War Games 

Local reporting on Afghanistan is one-sided, but important nevertheless

Local reporting on Afghanistan is one-sided, but important nevertheless

Covering the war in Afghanistan may be an exciting assignment, but it’s not exactly an easy one. “It’s cold and brutal here,” WSMV-Channel 4 reporter Mike Machak writes in an e-mail to the Scene. “War is hell. Sanitary conditions are horrible.”

“There is no running water and almost no electricity,” says WKRN-Channel 2 news director Matthew Zelkind, whose anchor, Bob Mueller, has been reporting from Kandahar. “It’s a harsh environment that’s difficult for the military personnel and the journalists alike.”

Machak says that U.S. military officials have stationed most of the press corps in a tent in the terminal building of the Kandahar airport. It’s safe to say it’s no Ritz Carlton.

“It’s loud, with planes landing at all hours,” he writes. “It’s like the space shuttle, landing and taking off all the time.

Each of Nashville’s four television stations, along with The Tennessean, has dispatched reporters to Afghanistan to cover the 101st Airborne Division from nearby Fort Campbell, Ky. The military is bankrolling the transportation and protecting the television media representatives, at least from landmines and other hazards. Given that, critical reporting on the U.S war effort probably isn’t forthcoming. Instead, most of the reports from the local media so far might as well have been written and reported by Don Rumsfeld himself.

That’s not to say these accounts have been worthless. In fact, nearly every report has provided some glimpse of what it’s like to serve on one of the most important battlefronts since World War II. These stories also have enlightened readers and viewers about the very real dangers soldiers encounter as they help stabilize a nation that has long been a breeding ground for terrorists hell bent on America’s destruction.

“The soldiers are busting their butts,” Machak writes. “I’m humbled by their dedication, and that helps keep me going.”

Cut and paste

If I wrote a column about the Titans, shamelessly lifting the writings of Tennessean sportswriters David Climer, Larry Woody and Jeff Legwold without any kind of attribution, I’d rightly be cited for plagiarism. But according to The Tennessean, as long as what’s being ripped off is purchased, attribution isn’t necessary.

The Tennessean ran a “Tennessean News Services” story Monday that was very similar to a column appearing the same day in The New York Times.

The Tennessean story began like this: “Shootout. Two Quarterbacks winging passes as if they were gunslingers firing bullets at each other in dusty Dodge City.”

The New York Times piece by columnist Dave Anderson: “Shootout. Two Quarterbacks winging passes as if they were gunslingers firing bullets at each other in dusty Dodge City.”

Not only are those first paragraphs identical, the next few paragraphs of each story are nearly the same. Further down, the Tennessean piece includes copy from other news services. How does the paper cull the work of other outlets, then take credit for it?

Tennessean sports editor Bill Bradley says that his paper pays to use those news services and thus has the right to attribute that story to Tennessean News Services. That’s probably legally correct, although journalistically misleading. To most readers, the story in question looked like it was a product of the collective efforts of The Tennessean sports desk—not from out-of-town news outlets.

There’s no other way to put it: The morning daily is passing off the work of others as its own—and defending the practice.

Five more years

Chris Clark, WTVF-Channel 5’s anchorman since just after the Civil War (actually, since 1966), recently signed a five-year contract extension, sources tell the Scene. News director Mike Cutler confirms that Channel 5 signed a multi-year contract with Clark, without specifying the contract’s duration.

Hearing the news of his contract extension at a station meeting last month, Clark, 63, joked that he hoped to sign up for yet another five years after this contract expires. He then joked about his colleague, the ambitious and well-coiffed Steve Irvin. “The sound you just heard is that of Steve Irvin hitting the floor.”

The ultra-smooth Irvin is widely believed to be Clark’s heir apparent.

Arrested

Nashville Scene news editor Liz Garrigan was arrested for driving under the influence last week.

Garrigan, who has worked at the Scene since June 1996, registered .11 on an alcohol breath test, above the legal limit of .10. Her first court appearance is set for Feb. 11.

Garrigan is responsible for assigning, editing and overseeing the Scene’s news coverage. She also writes a political column. “Being arrested was nightmarish, an experience I never want to repeat,” she says. “I regret the entire episode.”

—B.D.

That’s long distance

In the BellSouth White Pages set to expire next month, there’s a phone number for Judge Thomas Shriver. The longtime district attorney turned criminal court judge has been dead for more than four years.

For questions or comments about the media, contact Matt at 244-7989, ext. 445, or e-mail him at mpulle@nashvillescene.com.

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