Sam Sheppard for killing his wife, Marilyn. The U.S.
Supreme Court overturned the conviction that followed, and he was
later acquitted. The Sheppard case inspired a long-running TV drama
called ‘The Fugitive’ that is being remade for a new run on TV this
Terry H. Gilbert, a Cleveland attorney who represents the Sheppard
family, can see some similarities between the cases.
‘Everyone who saw The Plain Dealer story probably thought, ‘This
guy is sick,” Gilbert said. ‘I can’t imagine anyone who read that
story coming away thinking that Joel might be innocent.’
Meanwhile, the prosecutor’s office is burrowing into Rose’s life
with the same enthusiasm that preceded his death, conducting tests
on everything they confiscated from his house.
They better find something fast. Lois Rose has hired a civil attorney.
Allan Wolper’s ‘Ethics Corner’ column appears monthly in E&P.
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher