Before the new year is any older, there’s still time to rememberjust for the recordthe screw-ups and low points of the Nashville media during 1996:
WSMV-Channel 4 In November, the station led the 6 p.m. news with a long story about four women who said they had seen missing socialite Janet March “wearing a tank top, shorts, and flip-flops” wandering around a fast-food restaurant in LaVergne and trying to hitch a ride with a truck driver. The station aired the news even after a Metro detective told Channel 4 the woman could not have been March. The detective was right.
WTVF-Channel 5 Last January, Channel 5 reporter Dana Kaye breathlessly announced that she had discovered a local convict who knew the secret of Marcia Trimble’s murder. He didn’t. In July, the station reported that a small green alien was running loose in Robertson County. He wasn’t. But Channel 5’s worst mistake occurred last month when the station’s Internet site briefly advertised “Kwanzaa greetings from Texaco,” much to the embarrassment of station manager Lem Lewis, a well-known African-American businessman.
WKRN-Channel 2 In one story that didn’t make it on the air, Channel 2 reporter Mike Turko kicked in the door of a passing car and then accused a local Baptist minister of extortion when the minister, acting on behalf of the 17-year-old driver of the car, asked Turko to pay for the damage. After a story about the incident appeared in the Scene, Turko changed his mind and forked over a $460 checkbut only after insisting that the victim and her family sign a statement agreeing not to talk to the media.
Nashville Banner When Peaches Simpkins, deputy to the governor and wife of Banner publisher Irby Simpkins, resigned under fire in December, the Banner published a frothy editorial praising the publisher’s wife for her “masterful job” in office but didn’t mention the ethical problems that drove her back into private life. It was a fitting end to two years of professional humiliation for the paper’s editorial staff, whose commentaries on state government had become a standing joke on Capitol Hill.
The Tennessean In one memorable year, the morning daily inflated its circulation figures in Franklin and Brentwood; angered many parents at Percy Priest School by asking for personal data about elementary school students; riled probably thousands by demanding that Nashville Electric Service turn over the names, addresses, and unlisted telephone numbers of all NES customers; published a front-page story and photos of African art objects that turned out to be unimportant reproductions; and managed to endorse conservatives Ed Bryant and Fred Thompson and liberals Bill Clinton, Bob Clement, and Bart Gordon, all in the same election.
Nashville Scene Editor Bruce Dobie has always enjoyed tweaking the noses of Nashville’s “biz pigs,” but when Dobie and Scene publisher Albie Del Favero bought the paper last summer for a bargain price of $2.5 million, the normally talkative editor refused to confirm the sale price or disclose the paper’s earnings. Dobie would not even tell his own staff whether he or Del Favero owns a controlling interest in the paper or whether one can fire the other. “I guess you could say,” he explained with a capitalist smile, “that, as Albie and I grow to become biz pigs, we choose to act like biz pigs.”
Odds and ends
According to Banner publisher Irby Simpkins, there is no truth to rumors circulating at both daily papers that the Banner will soon be sold and closed. “I’m shocked,” said Simpkins. “I don’t know anything about it.”
Fueled by reports of the Banner’s steadily declining circulation and speculation about Simpkins’ personal financial situation, rumors about the afternoon paper’s demise crop up about once a year. Eventually, of course, Nashville will have only one daily paper. The Gannett Company, the nation’s largest newspaper chain and owner of The Tennessean, will buy the Banner and shut it down. But not, according to Simpkins, quite yet.
♦ Christmas is supposed to be a time of miracles. Perhaps that explains the abrupt recovery of convicted murderer James Earl Ray, who lay “dying” on Christmas Eve, according to The Tennessean, but two days later was awake and “joking about alcohol and women,” according to the Banner.
The rumor of Ray’s imminent death originated from someone identified only as “a source” by Tennessean columnist Dwight Lewis. The national press soon picked up the story, and other Tennessean staffers began interviewing civil rights activists around the country. “The truth will not die with James Earl Ray,” wrote reporters Tim Chavez and Jon Yates. “Brother wants to drop Ray’s ashes over FBI,” said a headline in the Banner.
The day after Christmas, Ray suddenly got better and readers also learned, for the first time, that Ray’s lawyer, who had been among those most pessimistic about Ray’s condition, had earlier sued the state for not giving Ray better health care.
Perhaps next time the papers will wait until Ray, long known as a publicity-seeking con artist, is really dead.
♦ Newly elected Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. is a “26-year-old Republican” and the youngest member of Congress, according to a front-page story in Monday’s Tennessean.
Forget about Ford’s age. The real news is that there is someone working on the Tennessean copy desk who thinks that Harold Jr.a member of Tennessee’s best-known African-American political family and heir to the throne of the state’s most powerful Democratic political machineis a Republican.
Newsroom staffers, after all, are supposed to know a little more about current events than the rest of us. But Channel 2 did The Tennessean one better when the station broadcast film of Gov. Don Sundquist speaking at a press conference Friday and labeled Sundquist as “Ned McWherter.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.