Desperately Seeking the News 


Al Gore, as everyone knows, was once a long-haired, shake-up-city-hall reporter for The Tennessean. During his days as a reporter, Gore sat not far from another shag-head scribe named Frank Sutherland, now the paper’s editor. That’s probably why Tipper Gore didn’t hesitate to call Sutherland last week after Tennessean columnist Brad Schmitt wrote some not-very-nice things about the Gore’s 16-year-old daughter, Sarah.

Schmitt repeated charges made by a Washington television station that Sarah, after being charged by police for under-age drinking, had tried the “don’t you know who I am” defense and had generally made an ass of herself. Even a columnist should have realized that such un-Gore-like behavior called for a follow-up check.

“I was surprised that he didn’t even call the Gores to see if the reports were true,” said Sallie Aman, Tipper Gore’s press secretary. “Sarah says it didn’t happen, so do the police.”

Schmitt got a call from Mrs. Gore’s press secretary, but Tipper herself spoke only to Sutherland. The next day, Schmitt wrote a correction and an apology.

Curiously, the ABC affiliate that broke the story, WJLA-Channel 7, has not retracted anything. Based on a “reliable” eyewitness, Channel 7 newsman Jim Clarke reported that Sarah had told the Montgomery County police, “You can’t do this to me. I’m the daughter of the vice president.”

“We have a source who was there,” station manager Gary Wordlaw told the . On Saturday, however, Channel 7 reported that the police had issued a statement saying there “were no incidents of indignant behavior” by any of the 12 teenagers who had been cited.

Wordlaw says the station’s first story and the police account may both be correct. “Isn’t it possible that a 16-year-old who had never been arrested might have said something like that?” Wordlaw asked. “That doesn’t mean she was rude, just scared.”

Telling all

Since her abrupt resignation nine months ago as editor of the Gannett-owned Des Moines Register, Geneva Overholser has been the poster girl of the anti-Gannett, anti-corporate journalism school of media criticism. Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, owns The Tennessean and recently purchased another dozen papers in Middle Tennessee. “I kept losing battles” with the paper’s profit-minded owners, Overholser told the . “I finally gave up trying to save the thing.” Now ombudsman at The Washington Post, she writes about ethical issues in news coverage and is a strong advocate of the tell-all approach to reporting.

According to recent news reports, however, Overholser offered “an incomplete account” of the reasons for her decision to leave the along with David Westphal, the paper’s managing editor, who resigned the same day. The paper has revealed that both journalists are now divorcing their Iowa spouses and have bought a house together in Washington.

“After former editor skewers Gannett chain, she reads all about her divorce,” The Wall Street Journal gleefully reported, describing how Overholser’s why-I-left criticisms of corporate journalism had “burned inside Gannett.” According to the Journal, Gannett executives became even angrier when they learned not long after the resignations about Overholser’s affair with Westphal.

“Why my personal life...interests you or your readers is absolutely beyond me,” Overholser told the when asked about her relationship with the managing editor. She said the paper’s questions were “insulting.” A few days later, Overholser wrote in the Post that she regrets her remarks to the and that she has not tried to hide her relationship with Westphal. “I’m feeling misrepresented and a little buffeted,” the ex-editor complained.

According to the Journal, former colleagues who once idolized Overholser for her self-sacrifice now feel betrayed by the editor’s failure to tell them all her reasons for leaving. Sources in Des Moines told the , however, that Overholser’s affair was no secret inside or outside the newsroom.

Odds and ends

Shaun Carrigan, former Banner reporter and former editor of Nashville Life, is starting a new national magazine, working title: Millennium. Based in Nashville, the bimonthly will focus on trends and concerns in the post-2000 era. Millennium’s first issue should hit newsstands in July. Carrigan’s target audience is “new leaders”—successful, progressive-minded, 30- and 40-year-olds.

♦ Think you know what’s going on? The following stories have been reported in papers around the state—but not in Nashville: Wealthy Knoxville restaurant owner and well-known Democrat Mike Chase accidentally left his infant son in a hot car in August for several hours during a business meeting. Tragically, the infant died. No charges have been filed against Chase.

The Tennessee Roadbuilders Association gave a $30,000 Ford Explorer to a high-level state employee, just retired, who spent most of his career overseeing state road-building projects.

Conditions at Arlington Developmental Center have improved significantly since Federal District Judge Jon McCalla ordered Mental Health Commissioner Marjorie Nelle Cardwell to spend one weekend a month living at the center.

To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry Walker at the (244-7989, ext. 445) or call him at 252-2363.


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