Monthly Archives: September 2009

Was smiling Davidson photo in poor taste?

We’re getting some complaints today that a photo of torture-slaying defendant Lemaricus Davidson shows him and his attorneys smiling.
This raises an interesting question. The case is horrible, with nothing at all to smile about. But the photo depicts a real moment and accurately reflects the mood at the defense table on a day when the attorneys won a delay in order to have a sophistictated and expensive DNA test conducted.
In selecting the photo, we knew some readers would be angered by the situation. A newspaper often has a responsibility to present disturbing truths. Still, we should not be disrespectful of readers’ sensibilities.
In this case, we felt it was appropriate to pass along what our photographer observed in the courtroom.

MSM must keep eye on non-MSM

The New York Times revealed it has assigned an editor to monitor the non-MSM to be sure the Grey Lady doesn’t get caught looking again, as it did on the Van Jones and ACORN stories.
Michael Silence, our blogging guru, has informally monitored the blogosphere for us for several years, but he’ll be doing so on a bit more formal basis, too, reporting at our morning news meetings on the buzz.

Did News Sentinel underplay Bruce Pearl’s gaffe?

At this morning’s news meeting, there was some feeling that we underplayed the story about Bruce Pearl’s comment about people wearing hoods in Grainger County and his subsequent apology.
His actual quote, delivered at a charity fund-raiser, was:
“I’ve got a tough job. I’ve got to put these guys from different worlds together, right? I’ve got guys from Chicago, Detroit … I’m talking about the ‘hood! And I’ve got guys from Grainger County, where they wear the hood.”
No one complained about the comment, and the father of Pearl’s Grainger County recruit, Skylar McBee, said he took the joke with no hard feelings. Pearl issued an apology anyway.
We ran the story on Page 7 of the Sports section.
But it was pointed out that a story about a racial joke at the Downtown Rotary a few weeks ago resulted in an A1 story. Of course, that incident did spark complaints and prompted the head of the Urban League to resign from the group.

Freedom of information hero

One of my heroes is Frank Gibson, director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
He was a longtime journalist at the Tennessean in Nashville before retiring and taking on the job of championing access to information in the state.
Frank writes a regular column for the Tennessee Press Association, and it’s always a delight to read. This time he tells how some government agencies have come to see the light, often after their reluctance to do business openly has become a topic of public concern.
I’ve included the column as an extended entry. One of Frank’s many delightful examples deals with the Loudon school board trying to ban cameras from its meetings after a citizen video-recorded a board member becoming irate. If you haven’t checked out the video yet, take a moment, it’s pretty entertaining.

Continue reading

How County Commission races shaping up

Georgiana Vines revealed in a recent column that Mark Harmon is going to bow out, clearing the way for Amy Broyles in the 2nd District when the County Commission shrinks from 19 members to 11 next year.
Broyles and Harmon are close friends and Democratic allies who would not have run against each other.
How is the rest of the field shaping up? Here’s one insider’s prognostication:
District 1 — Sam McKenzie will seek re-election without an incumbent challenger as Tank Strickland is term-limited.
District 3 — Tony Norman runs as the sole incumbent; Ivan Harmon also is term-limited.
District 4 — Finbarr Saunders runs for re-election in the district. Ed Shouse goes for one of the at-large seats.
District 5 — Richard Briggs goes for re-election. Mike Hammond seeks the other at-large seat. Craig Leuthold is term-limited.
District 6 — Brad Anders runs as incumbent. Lumpy Lambert takes a pass, waiting for a shot at a legislative seat. (He was interested in succeeding Stacey Campfield but is now backing away in favor of ally Steve Hall.)
District 7 — Messy match-up of incumbents. R. Larry Smith versus Michelle Carringer in a duel of incumbents that could get nasty. Look for James McMillan, a challenger, to possibly slip through the gap.
District 8 — Another face-off of incumbents: Dave Wright and Bud Armstrong. But this one will be more civilized.
District 9 — Paul Pinkston exits. He’s term-limited. Mike Brown runs as incumbent but faces strong challenge from ex-interim commissioner Victoria DeFreese.
Upshot: the new commission could look a lot like the old commission, just a little more compact.

More papers moving to $1 a copy

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has become the latest newspaper to start selling for $1 a copy.
The News Sentinel went to 75 cents not too long ago, and we have no immediate plans to increase the price of our street-sale editions.
I suspect, however, that readers will be asked to bear more of the costs of other newspapers in the future to make up for the loss of classified advertising to online sites.

Why isn’t Glenn Beck covering TVA?

