Monday, May 09, 2005

You See? I Told You: Susan Adler Thorp Dept.

I thought I had blogged about this, but can't find any posts on the subject via a Google sitesearch. Ah well.

Susan Adler Thorp was the political columnist for the Commercial Appeal for many, many years. She was legend for her partisanship. During the 4-week period surrounding the last County Mayoral election, she used to her column to write attacks, both personal and vicious, against AC Wharton's opposition, George Flinn. Five of the ten columns she wrote did that. She never wrote positively of Wharton, except when she attacked Flinn first. Shortly after Wharton won, Thorp suddenly quit the CA to take a job as communications director for the new administration.

Despite having written numerous times about personal abuse of public office by many, many people before her, Thorp used her office and connections to make sure that a former, disgraced County employee got a significant rise in his pension. Wharton did not fire her; she was forced to resign. (Keeps her resume clean. Doesn't muck up her pension.) She later took to the media to absolve herself of any wrong-doing. Apparently, using public money and public office to make sure that a friend gets taken care of isn't unethical.

Shortly after that, WMC/5 television announced she was joining them as an advisor. I distinctly recall seeing a story about her coming aboard that mentioned she would also serve to provide connections and open doors for WMC reporters that they might not otherwise obtain. I called it "wheel greasing" and still stand by that characterisation.

That story seems to have gone down the memory hole. Enter Thorp's name into the new WMC/5 website search function (about damn time!) and you return a single entry. That's bizarre, to say the least, given how often she was in the news herself, for a while.

Anyway, News Director Peggy Philip has always maintained to me that Thorp's addition to WMC/5 wasn't about "wheel greasing," but other unspecified things. If I recall correctly, initially there were questions about whether she would have an on-air role similar to the one she had in her CA days as political commentator for WREG/3. Those questions were waved off vaguely or evaded.

I used to jokingly call Thorp "The Crone" because of her unfortunate appearance in those days. Once she brought a sharp nail on a skeletal finger to her face, to do a "television scratch" that wouldn't damage her make-up and it came to me. She also went through hair colors and styles briefly, so it will be interesting to see if she retains her usual appearance or tries some television "sizzle." This being WMC, I'm betting sizzle.

Why, you ask? Well, according to the Commercial Appeal, Thorp will do on-air editorials and commentary for WMC after all. In the name of the station!
"This is an opportunity for me to remain active in what I love the most, which is news and commentary," Thorp said. "It's just a different medium for me."

Thorp has been consulting for Channel 5 for the past few months. She provides background and contacts to the station's reporters.
You see? I told you.
"We just felt this was another dimension of our newscast we needed to do something about," said Channel 5 general manager Howard Meagle. "The opportunity came along with Susan to have someone who actually has the capability and knowledge to frame good editorial positions for our station."

Meagle said editorials -- they likely, but not necessarily, will air weekly -- are a natural extension of the station's newscasts.

Former Channel 5 general manager Bill Applegate performed editorials, but they have been absent since his departure more than four years ago.

"I think it's something that will inspire debate and thought," said news director Peggy Phillip.
Peg, they will inspire more than that. She will be watched like a hawk, not least by this blog.
"The editorials will focus on issues that affect Memphis and the Mid-South," Thorp said. "It could be any issue -- the future of Shelby Farms, the future of The Pyramid, it could be a commentary on taxes, or I could go back to my old stomping grounds, politics."

They will come as the result of discussions by a still-being-formed editorial board.
Will Thorp's editorials, which will have the name and reputation of WMC attached, be vetted before broadcast, as this article implies? Or will she be given loose guidelines? Will they rely on her past experience in journalism and public spokesperson to guide her?

I told Peg to her face, and repeat it here, that this will end in tears. Thorp will abuse WMC for a friend or a cause one day. She has a history of doing this and there's no reason to believe this Crone has learned new recipes for her cauldron.

I hope that video as well as transcripts will be available on line. This will be interesting....

Thorp will only be the second on-air commentator, after the stentorian, predictable and pompous Norm Brewer at WREG/3. She is a liberal Democrat, like every other commentator or editorialist in the local media, save the equally predictable and pompous Mike Fleming at AM 600 WREC. Will anyone, ever, bring a right of center or even an unexpected voice to the local media mix? I'd be deeply surprised.

That's why you have me.

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