Monthly Archives: October 2009

FBI criticizes News Sentinel for disclosing subpoena

I received a letter from the FBI today taking me to task for revealing that we had provided the agency with information in response to a subpoena.
We disclosed earlier this week that we had turned over to the FBI our records on an online commenter in response to a federal grand jury subpoena. The FBI is investigating threats against the defense attorneys in the Lemaricus Davidson case.
Special agent-in-charge Richard Lambert wrote:
“The FBI’s single greatest asset in preventing terrorism and fighting crime is the
assistance we receive from those we serve. Without the help of the American people, the FBI would fail miserably in its principal mission of gathering facts and collecting evidence. This partnership is especially crucial in investigations where the subject responsible for the crime is unknown, for much can be done by those close to the case in advancing or hindering the FBI’s investigative efforts. Prematurely disclosing the existence of an investigation or revealing the investigative techniques employed often alerts the perpetrator to law enforcement’s scrutiny and provides the opportunity for evidence concealment or destruction.
“In the current case involving threatening communications made to attorneys
representing a defendant in the Christian-Newsom murder trial, the FBI’s investigation into this matter was recently and prematurely exposed. In addition, the News Sentinel revealed yesterday the precise subject matter of a federal grand jury subpoena it received concerning this crime, citing the “newsworthiness” of this development and the absence of an explanation by the FBI as to why the subpoena’s secrecy was important.
“While the News Sentinel’s disclosure may indeed serve “the interest of transparency,” the revelations made to date may also provide the person or persons who committed the crime with the strategic knowledge necessary to now successfully frustrate this important investigation. This is the reason the United States Attorney’s Office asked the News
Sentinel not to disclose the issuance or substance of the subpoena.”
To be clear, the News Sentinel didn’t reveal the investigation. The defense attorneys did when they held a press conference. We did, however, disclose to our readers that, in connection with the investigation, we had turned over KnoxNews.com registration information that typically is kept secret.

Venable joins ET Writers Hall of Fame

News Sentinel columnist Sam Venable was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall fo Fame Thursday night.
Congrats, Sam! Much deserved.
The annual induction ceremony, which is held each year to benefit the Friends of Literacy, has become one of my favorite annual events. There are always heartfelt speeches about the joy of reading and the importance of the written word, sentiments that are near and dear to my heart.
Also, one of the people who has benefited from the FOL programs reads a personal essay. These are incredibly moving stories about rising from despair and failure to hope and success through the power of education.
The keynoter this year was Rheta Grimsley Johnson, who I first heard of when she was writing for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis and I was at another Scripps paper, The Albuquerque Tribune. I’d never met her, though, until last night.
Rheta spoke about the significance of being a Southern writer. She said her column has had its longest run in the Knoxville News Sentinel — 27 years and counting.

KNS turns commenter info over to FBI

Monday we did something we don’t like to do: release non-public information about one of our commenters. In fact, this is only the second time we’ve ever done this.
The release was in response to a federal grand jury subpoena. The feds are investigating threats against the defense attorneys in the Christian-Newsom case, and the FBI felt a comment posted on KnoxNews.com might provide a clue.
We almost always resist subpoenas for information when we get them. Often attorneys are fishing, and they ask for all our notes, records, etc. Using the Tennessee Shield Law, we are typically able to quash those subpoenas and end up merely submitting an affidavit saying that what we published in the paper was factual to the best of our knowledge.
We could have fought this subpoena, too, but we chose not to for several reasons. The request was not overly broad; in fact, it was quite specific. It dealt with a criminal investigation, not a civil case. And, the subpoena came from a federal grand jury. We might very well have lost if we had argued in court.
We did think it appropriate, though, to reveal what we had done, although the U.S. attorney’s office asked us to keep it under wraps.

WVLT doing story on Dan Proctor’s cartoons

A reporter from WVLT is coming to the newsroom tomorrow to do a piece on Dan Proctor’s GameDay cartoons.
Dan, our art and design director, is a talented cartoonist whose unique style has delighted Vols fans for years. I love spending time with the cartoons each Saturday during football season trying to find all the little jokes he has inserted.
Don’t tell anyone, but Dan is an Alabama grad, though I don’t think he lets his feelings about his alma mater bias his cartoons — he makes fun of everyone.
102409proctor_t607.jpg

Oops — got Lady Vols in trouble

The Lady Vols will have to report a minor violation to the NCAA because of a photo we published in our final edition on Sunday. The picture was of Coach Pat Summitt with just-committed recruit Meighan Simmons.
Schools are restricted on publicizing visits with recruits, so allowing the picture was a technical no-no. The shot actually originated with the Express-News in San Antonio, Texas, near where Simmons plays high school ball.
Sorry to have caused Coach Summitt an inconvenience, but I’m glad we could offer readers the photo101809simmons_t607.jpg.

