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Lemmie's Exit Interview and Smitherman's Churchill Moment

By Ben L. Kaufman · October 5th, 2005 · Media, Myself & I
There were no interviews with City Hall reporters from major local news media when Valerie Lemmie left. Instead, the departing city manager talked to the Associated Press' Terry Kinney and The Cincinnati Herald's Dan Yount.

I couldn't find Kinney's story in The Enquirer or The Post, although both belong to the Associated Press. However, Enquirer reporter Greg Korte posted the meat of Lemmie's AP interview at frontier.cincinnati.com/blogs/gov. It's instructive.

The Herald's interview was more instructive. Lemmie names names and describes relationships with city council and council members Alicia Reece and Laketa Cole, other problems relating to the black community and the cold shoulder by white CEOs in the business community.

Lemmie frames her problems within issues faced as city manager. It's not a get-even interview, but one that should be taken to heart if urban decline is to be arrested. I say that as an alumnus of a Big Ten graduate school of public administration. That experience fuels my heightened sense of loss as ever less talented and evermore ambitious council members undermine city managers.

I would like to believe that council-city manager relations have bottomed out, but that requires a triumph of hope over experience as a Cincinnati resident, taxpayer and voter for 35-plus years.

· · ·

It's called the "killer quote." Think of Churchill's "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat"; Nixon's "I am not a crook"; Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky"; or Bush's "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

Add City Councilman Christopher Smitherman. His subject was Daniel Eaton, a Katrina refugee he brought to Cincinnati from the New Orleans area. Authorities said Eaton stole and drank a 24-ounce beer in the Over-the-Rhine Kroger store, threatened to kill a police officer and carried a crack pipe.

The Post quotes the Charterite chastising Eaton, saying, "You got to know what the rules are when you come to a new place."

Uh, excuse me, councilman, but what were the rules where you collected your made-for-media passengers?

Curmudgeon notes
· After Katrina, Delta and styrene, readers were well-served with transportation reporting by The Enquirer's James Pilcher and The Post's Bob Driehaus and environment reporting by The Enquirer's Dan Klepal.

It's a reminder of what journeymen can do in a world of shallow fluff.

· Rita might be Bush's perfect storm. Its rising tide might also lift his image boat, mired in criticism of the federal response to Katrina. Watch editorials, columnists and talking heads to see if they reinterpret his leadership.

· Reporters accurately reported what officials described as sniping and other shootings, rapes and the feared loss of thousands of people in New Orleans after Katrina. Now, as reporters check out those earlier stories and find errors and overstatements by officials, the news media are being damned as racist and gullible for initially carrying those now dubious statements. Had we not covered conditions in New Orleans, we would have been accused of racism for ignoring predominantly black victims. Because we reported statements by police, mayor and others, we are accused of racism because we supposedly would have challenged such assertions if victims had been white.

· Is there so little anti-war activity in the Cincinnati area or have local news media decided not to cover it? When locals welcomed traveling anti-war activists, both dailies played it inside. When hundreds rallied recently to send local anti-war activists to Washington, D.C., for a national rally, The Enquirer carried the photo of a speaker to a dozen Bush-backers at a counter-event where "patriotic" songs were sung. No "Kumbaya" there. Pro-Bush people dominated that story, which also played inside the local news section. I did not see the departure for Washington in the The Post. Are local dailies equating patriotism with support for the war and dissent with aid and comfort to the enemy? Worse, with declining support for the war nationally, are these news media missing local manifestations of a trend?

· Where is the news media probe of the training and leadership of Cincinnati's 377th Military Police Company, some of whose soldiers were accused or convicted of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan?

· Why do news media so often delete Internet addresses about which they write? For instance, recent stories described gory photos of Iraqi suicide bombers posted, possibly by GIs, but didn't say they were on nowthatsfuckedup.com.

· If cops, clergy and mourner-in-waiting moms can't stop young Cincinnatians from shooting each other, should editorials advocate Lysistra as a better crime-reduction model?

· Enquirer Columbus reporter Jon Craig wrote about his 1999 contempt of court sentence for refusing to name a confidential source when he worked for The Akron Beacon Journal. He was freed during his (successful) appeal. "What's similar about my case and those currently in the courts is the special prosecutor was more interested in identifying people who leaked confidential information than the government wrongdoing they sought to uncover," Craig wrote. "When reporters can't report freely and sources are afraid to talk, corruption persists."

· Equally plainspoken was dismissal of a proposed federal "shield law" by The Enquirer's Peter Bronson. Such a law generally would prevent courts from jailing journalists who refuse to reveal confidential sources. Bronson reasonably asks if having Congress decide who is a journalist and thus is to be protected is too high a price for that "shield."

· Two days ago The Enquirer carried separate page 1 stories on embattled morality maven Bill Bennett backing away from Cincinnati GOP appearances and the growing role of bloggers in politics. But they didn't connect the two. Could reporters and editors have been ignorant of the prominent role of deanofcincinnati.com and other local bloggers in raising the hue and cry about Bennett?

Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.


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