Veteran reporter and longtime TV personality Larry Brinton abruptly quit WSMV-Channel 4 last week with a year to go on his contract, after nearly 200 years in journalism. Actually, that’s a slight exaggeration, but Brinton did toil as a gumshoe for more than a half-century, a career split almost evenly between the late Nashville Banner and in television at both WTVF-Channel 5 and Channel 4. We’d pen a lengthy review of Brinton’s time in journalism, except that we fully expect the sour-faced newsman to return to our lives once again, whether it’s on the air, in print or on a blog.
“I’ll probably do a little fishing and some more volunteer work, “ he says. “I may do something, but I have no plans to go back into television.”
Brinton says that now, but the last time he tried to get out, they kept pulling him back in. More than five years ago, Brinton retired from Channel 5 thinking that his memory was fading and he’d rather fish and travel. But abandoning his career left him feeling deeply depressed and missing the buzz that goes with being a single-minded newsman on the perpetual hunt for a scoop. Then Channel 4 anchor Demetria Kalodimos, herself a sucker for a hard-edged news story, convinced her bosses to bring him back. For the last five years, Brinton has been regaling viewers with on-air commentary and reporting that, if not always even-handed, cogent or reasonable, managed to enthrall viewers with its bite.
Not long after he returned to the air, Brinton broke the story of how Gene Hughes, then the director of employee relations for the local school system, inflated his educational credentials by falsely claiming he was a lawyer, a Navy SEAL and a former Pittsburgh Steeler. When both The Tennessean and then-schools director Pedro Garcia ignored Brinton’s reporting, the newsman continued to pound away at the district and Hughes as if he were Eliot Ness hunting down Al Capone. Even when Hughes belatedly resigned, Brinton wouldn’t let the matter drop, taunting Hughes and Garcia as they lay badly beaten on the floor.
“You have gotten rid of Gene Hughes,” he said on the air as if he were directly looking Garcia in the eye. “But you haven’t gotten rid of me.”
Out of Africa
If you scoured the local press accounts of the Christmas Eve burglary of the Davidson County Election Commission, you might have concluded that Mayor Karl Dean took a hands-on role in cleaning up the mess. The City Paper informed us in a cover headline, “Dean Demands a Security Audit.” WKRN-Channel 2 similarly said that the mayor is calling for a “citywide security audit.” Meanwhile, The Tennessean reported, “Councilman Michael Craddock...and Mayor Karl Dean are posing their own questions about the break-in.”
Of course, there was no mention of how Dean was demanding audits and posing questions from the war-torn nation of Kenya, where the mayor and his family took a long-planned vacation. Initially, Desperately heard a tip that Dean was somewhere in Africa, but press secretary Janel Lacy would say only that he was out of town. Then when repeatedly pressed, Lacy belatedly conceded a few days later he was in Kenya, where he had to switch hotels to be safe from the turmoil.
“During his trip, he has been in contact with the deputy mayor, Greg Hinote, and Sue Cain, the law director, basically every day through email,” she assured us.
Well, a later review of Dean’s correspondence shows that he sent an email to his aides within days of the commission break-in. It reads, “testing. Just landed in Kenya.” After that, Dean didn’t send a single note to his staff on the matter. In fairness, it’s probably difficult to secure Internet access as a civil war suddenly rages in front of you, and Dean’s staff was briefing him on how they were handling the burgeoning crisis.
Still, when pressed about the discrepancy between her original statements to us and, well, the facts, Lacy now explains that Dean kept in touch with his staff with a satellite phone he borrowed from his tour guide. Imagine Dean dodging sniper fire and peering at black-maned lions from his safari while managing a dicey controversy thousands of miles away in Nashville? Or picture the local press woefully missing the real story. Which prospect sounds more reasonable?
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