Desperately Seeking the News 



If there’s one cow-pie in the field, The Tennessean’s Jeff Pearlman will manage to step in it.

About a year ago, the novice reporter wrote “Not-So-Chosen Athletes,” a bizarre piece lamenting the shortage of Jewish sports figures and criticizing Jewish parents for pushing their children to become doctors and lawyers. Two months later, Pearlman infuriated the managers at Starwood, a big advertiser, by writing an uncomplimentary and error-filled description of the amphitheater’s 1995 lineup. The paper apologized profusely and temporarily assigned Pearlman to the police beat.

“People are stupid,” Pearlman wrote last fall. “They are stupid enough to rally around a leader, be it Hitler, Stalin, Bill Clinton or the Pope”—a memorably stupid line that turned mild-mannered readers into fire-breathing letter writers.

A sportswriter (for now), the paper’s enfant terrible found the cow-pie again last week, charging that “private, Christian-run schools are a bad idea” because Christians commit “insensitive” acts at games like praying to Jesus and heckling opponents and referees. As an example, Pearlman described the mother of an Ezell-Harding student who kept shouting at opposing players, “Hey, you A-Head!!! That’s right, you’re an A-Head!!!”

Pearlman admitted he had no idea “what exactly an ‘a-head’ is” but implied it must be some obscure, sectarian curse.

On Sunday, Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland apologized for Pearlman’s “prejudice against Christians” and said the reporter’s column “should have been edited” to make its point “without being so offensive.”

Sutherland failed to explain, however, the meaning of “a-head.” Witnesses report that a woman of loud voice and thick drawl was berating the opposing team for running up the score against hapless Ezell-Harding. “Hey, you’re ahead,” she yelled repeatedly. “That’s right, you’re ahead!”


Last week, a Nashville judge ruled that The Tennessean will have to pay more than $90,000 to Nashville Electric Service in order to learn the names, addresses and telephone numbers, listed and unlisted, of all 292,000 NES customers. Refusing to pay, The Tennessean had argued it needed the information for unspecified “news purposes.” NES concedes the records are public documents but insists on warning each customer before giving the data to the paper and seeks reimbursement for the cost of notification.

Managing editor Dave Green told WLAC radio that The Tennessean wanted the data because the paper “has a special obligation to report the news.” But The Tennessean said nothing about the suit until last Thursday, the day after the story appeared in the Scene. “That was a mistake,” Green acknowledged. “We should have printed something sooner.” Green confessed that the suit had “turned into more of a controversy than we anticipated.”

During and after Green’s interview, telephone lines on WLAC stayed lit as one caller after another blasted the paper’s attempt to obtain the NES records. Many threatened to cancel their subscriptions. People love to gripe about the media. What’s surprising is the intensity of public anger and mistrust that poured from radio callers concerning The Tennessean’s position. The paper should either let the matter drop or better explain to readers its “special obligation” to copy thousands of addresses and telephone numbers.

Odds and ends

A laurel to Tennessean reporter Mark Ippolito for setting Mayor Bredesen, his flack team, and everyone else straight on the fact that Nashville must sell not $71 million, as the mayor has been saying, but $77 million in permanent seat licenses. It seems the mayor forgot to include the sales tax.

A dart to Banner writer Trebor Branstetter for writing that the mayor and Oilers officials “have not breathed a word about the additional millions in interest” the city will pay over the life of the bonds used to finance the stadium. Branstetter said the total cost of the stadium over 30 years will be $500 million, “70 percent higher than the amount bandied about” by Bredesen and the Oilers.

Sales tax has to be paid up front and is appropriately considered part of the purchase price. But to make a five-column, Page 1 headline out of the fact that taxpayers will have to pay interest on the stadium bonds, while implying that Bredesen had hidden this “news” from the public, is irresponsible. Branstetter and his editors know better.

♦ While The Tennessean was filing suit to look at NES records, the Banner went to court to find out who’s buying luxury suites in the Oilers’ stadium. The day after the suit was filed, however, The Tennessean published the list of suite buyers, stealing the Banner’s story and, sources say, infuriating publisher Irby Simpkins.

This week, Banner media critic Richard Pride wrote that The Tennessean “didn’t even have to work for the list” and that the morning paper “neither pressed for the names of suite-holders itself nor supported the Banner’s efforts.”

Pride is wrong on both points. “I was quoted in the Banner as saying we supported their suit,” Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland said, “and we were prepared to file our own suit when we received the information from a confidential source.” What really angers Sutherland is Pride’s accusation that the suite list was dumped in The Tennessean’s lap.

“I personally know that editors at the Banner were well aware that we had been trying for some time to get the list,” Sutherland said. Nevertheless, the editors made no corrections to Pride’s column.

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


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