Timing is everything in the news business. Whether a story gets major or minor treatment, becomes fodder for commentary, or "goes national" is often a matter of what else is going on at the time.
The bailout bill, the stock market, and the presidential campaign have dominated television and newspaper coverage this week. Here are three stories that otherwise might have gotten more attention:
In federal court in Nashville on Monday, John Ford was sentenced to an additional 14 years in prison for his conviction on charges stemming from his illegal consulting business while he was a state senator. Ford had previously been sentenced to five years and six months in Memphis for his Tennessee Waltz conviction.
"I'm not suggesting that this was not a crime that did not warrant punishment," said Skip Gant, Ford's attorney. "Even people who hate John Ford probably didn't realize in essence he's getting 14 years for a white-collar, paper-type crime where nobody got hurt."
Ford took a huge gamble when he decided to go to trial in Nashville instead of making some kind of deal. He was a convicted felon. Jurors weren't supposed to weigh that in their deliberations. Whether they did or not, we'll never know. But U.S. district judge Todd Campbell, was required to weigh it, along with sentencing guidelines that were different because the amount of money involved — $854,000 in the Nashville case compared to $55,000 in the Memphis case — was so much larger.
"Going to trial is a 1-in-15 shot," said former federal prosecutor Bud Cummins of Little Rock.
Throw in the Nashville factor and the loss of home-field advantage for Ford — the Memphis jury found him not guilty on three counts and deadlocked on a fourth — and the odds were probably worse than that. Note that another former Memphis politico with a criminal record — ex-city councilman Rickey Peete — copped a plea the second time around. Allowing for possible reductions for good behavior, Ford, 66, will be at least 80 if and when he gets out of prison. As John Ford's brother, Joe Ford, has noted, violent criminals with prior records often get less than 14 years and are released on parole.
Cummins was in the news himself this week. A new report on the U.S. Justice Department under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales concluded that Cummins and 13 other federal prosecutors were replaced or targeted for replacement for political considerations while Justice Department political hacks claimed they were "weak" or "ineffectual" or "chafed against administration initiatives."
"I feel vindicated, if vindicated means that my conclusions about what happened are consistent with what they say happened," said Cummins, who was supposed to be a guest on a national talk show Monday but was bumped by the stock market collapse.
"Some of my colleagues were more willing to subscribe to conspiracy theories," he said. "I always felt it was more pedestrian than that and that, whatever you may think of Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales, staff people were driving the train."
Cummins, a Republican, prosecuted former Shelby County Medical Examiner O.C. Smith after the West Tennessee office of the Justice Department recused itself. Cummins said he has no plans to reenter public life and, as of Tuesday, had not read all of the 362-page report in which he gets an entire chapter. Given the general irrelevance of the Bush administration, not many others are likely to read it either.
Finally, Platinum Plus was in the national news last week, and not because of the auction of the strip club's furnishings and memorabilia. The Wall Street Journal resuscitated a 2002 lawsuit filed in Memphis against Medtronic, Inc., the medical-device manufacturer which has its headquarters near the Memphis airport. Charges made in the lawsuit are now the subject of a Senate investigation.
The newspaper reported that a former attorney for the company, who filed the lawsuit, alleges that Medtronic routinely paid kickbacks and that sales representatives entertained visiting doctors at Platinum Plus and picked up their tab for "VIP" services.
Platinum Plus was closed last year, and its owner, Ralph Lunati, pleaded guilty to federal charges that dancers engaged in prostitution and had sex on stage.
Medtronic has been one of the companies around the airport leading a campaign to clean up the area, close strip clubs, and improve the overall image. In a Flyer cover story earlier this year, Medtronic officials gave no indication that former company employees and customers were strip club customers.