Sunday, October 05, 2003

The Commercial Appeal: Shameless Whores Or Opportunists?

When Dr. Willie Herenton first ran for City Mayor back in 1991, the Commercial Appeal were staunch supporters of incumbent Dick Hackett. They predicted dire things if Hackett were thrown out. History shows them wrong, of course. The city's fine and now the Commercial Appeal are staunch supporters of the incumbent once again.

The CA finds in him a kindred soul, I suspect. Both are enamored of government as a prime mover in the community. Both are believers in elitism in government: Mayor Herenton routinely disparages critics as uninformed and the CA always favors the usual suspects in elections over outsiders. Both are believers in privacy: Herenton simply doesn't discuss himself or his personal life and the CA accomodates him in that. It didn't used to be that way. When Herenton was City Schools Superintendent, they used to make hay of his dating life. No more, of course.

So, the Sunday CA isn't quite a surprise, and it is. This is their biggest circulation issue (225,000 readers by their own statement) and this is the Sunday before election day. You would expect them to say something positive about their guy. But five columns and articles? Jeez Louise....

It begins on Page One, below the fold. In what is ostensibly a story about how Mayoral Republican candidate John Willingham is being short-changed by Herenton's close ties with Senator Lamar Alexander, which have led the local Republican Party to not support their own candidate, we find that Willingham is once again short-changed! Willingham is merely a bit player in a recitation of all the goodness that is Herenton's cross-party support. He's so over-shadowed it's not even funny. Even in the page two picture, we see Willingham slumped over in the corner of the picture, with a standing Herenton right in the middle. Pictures and a thousand words.

Then we move to the editorial page. Ever since Susan Adler Thorp and Paula Wade hied for the loving embrace of government after the arrival of new Editor in Chief Chris Peck, the CA has been pushing Michael Kelly to fill the space. And fill he does! Not one but two editorials, right next to each other, and both extolling the wondrous juggernaut that is Mayor Herenton. Kelly even wonders if Herenton can do wrong sufficient to get him bounced from office.
Herenton has been in the mayor's office for so long, with so few significant setbacks to his personal or political reputation, during a time in which city government has raised taxes so infrequently, that he has developed an aura of invincibility.
Never mind that the CA routinely calls for raises in tax to cover the latest government fiasco. Never mind that the CA chooses not to report the "setbacks" where folks can see them. Never mind that when he leaves office eventually, he'll leave his successor with an enormous debt load to cover. Yeah, don't look at that stuff.

Both are larded with the usual hooey about Herenton's ability to cross the racial divide and draw support from whites. That much of this support comes from white Democrats and from businessmen who will benefit from the vast public-money boondoggles he's been pushing isn't mentioned, of course.
His support bridges party lines as well as racial divides in Memphis. The Shelby County Republican Party, concerned that legions of Herenton voters turning out for the election would make it hard for them to elect GOP City Council candidates, is not supporting the candidacy of a prominent Republican challenger.
Can't even be bothered to mention Willingham's name. It might confuse voters who must vote for Herenton, after all.
Herenton's success is all the more amazing considering he emerged from the superintendency of a school system that a consultant had described as consumed by organizational chaos.
Kelly of course doesn't mention that the school system is still in the crapper, in even worse shape in fact, and no effort at rooting out the "organizational chaos" is even on the horizon. Herenton is a staunch defender of the teachers' union. Herenton's solution to the City School Board woes is, surprise surprise, to replace the elected officials with a group of professionals selected by him! Hey, the city is covered in boards and commissions, so what's one more?

Ah well, it goes on and on like that. One marvelous thing after another and nary a whisper of the problems behind every statement Kelly makes. It's a shame Kelly isn't a better writer, like Thorp or Wade, so that tackling this kind of dreck would be more fun.

Now, having written a sloppy hagiography of Herenton's career in two parts, you'd think that would be sufficient, but no, there's more. To remind readers that racial unity is a wonderful thing we need more of from our government, comes this guest editorial; and to remind readers that blacks have seen great financial and class success in recent years, a success we'd be well advised not to tamper with by, say, voting out the current Mayor, we have this second guest editorial.

In all, we have nearly a full two pages of Herenton praise. From a newspaper. That wants to be taken seriously as a neutral, balanced and fair reporter of city events and news. Really.

Shameless whores or opportunists? You decide.

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