A district court judge in Philadelphia has banned "the media" from covering next week's auction of the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer. The auction is taking place in open court, meaning open to the public, but the judge said having reporters there would just be too disruptive - and the papers' creditors happily agreed.
The many ironies and contradictions are enough to buckle a rational mind: A free press being banned from an open court hearing, for starters. A free press being banned from covering a public event in a public facility that concerns the future of the free press, for another.
A federal judge blithely employing prior restraint against a constitutionally protected practice. A federal judge choosing to limit a constitutionally protected practice in order to promote a business deal. A federal judge choosing the interests of private business over the public's right to know in a case when two entities established to maintain the public's right to know (the very thing that gives them value) are on the chopping block.
One further complication: The creditors' committee includes the Newspaper Guild, a union representing the news reporters. That puts a reporter in the courtroom. To ensure he maintains control, the judge said the reporter would have to forsake his identity and act only as a representative of the creditors.
Unless a smart attorney or First Amendment group gets Judge Stephen Raslavich to come to his senses, the story of what happens to these two newspapers will be told by wealthy businessmen.