Ned Horton, the creative force behind radio station Lightning 100 (WRLT-FM) and manager of the station since 1990, was asked to resign last week by station owner Lester Turner Jr.
Neither Horton nor Turner, who are longtime friends, would publicly discuss Horton’s departure, but station sources say that Turner has offered to buy out Horton’s 15 percent ownership interest in Tuned In Broadcasting, which owns WRLT along with Thunder 94 (WRLG-FM), WYYB-FM and Bone magazine. The two men are also discussing hiring Horton as a consultant to the stations.
Station insiders emphasized that Horton’s departure is solely related to managerial issues and, despite implications in the press, involves no allegations of financial impropriety. Turner and Horton both said that the station expects to issue a press release this week describing the shake-ups. In the meantime, Nashville businessman David Tune will manage the stations.
Horton, 35, moved to Nashville in 1987 and soon transformed “Lite 100” to “Rebel 100,” an alternative rock station. Horton and Turner, whose family owns the Kenworth trucking business, purchased the station through a bankruptcy sale in 1993. Horton and Turner paid approximately $500,000 for the station, which, sources say, is now worth at least four times that amount.
Banner sports editor Joe Biddle didn’t have to pay a $4,500 registration fee to play in the pro-am division of last week’s BellSouth Senior Classic. “Someone else had paid and couldn’t play,” Biddle said. But that didn’t stop the veteran Banner editor from accepting hundreds of dollars in free gifts from tournament sponsors, including Johnston & Murphy shoes and Hartmann luggage. All tournament players received the giftsvalued at about $1,000when they registered. Biddle played in the tournament and also covered it for the Banner.
Biddle said Sunday night that the gifts did not affect his coverage and that he “hadn’t really thought about” any conflict-of-interest problems. Tennessean managing editor Ted Power also played in Biddle’s foursome but would not say whether he accepted the gifts. Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland won’t allow newsroom staffers to be interviewed by other journalists without the editor’s permission. Sutherland said later that both he and Tennessean publisher Craig Moon also played in the tournament and had accepted the gifts. “The Tennessean was a sponsor of the tournament,” Sutherland said. “We essentially paid for the gifts as part of the package.”
The Banner, however, was not a sponsor. After the Scene raised the issue, Biddle said he talked to Banner managing editor Pat Embry, who advised Biddle either to return the gifts or donate them to charity.
When Biddle started in journalism, most reporters didn’t think twice about accepting free meals, tickets to events, and even trips from friendly publicists. Today, most papers prohibit reporters from taking freebies, and some of Biddle’s own staff were grumbling about their editor’s poor judgment. But compared to the clout of the paper’s big advertisers and the daily influence of the publisher’s relatives and political friendsnot just at the Banner but at any newspaperdoes it really matter whether Joe Biddle has new golf shoes and a suitcase?
When two former aides of Sixth District Congressman Bart Gordon publicly accused their former boss of misusing taxpayer money, the story made front-page news on Capitol Hill and earned a 12-inch story in last week’s Banner. Nevertheless, the story has yet to appear in The Tennessean, which has consistently endorsed the six-term congressman.
Jamie Clary, a former assistant press secretary in Gordon’s office, said he once spent an afternoon at taxpayer expense watching painters work on Gordon’s house.
Another staffer said he was told by Gordon’s chief of staff that “what the taxpayers don’t know won’t hurt them,” according to last Thursday’s Banner. The paper also reported charges from Republican challenger Steve Gill that two members of Gordon’s staff had traveled to Tennessee at government expense to work in Gordon’s 1994 campaign. Gordon’s office said the staffers, who arrived in Tennessee in late October and returned to Washington just after the election, were here on official business, not to work in Gordon’s campaign.
Penny Bender, The Tennessean’s Washington correspondent, isn’t ignoring Gordon. She managed to write 1,500 words about him on Sunday without ever mentioning the charges made by Gordon’s former aides. She focused instead on allegations made in March that Gordon had misused congressional mail to solicit voters and campaign contributions. Bender reported at the time that Gordon denied the allegations and said he “will expect an apology when their [complaint] gets thrown out.” Bender wrote Sunday that a House committee recently “sided with Gordon and threw out the charges.”
Bender’s pro-Gordon spin is hard to top, but The Lebanon Democrat managed to go one better last Tuesday, publishing a detailed account of a public meeting between Gordon and Wilson County residents that never took place.
According to the paper, Gordon spoke on May 17 at the Wilson County Courthouse, where he was quoted on a variety of issues ranging from college tuition to V-chips to Internet pornography. In fact, Gordon never appeared at the meeting. Kept away by a family emergency, he sent staffer Kent Syler as a substitute.
“It’s one of those nightmares you dream about,” said Lounita Howard, news editor of the Democrat. “We received a press release from Gordon’s office shortly after the meeting.... You don’t expect to get a press release about an event that didn’t take place.”
Corrine Russell, Gordon’s press secretary, takes the blame for the error. Russell says the mistake was “100 percent my fault,” but Howard concedes, “We bear some responsibility for this too. We should have checked it out.”
Editor’s note: Henry Walker practices law at Boult, Cummings, Conners & Berry, where Sixth District Republican congressional candidate Steve Gill also practices law.