Give 1100 Broadway some credit. While the morning daily has been justifiably battered for their softball coverage of Al Gore, Tennessean troops are at least cognizant of that reputation and are trying to do better. While Memphis’ Commercial Appeal failed to send a single reporter to cover the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, our daily sent three scribes along with two photographers.
That’s not to say the paper’s coverage was particularly award-winning. In fact, too often The Tennessean alternately rehashed well-worn conventional wisdom or predictable political rhetoric. Take, for example, a Friday front-page story by Capitol Hill reporter Bonna M. de la Cruz and Metro reporter Tommy Goldsmith about the delegation’s reaction to Gore’s acceptance speech. No surprise. The Tennessean reported how various members of the delegation loved the speech and gave it “glowing marks.” Actually, it would have been front-page news if they reacted otherwise. As it was, the paper’s reporters should have quoted at least one delegate who wasn’t angling for a prospective job in a Gore administration.
Still, it’s worth repeating that The Tennessean’s mere presence at a political convention is laudable, especially considering that political coverage has not metered high on the paper’s priority list since Frank Sutherland became editor. And if you’re looking for a sign that the paper’s emerging awareness of the presidential race will endure, this past Saturday the paper dispatched reporter Anne Paine to Bartlett, Tenn., in Shelby County, to cover a George Bush appearance in Gore’s home state. Considering that the paper has been burying any kind of positive news associated with Bush’s campaign during the past yearfrom his announcement to poll numbersthe paper’s sudden attention to Gore’s rival is both surprising and welcome.
Over the years In Review op-ed columnist Bruce Barry has skillfully skewered an array of fat cats ranging from former Mayor Phil Bredesen to Microsoft’s Bill Gates. But when Barry wanted to criticize his own paper for its notorious inability to pay its writers on time, his editors simply wouldn’t let him.
Announcing that he would no longer be a regular contributor to the paper, Barry, who pays the bills by working as a Vandy professor, wrote a column item in which he wondered about the future of the long languishing weekly: “No matter how mightily In Review’s talented editors struggle, a publication model that relies on writers willing to contribute without remuneration inevitably stalls the paper into editorial and journalistic mediocrity.”
Perhaps feeling pressure from publisher Boyer Barner, those same talented editors, Bill Ditenhafer and Will Williams, decided to delete the offending sentence and all others Barry wrote that were critical of the paper. This in spite of the fact that the weekly’s financial struggles are well-chronicled and a worthy subject of criticism given that some of their contributors have had to sue the paper just to get a check. To make matters worse, the struggling paper did publish the rest of the column item, including Barry’s parting sentence expressing gratitude to Barner for allowing him “to spew opinions.”
Not surprisingly, Barry was not pleased when he read his emasculated copy. “You guys are editors and you get to edit, but I am an opinion columnist, and your editorial prerogative does not give you the prerogative to change my opinion,” he correctly noted in an e-mail to the paper. “If you didn’t like that graph you should have consulted with me, not used your editorial pen to transform a critique into a mushy thanks and good-bye.... You know where to reach me to send the thousand bucks you owe me.”
Asked in an e-mail about why In Review only ran the “mushy” part of Barry’s column item, Barner replied, “I trust the editing skills of Bill Ditenhafer and William Williams.” Barner had no comment about the $1,000.
Kudos to Tennessean religion editor Ray Waddle for his fascinating story on Sir John Templeton, whose new library is a part of the financier’s unusual quest to encourage scientific research into the power of prayer and the nature of God. Also worthy of praise is photographer Bill Steber, whose stark photograph of the library rising among the trees of Monteagle Mountain may one day hang inside that library. One complaint: Waddle should have included Templeton’s thoughts on the theory of evolution and how that important branch of science intersects with his own view of God....
When the FBI was investigating allegations of abuse against Hispanics by a local security companyafter the Scene’s Willy Stern wrote an investigative series detailing the allegationsa man named Jeff Damron came forward and accused the reporter of taking a bribe of “several thousand dollars in cash.” This revelation came from the investigative files of officer Mark Garafola, who was recently suspended for 14 days more than eight months after Stern first reported Garafola’s violations of Police Department rules of secondary employment.
Stern says he has no idea who Damron is (he’s not listed in the phone book) and never took any kind of payment from people involved in the story. “I never was offered a bribe or accepted a bribe,” Stern says. His reaction upon reading the allegation: “I laughed. This is so preposterous.”