Desperately Seeking the News 

Smuggled news

Smuggled news

A three-part story on CIA involvement in drug smuggling, reprinted this week in The Tennessean, may collect a bucketful of journalism awards, but the morning daily apparently had no legal right to publish the series.

“It’s regrettable all around,” said Mike Duggan, managing editor of Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, which owns the rights to the story. The Nashville Banner, which published a condensed version of the series a month ago, “has exclusive use of Knight-Ridder material” in Nashville, Duggan said. “This shouldn’t have happened.”

The series, first published in the San Jose [Calif.] Mercury News, describes how right-wing Nicaraguans, backed by the CIA, financed a guerrilla war by selling tons of cocaine to Los Angeles street gangs during the 1980s. CIA Director John Deutch denies the allegations but, under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus, recently ordered a further investigation.

The Mercury News is owned by the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, which controls distribution of the paper’s stories through the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. Papers like the Banner subscribe to the news service and pay hefty fees for the right to reprint Knight-Ridder stories, said Banner managing editor Pat Embry. “We have exclusive publication rights in this market to any Knight-Ridder story. The Tennessean should have known that.”

Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland said the morning paper received permission to reprint the CIA story directly from the Mercury News, not from Knight-Ridder.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” Sutherland said. “We got authority to run the story from the newspaper that owns the story. We didn’t get the story from the news service.”

An editor at the Mercury News told the Scene it would be “unusual” for anyone at his paper to give permission to reprint a story. Paul Van Slambrouck, assistant managing editor for news, said he was not familiar with The Tennessean incident, but he agreed with Embry that the news service and its subscribers usually have exclusive rights to Knight-Ridder stories.

“If someone here did [give permission],” he said, “it’s going to make Knight-Ridder and it subscribers pretty unhappy, and we’ll have to face that.”

According to Duggan, a lower-level editor at the Mercury News who had worked on the CIA series told The Tennessean “in a slightly cavalier way” that the Nashville paper could reprint the story. “A higher-level editor would have known better,” Duggan said. He doesn’t blame The Tennessean, but he said most newsroom executives know that they should ask the news service, not a member paper, for permission to reprint a Knight-Ridder story.

“If The Tennessean had asked us, we would have told them no,” Duggan said, adding that this kind of mistake had happened only “three or four” times in his 20 years at the news service. He said he did not ask The Tennessean to stop printing the series but was still trying to reach Sutherland to discuss the issue. “We owe the Banner an apology,” Duggan said.

Dawn Garcia, the Mercury News staffer who apparently told the Tennessean they could run the story, was on vacation and could not be reached.

Radio talk

For the first time in anyone’s memory, WLAC is no longer Nashville’s most popular talk-radio station. According to the latest Arbitron “trend” ratings, which are based on a three-month rolling average, station WWTN now leads WLAC by a fraction of a share point, 3.7 percent to 3.5 percent.

For years, WLAC was Nashville’s only all-talk station. WWTN switched to a talk format about five years ago, then went bankrupt and was purchased by WSM Inc. in 1995. Bob Meyer, general manager of WWTN and WSM stations, said the new owners have “worked out some of the station’s mechanical problems” and have stopped the revolving-door parade of on-air personalities. Morning host Phil Valentine, however, recently left the station for a bigger market. Meyer said no decision will be made on Valentine’s replacement until a new program director arrives next week. WLAC program director Kelly Carls said he hadn’t seen the Arbitron numbers and couldn’t comment on them. He said the overall audience figures are of more interest to newspapers than radio advertisers. “It’s just a beauty contest,” Carls said. “Nobody sells ads based on those numbers.” Meanwhile, Nashville’s third talk-radio station, WKDA, still hasn’t recovered from a summer storm that toppled the station’s downtown tower.

Home of Nashville’s oldest, and best, morning talk show, Teddy Bart’s Round Table, WKDA is now broadcasting by using “a 200-foot wire strung between a pole and a tree,” according to Watt Hairston, a consulting engineer who has worked for the station. Hairston said the jerrybuilt system is only about 25 percent as effective as a vertical tower and that it might be “six to eight months” before WKDA finds or builds a new antenna. Until then, he said, the station is “just glad to be on the air.” Round Table cohost Karlen Evins said the station is also looking at other options for correcting the problem sooner. WKDA doesn’t register in the Arbitron ratings.

Oops

A large color photograph accompanying the Banner’s front-page obituary of Bill Monroe showed the father of bluegrass playing the mandolin—left handed. Monroe, of course, was right-handed. The negative was transposed during printing, an editor explained.

♦ Monthaven, an antebellum house near Hendersonville, was featured last Friday on the front of The Tennessean’s “Local News” section. In a photo above the story, though, the house identified as “Monthaven” is actually Rock Castle, the 18th-century home of pioneer Daniel Smith and one of the best-known historical sites in Sumner County.

To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the Scene (244-7989, ext. 445), call him at his office, 252-2363, or send an e-mail to hwalker@bccb.com.

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