The Nov. 27 issue of Sports Illustratedthe issue that quoted Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen as saying Vanderbilt University is like “a gorilla”started arriving in Middle Tennessee homes right after Thanksgiving.
The weekend passed with no local news follow-up. Early Monday night, WKRN-Channel 2 finally reported Bredesen’s comments and a brief reply from Vanderbilt Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt.
A Vanderbilt publicist admits to having thought, “Here it comes.” All weekend, the publicist awaited calls from the press. “But there was nothing.”
Sports reporters at The Tennessean knew all about the controversial article, but they didn’t seem to appreciate its significance. After 5 p.m. on Tuesday, when it was apparent that none of The Tennessean’s sports, political or education reporters had done the story, business writers David Fox and Bill Carey took over and reached Bredesen by telephone. When the mayor not only reaffirmed his comments in Sports Illustrated but further criticized Vanderbilt’s lack of community involvement, Carey and Fox had a front-page exclusive. Four days late with the biggest story of the week, the morning paper still managed to beat the Banner.
Wednesday’s story by Carey and Fox reported that Wyatt “could not be reached for comment last night.” In an editorial Friday, the paper strongly criticized Wyatt because he “did not make himself available immediately after the magazine story.”
Later that day, two Vanderbilt representatives met with Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland and other staffers to complain about the editorial and to deliver a letter from Jeff Carr, the school’s taciturn vice chancellor of university relations.
According to Carr, Tennessean reporter Carey had told him Tuesday night that it was unlikely that the paper would run the Bredesen story until Sunday and that it was not necessary to interview Wyatt, who was then in route to a dinner party, until later in the week. As his deadline grew closer, however, Carey called back to say the story would appear the next day. By then, it was too late to reach Wyatt.
In light of Carey’s conversation with Carr, the paper’s personal attack on Wyatt was clearly unfair. But Sutherland, who had worked on the editorial himself, made no apologies during the meeting with Vanderbilt officials. Instead, he delivered a tirade about the university’s history of public relations screw-ups. On Monday, the paper printed Carr’s letter, omitting only this key sentence: “The reporter said The Tennessean planned to run the article on Sunday, he thought, and, in any event, not the following day.”
Laurels and darts
On Saturday, Tennessean education writer Dorren Klausnitzer reported that only 159not 169students had been caught illegally attending Brookmeade Elementary. On Sunday, however, Klausnitzer wrote in her weekly column that the number was “at least 169.” She had obviously filed the column earlier in the week; no one bothered to correct the error.
reader recently described Klausnitzer as “young and earnest but missing the big picture.” A month ago, Klausnitzer suggested “racial motivations” might have been the primary reason for the out-of-zone transfers, a story that unfairly maligned hundreds of parents. But in her recent Sunday column, Klausnitzer wrote it was the community’s perception of Brookmeade’s reputation that influenced parents of both races to enroll their children in Brookmeade.
Few reporters would have bothered to clarify a story that’s already yesterday’s news. Laurels to Klausnitzer for taking the time to set the record straight.
♦ The Banner last week announced the hiring of Andy Sher, a veteran member of the Capitol Hill press corps. Leaving the , Sher will continue covering state government along with the Banner’s Jeff Woods and Alisa LaPolt, recently transferred from the education beat. The Banner also reported that Ed Cromer, chief political writer, has been promoted to “political editor,” supervising all government-related stories. Cromer replaces Lyle Graves, who has been named “technology projects editor,” a non-news job. A likable guy, Graves is said to be too concerned about protecting his job to handle fairly stories that criticize the publisher’s favorite politicians. Cromer, on the other hand, is a respected straight-shooter and quintessential journalist. With Sher and Cromer in new jobs, expect the Banner’s political reporting to get better. Laurels to publisher Irby Simpkins for making good choices.
Cromer, of course, can’t do it all. Last Friday, he wrote a thoughtful column on Gov. Don Sundquist’s continual problems dealing with the media. In one paragraph near the end of the story, Cromer did suggest that the governor seemed to be doing better lately.
“Governor’s getting better at media relations,” said the misleading headline. “S.O.P. for the Banner,” groused a cynical editor.
Odds and ends
On Thanksgiving afternoon, WSMV-Channel 4 aired a 30-minute program called “A Tennessee Christmas.” Cohosted by Crystal Gayle, the show opened with a tour of Opryland, moved to Crystal’s, a gift store owned by Gayle, then to Gus Mayer, a woman’s clothing store in Green Hills. The show ended with a promotional description of holiday festivities sponsored by merchants in Franklin, Tenn.
At no time did the station tell viewers that the entire half-hour was a paid advertisement. WSMV local sales manager Linda Sherman said the station sold the time to local producer Jon Norris, who in turn was paid by the businesses featured on the show. Sherman said she didn’t actually see the show before it aired.
Asked whether the show should have been labeled as a paid advertisement, Sherman said federal broadcasting rules don’t require it but a label might be a good idea “from an ethical standpoint.” “I’ll start thinking about it,” she said.
To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the (244-7989, ext. 445), or call him at 252-2363.