Thursday, November 17, 2011

An Open Letter to Gov. Bill Haslam, the Great Journalistic Benefactor

Posted By on Thu, Nov 17, 2011 at 4:11 PM

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From this week's "Hey Thanks" cover story in the Scene, offering open thank-you letters in the spirit of the season:

Are you The Great Pumpkin? Santa? Or did one of them send you?

Because what you have given journalists is nothing short of wondrous. In fact, you have singlehandedly made me question my choice to quit the profession. And not just because of that vaguely pretty boy face of yours. (Yeah, baby, you’ve got a little something. Crissy’s not the only one who’s noticed. But take it with a grain of salt: I think Art Garfunkel is hot.)

I was once the editor of this newspaper. And I left. Damn it, I left. Then a little time passed, Crissy smiled for 10 months straight, you were elected, and finally, because of some combination of self-destructive political malpractice, constitutional ignorance and tragically (for you) incompetent advisers, your Tennessee Highway Patrol goons went and arrested citizens lawfully expressing their right to protest in a public space. Even richer, they roughed-up and cuffed a baby-faced journalist working honestly and diligently in the freezing cold for really crappy money.

And then, praise be, you defended it, claiming something that not one human being or authority on the planet could confirm: that the reporter was publicly intoxicated. From ink-and-Internet-cookie-stained wretches everywhere: Thank you, thank you, thank you. It was so beautiful, governor. It contained all the ruinous, mean-spirited, wrong-headed government overreach that every red-blooded journalist prays for. Not as citizens, mind you. But as storytellers.

In fact, your Occupy Nashville crackdown, deemed unlawful by both night court and federal judges, was the first story since my erstwhile editorship that made me wish I’d clung to that job with the same tenacity you defended — for a cringe-inducing length of time, otherwise known as lots and lots of news cycles — your horrible misjudgment. It may not have felt like it to him when he was mid-perp walk, but Nashville Scene reporter Jonathan Meador — though very talented even without the aid of a governor serving him a juicy career enhancer on a silver platter — was presented with the best damn Halloween treat of his life. If his career were a goody bag, he got a king-sized Snickers bar with a Benjamin and a joint taped to it, courtesy of you and yours, governor. Which is exactly what I would have told him if I’d had the chance to take him out for an actual public intoxication.

Oh, the laughs and frivolity you supplied! I bet even newsroom rivalries evaporated over this story, so “Kumbaya” it was for journalists. At Christmas, when your people lay out the big cocktail shrimp and bar for the Capitol Hill Press Corps party at the executive residence, you can have a few gin and tonics and pretend to look back on the whole episode as though it were a big misunderstanding. If it comes up and everyone’s laughing, and then someone spills a drink on your shoe because he’s so buckled over at the thought of the whole debacle, just remember: They aren’t laughing with you; they’re laughing at you.

Meanwhile, locals weren’t the only beneficiaries of your administration’s sweet, sweet incompetence. Meador’s jailhouse encounter gave lots of outlets the occasion for righteous indignation. CNN weighed in, as did The Huffington Post, Gawker and Romenesko. The Chattanooga Times Free Press even likened you to a “petty Balkan dictator.” For what it’s worth, governor, your smile is much nicer than any petty Balkan dictator I’m familiar with. So take heart.

Finally, governor, I just want to say that this space doesn’t fill itself. Except when you act like someone even the hapless Ron Ramsey could mentor. For that, from the bottom of our beer glasses, we thank you.

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