Desperately Seeking the News 

Opening night

Opening night

WZTV-Fox 17 introduced “Nashville’s only prime- time newscast” at 9 p.m. Monday, featuring a segment on “the day’s wackiest story,” a weatherman who said the nation’s high-pressure areas looked like a “giant, atmospheric Oreo cookie,” and seven or so minutes of local news stories. Each local story had already been broadcast, in a slightly different form, on WKRN-Channel 2’s 6 p.m. news.

The only bright spot on Channel 17’s new program is co-anchor Laura Faber. She’s pleasant, competent, and, as of Monday, holds the title as the best-looking woman on local television.

Channel 2 produces the news for both stations, and some WKRN staffers fear that the 9 p.m. broadcast on Fox 17 might snatch viewers from Channel 2’s news at 10. Based on Monday’s show, they have nothing to worry about.

The joint venture between channels 2 and 17 can produce two news shows, but it can’t make them equal. Faber’s reign may be short lived.

Ups and downs

Capitol Hill reporter Andy Sher resigned from the Banner last Thursday after only 18 months at the paper. Sher is returning to The Chattanooga Times, where he worked from 1980 until 1995.

During his last eight years at the Times, Sher worked in Nashville, covering state government and earning a reputation as one of the best among the Capitol Hill press corps. His new job takes him back to Chattanooga.

Sher said he’s leaving because of the opportunity to do special projects and investigative reporting at the Times and not because of any problems at the Banner. During Sher’s year and a half, however, Banner publisher Irby Simpkins was charged with having interfered in the paper’s coverage of the Sundquist administration, where the publisher’s wife, Peaches Simpkins, worked as deputy to the governor. When Peaches Simpkins resigned last December, even Sundquist joked publicly about the paper’s bias. More recently, Irby Simpkins fired political editor Ed Cromer, Sher’s friend and boss, reportedly because Cromer had not shown sufficient loyalty to the publisher.

In December 1995, “Desperately Seeking” congratulated Simpkins for hiring Sher and naming Cromer as political editor. “Expect the Banner’s political coverage to get better,” this column predicted. It did.

If you expect that it will get worse now, you’re right.

Off the air

Radio talk show host John Zeigler was fired last week from station WWTN-FM for repeatedly saying “nigger” during an on-air discussion of racial attitudes. Now he’s accused the station’s owner, Gaylord Entertainment, of censoring discussions of sex, religion, and race during Zeigler’s late-night broadcasts.

“They made it clear when I started that the station’s owners didn’t want a show about sex,” Zeigler said. Next, he complained, they pressured him to stop discussing the fact that he is an agnostic. After last week’s incident, Zeigler said the program manager first warned him not to say the word “nigger” on the air again. Then two days later and without further discussion, Zeigler said, the program manager fired him.

“The station’s managers don’t have a problem with those topics,” Zeigler claims, “but they’re afraid the people at Gaylord will shut down the whole station if they hear some of the things that are said on the air. WWTN is basically a station that’s hoping its owners aren’t listening.”

Officials at WWTN and Gaylord did not return calls concerning Zeigler’s charges.

Zeigler, 30, promoted himself on the air as “an angry young man.” Like many other talk show hosts, he has a reputation for pushing the envelope. He says he used the “n” word to “diffuse its power over us” and to illustrate the different ways that whites perceive blacks. But Zeigler now concedes he could have made his point without repeatedly saying “nigger” on the air.

Zeigler was right about one thing. The word “nigger” raises special problems in the media. Both WSMV-Channel 4 and WKRN-Channel 2 reported the story of Zeigler’s firing, but newscasters said only that Zeigler had used “a racist epithet.” Channel 4 did play a tape of Zeigler saying “nigger” on the air. Channel 2’s Christi Lowe said that news director Matthew Zelkind was off that day, so the staff decided to play it safe and not air the “n” word at all.

Odds and ends

Tennessean columnist Jerry Thompson wrote on June 29 that he had “accidentally stumbled on a cure for baldness—dog spit.”

“Have you ever seen a bald dog?” Thompson asked. Maybe not, but we do remember that syndicated humorist Dave Barry wrote a column two months ago called, “Ever seen a bald dog?” Barry’s hypothesis: “Dog spit grows hair.”

♦ When The New York Times’ “frugal traveler” came to Nashville recently (see the “Travel Section” in last Sunday’s Times), he stayed at Shoney’s Inn and ate at the Pancake Pantry, Rotier’s, Prince’s Hot Chicken, Loveless Cafe, and Red, Hot, and Blue—all in a day-and-a-half. Expect a follow-up on low-cost colonics.

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

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