UT finally releases Kiffin’s contract

Some nine months after our initial public records request, the UT Athletics Department has released a copy of Coach Lane Kiffin’s contract. kiffin contract.pdf There are no real surprises. It mirrors the memorandum of understanding released earlier.
UT did not release the contract sooner because it had not been “finalized” until now — nearly a year after his hiring and midway through his first football season. Seems like an odd way of doing business to me, but I don’t operate in the world of multimillion-dollar employment contracts.
We’re still waiting on the contracts of the assistant coaches, but we’re told that they will be forthcoming now that work on Kiffin’s has — whew! — been finished.

Limbaugh got the bum’s Rush

I’m not a fan of Rush Limbaugh. He’s a blowhard and a hypocrite who thrives on polarization.
I especially love how he bashes the “mainstream media,” while conveniently overlooking the fact that he’s biggest thing on talk radio and, thus, as mainstream in that medium as you can get.
Nonetheless, I think it’s wrong that he was hounded out of an investment group looking to buy the St. Louis Rams.
The complaint was that Limbaugh is racist, and he’s certainly not above pushing the race button. He, at times, has suggested racial motives in public affairs, such as when he said that Colin Powell supported Barack Obama’s candidacy because he was black.
Among the billions of words he has blurted, Limbaugh also has opined the Donovan McNabb was overrated because the media “has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well,” and his crasser remarks have included: “The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons,” and basketball is “the favorite sport of gangs.”
That’s all stupid and inflammatory and classic Rush, which is the point. Limbaugh is a pundit. Heck, he’s America’s best known political commentator. Being outrageous is part of his shtick. He makes his living by being a loudmouth jerk.
So what?
As I recall, it was a Frenchman, Voltaire, who said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Isn’t that supposed to be the attitude here in America, the ultimate free marketplace of ideas?
Besides, this now just gives Rush more to whine about.

Did we do wrong by Baptists?

I’ve gotten a few complaints that we smeared Baptists by publishing Thomas Kevil’s Citizen’s Voice column last Saturday.
Wrote one Gatlinburg couple:
“As subscribers to the News Sentinel, we are terribly disappointed that you would print Mr. Kevil’s shotgun smear of Baptists. The News Sentinel did not substantiate his claim. He wrote that he ‘read several articles.’ What articles and in what publications?
“With literally millions in this country who call themselves Baptists, there are undoubtably some crazies, but I believe that the great majority of us vehemently condemn all hate speech. What a shame to have an entire denomination smeared.
“Baptists are committed to preaching the teachings of Jesus, supporting Children’s Homes, hospitals, colleges and universities, disaster relief, prison ministries, homeless ministries, and multitudes of other ministries both in this country and around the world. Yet one would believe after reading Mr. Kevil’s rant that Baptist ministers in general are preaching hate.
“We are disappointed that you chose to give him a voice.”
I felt like Kevil’s piece was pretty clearly focused on the couple of ministers who have made news by praying during services for Barack Obama’s death. And we did check out articles about the preachers in California and Arizona who made the divine supplications.

Shelby opinion casts cloud on Sunshine law

The Shelby County law department has told county commissioners that it’s OK for them to privately lobby their colleagues for appointment as interim mayor.
Even if the practice is technically legal, it’s a clear violation of the spirit of the Open Meetings Act, which calls on local public officials to deliberate and make their decisions in public.
We could see a similar scenario play out in Knoxville next year if Bill Haslam is elected governor. The City Council will have to appoint an interim replacement, and the internal jockeying could get intense.

Hutch news is good news

No news is bad news in the newspaper business. So Tim Hutchison’s entry into the county mayor race is certainly good news. It would have been a shame to have had an uncontested contest for the office at the top of the local ticket in 2010.
As I wrote in a column a couple of months ago advocating a Tim-Tim race, a showdown between Burchett and Hutchison should provide a rich debate on the direction Knox County should take.
By the way, if I’d have been on the ball, I might have noticed that the TimHutchisonformayor.com domain name was registered last May. Unfortunately for Hutch, the shorter Hutchformayor.com and Hutchisonformayor.com are unavailable. They’re held by Fairbanks, Alaska, borough Mayor Garry Hutchison.
It will be interesting to see if our own Hutch runs against the News Sentinel as well as his fellow Tim. The former sheriff was often at odds with the newspaper during his days in office. He did not return a phone call seeking comment on our first story of this new campaign. I hope that’s not an omen.