Friday, October 10, 2003

Answer Received: Shameless Whores It Is

Earlier this week, I posted (if the link is bloggered, scroll to "The Commercial Appeal: Shameless Whores Or Opportunists?") about the Commercial Appeal's shamelessly one-sided and partisan coverage of Mayor Herenton in yesterday's election race. I left the question open, in a spirit of charity.

Well, today's Commercial Appeal provides a firm and conclusive answer. Yep, they're whores down at the Big Glass Fort. A giant, full-page picture of Herenton, standing alone, coveres the top of the fold. Just visible below this are two partial headlines to stories further down. Their placement is fortuitous, if you read straight across it says: "Mayor credits... Inevitability..."

Yeah, no bias here. Nope. (Note that they repeat their Sunday editorial theme of inevitability here as well. Good use of literary technique.)

The headline continues the new CA policy of clever, less-than-four-words, vague and uninformative phrases, especially on the front page. Large type, lots of white space, little conveyed. Today it's "Herenton: 4 for 4." The day after Summerstorm 2003, it was "Gale Force." I could list dozens of examples. I suspect some marketing research droid from corporate had a seminar or workshop with the upper editorial staff. He presented lots of their research which showed that using "intriguing" headlines like this made people curious, so they picked up the paper. More research showed that once folks had the paper in hand, they were 17% more likely to buy it. So, the Big Guys at corporate Strongly Encouraged them to try it here. After all, you want to sell more papers, right?

Or something like that. It means that the CA isn't about journalism or reporting, but has become a product. Yet another bit of branded something to sell to Joe and Jane Consumer. Among the several biases already operating at the paper, we must now add product packaging and presentation. Consumer "stickiness." Mystery, intrigue, desire. Sales.

But I digressed. Newly re-elected Mayor Herenton actually said the following:
He also praised his administration as being free of corruption.

"We are proud of how we have managed this city and we have earned the respect of the people in this city."
Well, yeah! Of course there's been no corruption reported. The CA isn't interested in finding any that might tarnish Their Hero. Why would I expect a publication so enamored of this guy to go after him, or the folks who work under him?

Look at the crooks on the City Council. Literally! There's been folks with actual criminal records sitting there. Look at the flap that's erupted with the indictment of Shep Wilbun following last year's allegations. Look at the dirt that suddenly appeared in Shelby County government once AC Wharton was elected to replace Jim Rout. Are we supposed to believe that it doesn't extend to our City government as well? Are we fools?

What's sobering to remember is that in none of these cases was the illegality turned up by work done by the Commercial Appeal. Not once. Nor did it happen in the Madison day care case. What did happen was that later, after the story was broken and unavoidable, did they then go deeper. The Commercial Appeal reserves it real investigative work for the Ford family, for whom they have an abiding animus.

So no wonder Herenton can make a claim like that with impugnity. Remember when the links between his casino investments and local casino operations turned up? The Commercial Appeal didn't evidence much interest in that, relegating most stories to the depths of Metro. Herenton now knows with certainty that he doesn't have to worry. His boys have his back.

Want more?
Herenton hasn't been afraid to take on controversial subjects during his time as mayor. Several years ago, he set up a "second chance program" to provide job opportunities for convicted felons....
One that was used to find employment for a member of his personal body guard who was found to be involved in drug dealing. Never saw anything about how that story might have touched the Mayor, did we? (To be fair, though, I will say that this program does seem a good idea. We have a lot of felons here in Memphis who are serious about making a good, clean start. So, I'll also credit him here.)
Herenton also generated some controversy earlier this year by first proposing that the city school board be appointed rather than elected and later that the city and county school systems be merged.

Those suggestions angered city school board members and some suburbanites, but some city voters said they approve of Herenton's calls for education reforms.
That's all they were, calls. No further action from his office and the City Schools proposal was watered down to ineffectualness. Heard anything more on this subject? Didn't think so. This is a constant in the Herenton psychology. He proposes something and then, at the first signs of resistance from any quarter, he'll disparage the critics and then drop the idea. It might show up again one day, or it might not. Can't be sure. But it's darn sure you won't see criticism of him from the Commercial Appeal; they spin it as an amusing, if frustrating, quirk.

Enough of this. The Commercial Appeal is a monopoly and very arrogantly handles itself in that position. Credibility is a precious thing. The CA spends it like a drunk sailor on shore leave in the Phillipines. Or, looked at another way, they crave the power to shape Memphis politically, culturally, and even physically; to be kingmakers and power-brokers. To befriend anyone who can make them a few dollars. Like Phillipino barsluts watching the sailors debark.

So, yeah, shameless whores it is.

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