In a legislative career that has featured run-ins with the law and nasty confrontations with the press, state Sen. John Ford has topped himself yet again following an embarrassing WTVF-Channel 5 exposé and a press conference meltdown last week.
Last month, WTVF-Channel 5’s Phil Williams reported that the Memphis Democrat racked up over $2,000 in charges on the state’s FedEx account, though few of his packages had anything to do with official state business. Ford’s office displayed particular generosity to the senator’s ex-wife, Tamara Mitchell Ford, who once crashed her Jaguar through the French doors of her then-husband’s house and struck his girlfriend with a broken lamp. Apparently, the two eventually parted amicably because his office sent FedEx packages on her behalf to court officials in Alabama, where she faced DUI charges. She also shipped a dozen overnight packages at state expense to her relatives in South Carolina. Ford himself used the state’s FedEx account to ship packages to his family and to and from Neiman Marcus and J. Crew.
In an amusing stab at damage control, Ford held a press conference last week.
“I make no apologies for using FedEx, and I shall continue to use FedEx when and where necessary,” he told reporters. Why rush a package back to Neiman Marcus? Why not send it through regular mail? “Because I wanted to,” he said. “By the way,” he added, “who’s to say that J. Crew and Neiman Marcus was personal?”
“Was it?” several reporters asked.
“I’m not going to answer that question.”
As reporters continued to pepper Ford with questions, he’d finally had enough. “Let me tell you something,” he said, as he rose out of his chair. “The press conference has just ended because I don’t like the tone of the question. It just ended.”
Thanks to Williams’ reporting, auditors will be reviewing the state’s FedEx policy. But the Channel 5 investigative reporter probably won’t have any luck getting a follow-up interview with the cartoon character of a legislator. While reporting his exposé, Williams had a rather one-sided conversation with the Memphis Democrat. “Don’t call me today, tomorrow or everyou understand?” the senator told Williams, which the reporter happily relayed to Channel 5’s viewers. “Don’t call me back. If you do, I’m going to consider it harassment and file charges against you.” Asked how he plans to reach Ford now, Williams says, “I suppose that next time I’ll have to FedEx my questions to him.”
When it comes to spinning, Laurie Holloway may rival John Ford. Last month, after a Desperately column about The Tennessean’s plunging circulation numbers, the paper’s deputy managing editor sent a rambling, grammatically questionable memo to her staff. Some excerpts:
“Yes, our circulation has dropped.... You already knew that; it’s one of the reasons behind the remodel. I believe our renewed focus on news, enterprise, compelling and revelatory stories already has begun to turn that around.”
“...The Scene chose to ignore our latest READERSHIP numbers, done in September/October. This is a scientific measurement of who’s actually reading the paper, which is much closer to the heart of what the newsroom does. And our readership is strong. Fifty-two percent of adults in our market read The Tennessean in an average week, which is up almost two points from the March survey!”
“...Let me say again that the City Paper is a valid, legitimate contender. They’re free, which is a big difference in us and them. People are willing to ignore their inaccuracies because they’re free, even while we rail at those errors. Everyone covering a beat needs to look at them EVERY DAY, and see what they’re getting that we aren’t. That doesn’t mean we automatically write what they do, thoughyou must make good choices about what you write based not on what CP is doing, but on what our priorities are: compelling, revelatory stories.”
Holloway loves to preach the virtues of “revelatory journalism” to her staff, though not everyone is really sure what this term meansshouldn’t all journalism be revelatory? But in the spirit of that buzzword, she should be forthright about The Tennessean’s declining circulation.
WTVF-Channel 5 had another impressive November sweeps, winning nearly every newscast and gaining viewers at the expense of its two rivals, WSMV-Channel 4 and WKRN-Channel 2.
Channel 5 triumphed mightily in the morning hours and on the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. broadcasts, scoring impressive ratings gains from the year before. Channel 4 just barely claimed a ratings victory at 5 p.m., where it benefits from following The Oprah Winfrey Show. WKRN-Channel 2, which does solid, steady, but rarely spectacular work, came in dead last in nearly every newscast and plummeted 19 percent during the 6 p.m. hour. Channel 2 clearly suffered from its low-rated ABC primetime lineup, but its anchor shuffling might have hurt, at least in the short-term. Meanwhile, unless the folks at Channel 4 saved a bunch of money on their car insurance by switching to GEICO, November sweeps brought no good news. Ratings plunged in nearly all its newscasts. Apparently, exposés on wild dogs and school bathrooms don’t resonate with viewers anymore.