I fielded three calls this morning from people wanting to know why we aren’t running front-page stories about ACORN?
The callers were responding to the urging of Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, who told them to call their newspapers and complain of bias if ACORN hasn’t been prominent news.
We have run stories about the controversies surrounding the Obama-backed community group’s involvement in voter registration and housing counseling. We had a story in the A section on Saturday, and we had a brief on the Nation/World page on Monday. Today another ACORN item appeared on our Nation/World pages.
As I’ve explained to the callers, though, our major focus is on local news, not national news. People can get all the ACORN news they want from Fox, on air and online.
But Glenn Beck isn’t covering TVA at all. He is completely ignoring the Tennessee school safety report that led our paper today. He isn’t even covering the Vols!
In this Internet world, where consumers can click from one news source to another, news organizations have to focus on their areas of expertise. For Glenn Beck, it’s ACORN or whatever. For us, it’s news and information about what’s happening in greater Knoxville.

Why MSM shortchanged the Van Jones story

A week ago, I received a note from a loyal reader who is, nonetheless, a passionate critic of what he sees as the newspaper’s ongoing problems.
This time, his concern was over our handling of the resignation of Van Jones, President Obama’s environmental adviser. Jones had been under attack by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, who had revealed a number of embarrassing incidents in Jones’ background, including his signing on with the “truther” nuts who claimed President Bush played a role in the 9/11 attacks.
My loyal critic thought we had entirely ignored the story when Jones resigned over the Labor Day weekend. We hadn’t. We had a short item on A8 on Monday. But we certainly didn’t play it up big. Neither did the rest of the “mainstream media.”
The incident points to a recurring weakness in the MSM. It tends to ignore stories developed by news sources it considers disreputable. A few years ago, it was the National Enquirer’s expose of then-presidential candidate John Edwards’ affair with a former campaign aide. Today it’s Fox News’ revelations about an Obama “czar.”
During my career, I’ve seen this tendency rear its head on the local level, too. It’s easy for a serious news organization to turn up its nose at news dredged up by a competitor who is perceived as less than serious.
But we make that mistake at our own risk. Objective news organizations have to recognize news, regardless of the source. And when they’ve been beaten on a story, they have to scramble to play catch-up, not act like the news never happened.

Big Ten latest to impose media controls

After some tough haggling with the media, the Southeastern Conference backed off many of the requirements it had attached to its media credentials.
Well, now the Big Ten has gotten in the act, seeking to limit how newspapers and TV stations can use the content they gather at games, especially online.
Six journalism organizations have written a letter asking for “an open and frank discussion” of the issue.
This is a fight that isn’t going away. There is big money in college sports, and the conferences want to try to squeeze out every dime by monopolizing the distribution of content. Stand by for fights in other conferences and for years to come.

Corker a possible candidate for president

For a while I’ve been wondering whether Sen. Bob Corker might be toying with the idea of running for president in 2012. Here’s why:
* He’s much more of an executive than a legislative guy, having built and run a business and served in a governor’s cabinet and as mayor of Chattanooga.
* He demonstrated his campaign chops when he was elected, defeating a formidable opponent in Harold Ford Jr. in a year when Democrats won just about everything else nationally.
* He’s 57. Time is ripe but the clock is ticking.
* The Palin and Obama candidacies showed that lengthy national experience isn’t a top requirement these days.
* He’s placed himself on the national stage, with trips to Afghanistan and Iraq and active participation in major debates such as cap-and-trade.
* Some of his positions seem to be with an eye on his conservative credentials, such as his vote against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (Colleague Lamar Alexander, with his presidential ambitions in the past, went the other way.)
* The town hall movement shows the incumbent’s vulnerability.
* Dark-horse Southerners, albeit Democrats — Clinton and Carter — have demonstrated they can come from nowhere to knock off first term presidents in modern decades.
* He’s part of the greater Haslam family, which, in business anyway, has shown that its horizons reach well beyond the region.
* What does he have to lose? He’ll be up for re-election at the same time as the presidential election. If the early stages of a White House campaign don’t prove frutiful, he can fold that tent and run for re-election having raised his stature in Tennessee and, perhaps, better positioned himself for a 2016 White House bid.
With all that in mind, I asked him this question when he was in for an editorial board meeting earlier this week:
“Will you say you will definitely not run for president in 2012?”
He responded by saying his wife would be surprised if he did, that interersted candidates would be showing up in Iowa and that no one in his office was working in that direction.
In other words, no, he’s not ruling out a bid for the presidency.
It will be interesting to see if any trips to Iowa do turn up on his calendar next year.