Monthly Archives: February 2012

Here’s what happens to a censored teenager

In my Sunday column, I wondered what became of teens who found themselves embroiled in censorship disputes at their high schools, such as the one involving Krystal Myers of Lenoir City. Elizabeth Sauchelli, a senior journalism major at State University of New York in Oswego, read the piece online and answered the question:
“I went to a high school in New Jersey where I served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper my senior year. During my junior year of high school, an issue of the newspaper was pulled because the administration did not agree with a column one of our writer’s wrote that disagreed with the technology department’s censorship of certain webpages. After that, all of the articles we published had to be pre-approved by the principal. When I became editor-in-chief my senior year, the principal rejected half of our articles for our first issue and refused to let us publish them. (The articles were mainly written about ‘Weird NJ’ sites in our county. The administration was worried that they encouraged trespassing, satanic worship and other delinquent behavior.)
“I don’t know what Krystal Myer’s first reaction was to her censorship, but I remember mine quite well. I was 17 and torn apart by it. The newspaper staff was angry and upset. Our teacher, not tenured at the time, could not really do anything to help us. I had never really questioned ‘authority’ until then: I always thought that people, particularly in my school, always did what was right. I loved my high school newspaper more than anything and I was angry that an outside source had threatened it.
Studentpress.gif“I went to speak to the vice principal to get the decision reversed and when he refused, I left his office in tears. At the time, I had a lot of trouble conceiving how someone could make a decision that, in my mind, was so black and white. They were wrong, they knew they were wrong and yet they were still making a wrong decision. After that, I got in touch with a lawyer at the Student Press Law Center and they gave me information to help me fight the school’s decision. The next time I went to meet with the administration, I didn’t cry, but presented my arguments clearly and told them what I was prepared to do if they did not reverse their decision. I won the fight. (We were still required to meet with the administration to discuss our content, but they did not chance pulling articles again.)
“You are right in your column when you call being censored ‘among the most formative experiences of their high school careers.’ It was easily the most formative in mine. I surprised myself when I fought the censorship. I had never really stood up for anything I believed in before and often let big decisions be made for me (including, at the time, the pressure my family was putting on me to pursue political science/law in college instead of journalism). More than anything though, it taught me that I was capable of fighting for something I believed in, no matter what the costs. I honestly believe that I would not be as passionate about journalism as I am today if I did not have to meet that challenge so early on. (There were, unfortunately, some of my fellow staff members that believed there was too much working against them to be journalists and gave it up completely.)
“I wish I could tell Krystal Myers that, yes, this fight has the potential to change your life. It certainly changed mine. But don’t let it discourage you, let it anger you enough to do something about it. Since leaving high school I have faced other challenges at my college newspaper and in my internships. But then I’ll occasionally remind myself of what I accomplished as a scared 17-year-old in high school and I’m able to work my way through them. I hope Krystal Myers takes what happened to her and uses it as an incentive to go for what she believes in.”

High school censorship story was deja vu

Reddit linked to our story about Krystal Myers, the editor of the Lenoir City High School newspaper whose editorial about atheism was blocked from publication. So page views were extremely heavy. The story may turn out to be our best-read of the month.
krystal860853_t607.jpgA strange coincidence has revealed itself, too. There was a similar case at Oak Ridge High School a few years ago. Copies of the Oak Leaf were suppressed by the school because stories about birth control and tattoos were considered inappropriate for the high school readership. This comment appeared among those reacting to the Lenoir City case:
“Ok. So in 2006 I was in school at ORHS. I was also on the newspaper staff. I also had the school officials decide that my story wasn’t going to be published. My name at the time was Krystal Meyers and my story was on Birth Control.”
So how weird is that? The Knoxville area has had two instances of high school newspaper censorship, and girls named Krystal Myers, or Meyers, were involved in both.
ABC News did a piece about the Oak Ridge case, which the News Sentinel also wrote about at the time.

Legislature weighing new secrecy bills

The legislature is dealing with a couple of unfortunate plans to close more government records to the public. Bills up for consideration this year would:
vanmorgan55631001_t160.jpg * Make confidential all state employee performance evaluations. Say goodbye to stories such as Matt Lakin’s revelations about State Trooper Charles Van Morgan if this one passes.
* Make confidential the “organizational structure and ownership” of businesses seeking tax and cash incentives from the state. We’ve editorialized on this one, and some lawmakers now are balking at the idea.
Both of these bills are part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s agenda, the first in his civil service package and the second in his economic development plan.
Another bill would keep secret the emergency contact information provided by public employees. It’s hard to argue with that. State personnel files should be open — including performance evaluations — but it’s reasonable for employees to expect privacy in naming their emergency contacts, which could include elderly parents.

