Monday, July 29, 2002

All Sound and Fury, Signifying...What?

A front page story in today's Commercial Appeal by their in-house attack dog, Marc Perrusquia, titled "Federal probe forces Wilbun to wage fight on two fronts" begs a couple of questions.

For one, why this story? There's no new information in it. It merely summarizes previous reports and offers some opinion. Why such coverage only three days before the election, where Wilbun is running for re-election? Oh...wait....

For another, where's the other half of the story promised in the headline? The story goes into quite a bit of detail about Shep Wilbun's troubles, but gives very short shrift to how it's affecting his re-election effort.

Let's start at the top, where one of my biggest gripes about CA writers is presented. The story is not labelled as commentary or analysis, but it starts so:
Fear and suspicion have reached a roar
at the generally low-profile Juvenile
Court clerk's office, where a series of
disputes resonate over office
renovations, alleged credit card abuse
and the unusual handling of a sexual
harassment allegation.

Where's the old "Five W's?" Who, what, when, where, and why? I hate this intrusion of opinion and shading into a straight news story. Reporters should check their egos at the front page. Note also that the story doesn't actually quote anyone here either, just "stuff floating around."

Anyway, lacking concrete proof of anything yet, Perrusquia uses weasel words like "may have...alleged that.... The matter became a concern for..." to carry his story, and its insinuations, along.

On the stump, [Wilbun] says Shelby County's old guard is
conspiring against him because of his vision to be more than a
clerk and develop innovative programs to help the poor and

An interesting counter-charge. I note with trepidation the second part of that sentence. It's usually code for "buying votes" and "expanding my kingdom."

Specifically, he points a finger at Republican challenger Steve
Stamson and his campaign manager, former clerk C. R. 'Bob'

Does Perrusquia then go to Stamson and Martin for comment or rebuttal? No, of course not, that's not the point of this article, is it?

Oh, by the way, Stamson was the assistant Clerk for eight years, waiting for his boss to retire in November when he would ascend to the Clerkship. Said Clerk abruptly gone early, Stamson was probably pretty pissed off when...well, read it below. Think Stamson might have a grudge?

Perrusquia does go to interview an FBI spokesman, George Bold, who offers this observation:
"There is to a certain extent a stigma attached to being
investigated," Bolds said, acknowledging concerns about the
investigation's timing.

And the story's timing, too. Do you think Perruspuia didn't know this as well?

He then goes on to work Wilbun some more, regarding his first obtaining the job of Juvenile Court Clerk.
...Republican County Commissioner Clair
Vander Schaaf...was questioned about an alleged
vote-swapping deal that secured Wilbun's appointment to the
$94,805-a-year clerk's post 19 months ago.

Wilbun, a fellow county commissioner at the time of his
appointment, has said he isn't a target of the grand jury

Perrusquia then goes on, at some length, about a very expensive copier and some office work done, straining hard to find the nugget of naughty in the mountain of so-what:
"No one was allowed to go in there. They kept it locked," said
John Wynn, 53, a former supervisor who was laid off by Wilbun
last month after 24 years with the county. "Only a couple people
had the key."

The area is described as a conference room where Wilbun
installed a high-speed printer and copier that produces
high-resolution color copies. The machines, which use ink instead
of toner, sell for up to $50,000 or more.

Photographs obtained by the newspaper show the machine
surrounded by copies of a 2002 wall calendar Wilbun mailed to
26,000 constituents in March. The single-sheet calendars, printed
on a thick, legal-size paper, featured a photograph of Wilbun,
and a slogan in bold blue letters: "Your Clerk going the extra mile
for our children."

Matt Kuhn, Wilbun's chief administrative officer, said last spring
the purpose of the calendar, which also listed phone numbers for
various government offices, was to communicate with
constituents, providing them useful information.

I have one of those calendars, and in all honesty they're on to something here. I remember looking at it and thinking, "Oooh, clever, clever." It skirts the line like a drunken sailor.

Perrusquia then goes on to interview another ex-employee, terminated after six months. Always a reliable source of mischief-making, those ex-employees. This employee, Willie Parks, delivers:
...Wilbun held some staff meetings at local hotels, in part because
he feared his offices were bugged, Parks contended.

"He's paranoid,'' said Parks, who was hired in February 2001,
then fired by Wilbun six months later. "He used to go out in the
parking lot to talk."

...Some of the hotel meetings were for political purposes, said
Parks, who said he's talked with the FBI three or four times.
"We'd talk about how to get Shep re-elected," Parks said,
contending that ideas leading to Wilbun initiatives such as the
Funds For Families program were discussed in the meetings.

Oops, again!

The whole story tends to add up more to a "So what?" than a "Gotcha!" Reading it, one gets a strong impression of something done for effect, the effect it will have on Wilbun's chances, than for real news value.

What's most depressing is that the CA has the County Trustee, Bob Patterson, on record as mis-spending his department's money, brushing it off and then arguing that the amount is so small so as not to matter! But did that story get Page One treatment? Or even a followup? Nope, it was shunted back, deep into the B Section.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy

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