Taking a cue perhaps from the men’s and women’s U.S. gymnastics teams who have stumbled and bumbled their way to their worst finish in 28 years, The Tennessean has displayed an equal lack of grace and skill in recent weeks. At the risk of carrying this analogy too far, here are some examples of how the morning daily has failed to “stick” the landing:
♦ Last Friday, The Tennessean’s typically reliable Duren Cheek noted in a front-page story that because of a restraining order stemming from a federal lawsuit, “the only people who can be removed legally now from the state’s TennCare health insurance program are those who are dead or who ask to be taken off the rolls.” That’s a big story, as it implies that state officials can no longer root out people who are seeking public health benefits they don’t deserve. In other words, the story suggested a complete emasculation of TennCare bureaucrats.
But The Tennessean forgot one important distinction: There are two types of TennCare enrollees, a larger group who are Medicaid eligible and a smaller group who are on TennCare because they don’t have access to private health insurance. As The Chattanooga Times and Free Press made clear that same day, the federal restraining order only applies to the smaller group of uninsured and uninsurable TennCare enrollees, and not the 800,000 low-income individuals who are on Tenn-Care because they are eligible for the federal Medicaid program. The Tennessean ran a front-page correction on Saturday. But the damage was already done.
♦ Two Saturdays ago, Tennessean staff writer Diane Long reported that up to 5,000 middle school students were altogether shut out of a Predators pre-season hockey game for kids after failing to request tickets quickly enough. “The team invited all Metro students in grades 5-8, about 22,000 young fans,” she wrote. “But the Arena only holds 17,211 spectators. You do the math.”
Well, apparently, math is easier than logic. Long didn’t take into account that not each of those 5,000 students would want to see the hockey game. In actuality, only about 1,600 were left on the waiting list, according to team officials. And the Predators gave those kids free ticket vouchers for a choice of three regular season gamesa gesture that should have nullified any controversy.
Still, Long managed to find the handful of people in Nashville upset about the Predators’ free ticket offer. One of those was Kathryn Dillard, principal of Wright Middle School, who whined that when she found out that her students would not be able to attend the pre-season game, “I felt like somebody dropped Mount Everest on me.” But she probably has only herself to blame. What Long did manage to bury in her story is that the Predators sent a letter to every Middle School principal telling them that the deadline to submit their registration forms was Sept. 11. Wright’s form was dated Sept. 12.
♦ In a glowing story about TSU football coach James Reese last week, sports writer Maurice Patton wrote about how Reese grabbed the face mask of one of his errant players and gave him a “forceful shove toward the bench area.” Oddly, this little anecdote was told as if it were a positive example of good, intense coaching. Patton wrote, “And anyone worried that the soft-spoken offensive coordinator didn’t have the fiery personality necessary to succeed L.C. Cole as head coach at Tennessee State can consider that worry extinguished.”
Indeed, Reese himself seemed proud that he took action against his player, even if a national television audience witnessed the hostile exchange. “If it happened again, I’d do it again,” said a decidedly unapologetic Reese, who is in the midst of a disappointing 1-3 season.
It’s one thing for the paper to give the young coach the benefit of the doubt here; after all, Reese has no public record of churlish or frenzied behavior. But to hold his actions up for tribute is especially hypocritical considering that the daily ran numerous stories and columns critical of Bobby Knight, the former Indiana University basketball coach. Whether the paper is holding Reese to a different standard because he is black or because he’s a hometown herohe graduated from Whites Creek High Schoolis uncertain. But either way, the paper looks foolish. Actions that prompt one coach’s excommunication are, for another, celebrated. Go figure.
♦ And finally, what’s the logic of John Shiffman’s ponderous eight-part series on the April 19 execution of Robert Glen Coe? Not long ago, the morning daily focused its investigative energies by targeting a corrupt or unjust institution. A reporter would then either infiltrate the place directly or develop a few inside sources to help expose what some would rather keep quiet. Nowadays, however, when the paper decides to throw some ink at something, we get a minutely-detailed, behind-the-scenes look at a five-month-old execution featuring the belabored thoughts, actions, and feelings of obscure lawyers and bureaucrats nobody cares about any more.
Speaking of the aforementioned Shiffman, the paper’s occasional media reporter has moved to the paper’s special projects team. And the versatile Anne Paine will now be covering Metro for the paper while Tommy Goldsmith serves as acting city editor.