Baumgartner questions deserve to be answered

biggs125926001_t160.jpgI was annoyed by the Sheriff’s Office’s response to Jamie Satterfield’s inquiries about how it investigated reports of Judge Richard Baumgartner’s addiction and criminality. “We don’t believe there’s any merit to your questions,” said Chief Deputy Eddie Biggs on behalf of the department.
That’s awfully condescending. I don’t think a government agency should be passing judgment on the merit of citizens’ questions about its performance — especially in a case such as this.
Baumgartner’s problems were noticed or reported to judges, prosecutors, attorneys, clerks, administrators, nurses, doctors and deputies. But nothing was done to stop him until the ex-wife of a drug dealer thrust pictures into the hands of a police officer. Now citizens face the prospect of dozens of retrials costing millions of dollars and putting hundreds of victims and their families through fresh, agonizing ordeals.
If that doesn’t merit questions, I don’t know what does, and here are a few that remain unanswered:
To the Sheriff’s Office: What discussions were had and what actions were taken after security officer Meredith Driskell reported that Baumgartner was shaking her down for pills? Or after citizen Erin McClain reported seeing the judge rendezvousing with jailbird Deena Castleman? Or after Castleman was busted and had deputies call Baumgartner to help her out?
To Jennifer Judy, Baumgartner’s assistant: Did you confide in anyone about having to cover for the judge or handle errands tied to his addiction?
To Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz: You helped get Baumgartner into alcohol treatment. Later, were new addiction concerns brought to your attention and did you talk to anyone about them?
To Judge Andrew Jackson IV: Did you speak with anyone after Baumgartner asked you to “look at” Castleman’s case and you heard she was someone he was “sweet on”?
To the Court of the Judiciary: Was anything about the judge reported, and if so, how was it pursued?
To Drug Court Director Ron Hanaver: Baumgartner pressured you for a cellphone and you confronted him with rumors about his affair with Castleman. Did you take your concerns to anyone else?
To the professionals at St. Mary’s Medical Center, where nurses had to search Castleman’s room anytime the judge visited: Were these concerns ever relayed to legal authorities besides the cop who arrived after one stash of pills was found? And to that officer: Did you get wind of Baumgartner’s involvement, and did you pass that along?
To attorney Russell Greene, who kept the incriminating photo in his safe for months, and to the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility, which absolved him of responsibility: Was nothing else done and no one else warned?
To District Attorney General Randy Nichols, whose assistants saw Baumgarter driving erratically, slumped in his car, zoned out on the bench and seeking favors for Castleman: What discussions were had and what conclusions were reached within your office?
Only by getting answers to such questions can public faith in Knox County’s judicial system be rebuilt on the ruins of the Baumgartner debacle.

Satterfield grabs the limelight

Jamie Satterfield took some ribbing during the afternoon news meeting Friday as we reviewed proofs and discussed the upcoming Sunday edition. The centerpiece of the paper was going to be her story about how warnings were ignored as Judge Richard Baumgartner descended into addiction and criminality. In the Jamiedancing3001_t607.jpgPerspective section, her name was in the headline of my column, which looked at the warning signs she, herself, saw, and how she reacted. Then, in the Life section, she was the author of a first-person piece about participating in the Dancing with the Knoxville Stars fundraiser for Children’s Hospital, complete with a picture (and video online).
A media star, indeed. Today her multimedia presence continued with an online chat about her Baumgartner investigation.
The chat reflected a very positive reaction to her investigation, as did the bulk of the comments posted on the story. Wrote one commenter: “Great article, and not the first such from Jamie Satterfield. Well done.”
I heartily agree, and it won’t be the last, either. Now, as to the dancing … well, better her than me.

Black Wednesday anniversary slipped by

Monday was the fifth anniversary of Black Wednesday, the day the Knox County Commission flagrantly ignored the Sunshine Law in appointing 12 replacements to county offices vacated by term limits. My how time flies.
suitside_t607.jpgThe violations prompted the News Sentinel to sue, and several months later the appointments were reversed. County government has never quite been the same.
I’d completely overlooked the anniversary until I heard that Rebecca Ferrar, our retired county-beat reporter, was on the radio talking about the event. Rebecca and former Commissioner Mark Harmon were guests on Matt Shafer Powell’s “Dialogue” program on WUOT, the public radio station on the University of Tennessee campus.
A podcast of the show is on the station’s website.

THP withholds trooper’s termination letter

Gov. Bill Haslam promised openness in his adminstration shortly after he took office, but recently we learned of a secrecy edict within the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said a new policy handed down by Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons makes letters of termination secret — even though they’ve routinely been treated as public records for years.
trooperages.jpgThe case involves trooper Charles Van Morgan, who is accused of ignoring the accident that ended a high-speed chase on Andersonville Pike Nov. 26. Gordon Kyle Anito died after his car hit a tree and caught fire. His parents have filed suit. A video from the cruiser seems to show that Morgan slowed down as he passed the wrecked car, then drove on, returning only later, after the wreck was ablaze.
Morgan is on paid leave while the termination is pending, though THP won’t say why.