When state Supreme Court Justice Adolpho A. Birch tried to buy time for campaign ads on radio station WSIX-FM, he was told “they weren’t accepting any ads for local political races,” campaign attorney Kevin Sharp said Monday.
So when the popular country music station began airing hard-hitting, anti-Birch ads the week of the Aug. 6 election, Sharp started calling.
“First they told us that the anti-Birch ads were ‘issue’ ads, not ‘advocacy’ ads,” Sharp said. “Then they dropped that argument and referred me to their Washington lawyer.”
According to Sharp, the station’s attorney insisted WSIX had no legal obligation to run the pro-Birch ads and added that the anti-Birch commercials weren’t really “campaign” ads because they were paid for by “Tennessee Justice,” a political action committee.
“I asked him if the station was prepared to take the heat for this,” Sharp said, “and he backed off. The next morning, the ad manager called and said they had changed their mind and would run our ads.”
By then, it hardly mattered. Four pro-Birch ads finally ran on the morning of election day.
No one at WSIX was willing to talk on-the-record about the incident. Sources said station officials had a change of heart after listening to the anti-Birch ads and decided “it wouldn’t be fair” to refuse the pro-Birch ads.
Sharp, however, gave a different view. “It never would have occurred to them” that they weren’t playing fair, Sharp said “if I hadn’t complained.”
Station sources also acknowledged they aired the Tennessee Justice ads because the sponsor paid full price for the anti-Birch spots, “just like any other advertiser would pay.”
Campaign ads, on the other hand, qualify for the station’s cheapest, per-unit rate. That’s why WSIX initially told Sharp they weren’t taking them. They cost the station money. Fairness, as Sharp pointed out, was an afterthought.
As The Tennessean continues to publish stories about abuses in the walking horse industry, a recent confrontation between reporter Trine Tsouderos and Gov. Don Sundquist left some questioning Tsouderos’ objectivity on the issue.
Tsouderos could not be reached for comment, but witnesses said the exchange took place last week at an impromtu press conference between reporters and the governor. As the witnesses recalled, Tsouderos began by asking the governor how he could be satisfied with a compliance rate in the walking horse industry of, say, 97 percent. After all, Tsouderos was asking, isn’t 3 percent a lot of horses?
Sundquist answered that he agreed more work needed to be done, but that the industry was committed to reforms. He said laws don’t completely eliminate problems. As an example, he noted that motorists speed on James Robertson Parkway, even though there are laws against speeding.
At that point, witnesses say, Tsouderos asked the governor if he was comparing the relatively mild infraction of speeding to soring, an illegal and often painful practice that causes walking horses to lift their hooves in an exaggerated manner.
At that point, the witnesses said, Sundquist “got in her face,” claiming she was putting words in his mouth and asking leading questions. Jay Hamburg, another Tennessean staffer, then jumped in the questioning, telling Sundquist, according to witnesses, “that’s not what she meant,” and rephrasing the question.
Walking horses are big money in Shelbyville, and people there are upset at The Tennessean for rehashing what many believe is old news. An industry newsletter reported in April that Tsouderos “either has a faulty memory or is not telling the truth” about conversations pointing out errors in her stories. Walking horse officials who were present when Tsouderos questioned the governor have jumped on the incident as further evidence that the reporter is biased against them.
Tsouderos may be right about soring. Then again, she may be wrong. Unfortunately, she asked the governor what appeared to be a loaded question, and that has only made things worse. It has left her with no credibility with the industry representatives.
Columnists, sometimes, can get away with that kind of smart-ass
attitude. News reporters can’t.
Now that's cookin'
Every few minutes or so, it seems, an ad airs during the WTVF-Channel 5 evening news promoting the station’s improved Internet Web page. The Channel 5 site promises “information for your life,” including recipes from the station’s popular noontime show, Talk of the Town.
For five days, at least, the station’s Web page was linked, through “Spicy Chicken,” to www.whitehouse.com, a well-known hardcore pornography site featuring “our nation’s young teens, hot lesbians, and hardcore nymphomaniacs [who] gather here to serve you and their country.” Last week, the station finally corrected the link.
“It’s not funny to us,” Channel 5 on-line manager Melissa West Thompson said defensively. She also said she knows how the porn site got on her Web page, but she declined to elaborate. Thompson said the host computer for the site is owned and operated by another company, which she would not name.
Memos from the copy desk
To Tennessean intern (and vice presidential daughter) Sarah Gore: That unnamed “settlement” you mentioned in Sunday’s paper, the one attacked by “Native Americans” in the Battle of the Bluff,
was called Fort Nashboro. It’s now called Nashville.
To In Review’s Rebekah Gleaves: James Robertson, the pioneer father of Nashville, came here from the North Carolina frontier, not from Boston. There’s a large statue of him downtown, right next to Fort Nashboro. She and Sarah should check it out.
To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the Scene (244-7989, ext. 445), or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.