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Herenton cites Action News as example of bad journalism; Channel 5 stands by its source.

by Jim Hanas

emphis Mayor Willie Herenton may have been borrowing a strategy from his old boxing days last week when he issued a statement to the press regarding the federal raid of the home of Police Sgt. Yolanda McFadgon, head of the mayor’s security detail. With one glove he held reporters at bay (see Viewpoint on page 13), while with the other he landed a terse jab, reminding journalists that they “owe it to the public to report facts … not hearsay or information provided by unnamed sources.” Steven Brill would be proud.

Local journalists have likely not seen the last of Herenton’s admonitions. In an interview last week the mayor told Flyer staff writer Jacqueline Marino he was in the midst of preparing an article on a public official’s view of the Memphis media, which he hopes will run as an op-ed piece in The Commercial Appeal.

But last Wednesday’s opening salvo was both typical and tantalizing. For a public official, few things are easier than media-bashing. Not only does the public already believe in the Media with a capital “M,” it likewise believes that the Media thus-writ-large is often sensationalistic, malicious, and just plain wrong. Nothing persuades, after all, like stroking a prejudice.

Herenton, however, was more specific than scapegoating usually requires, observing that “erroneous information has been reported by at least one media outlet” regarding the McFadgon situation. Like I said: tantalizing.

Mayoral spokeswoman Carey Hoffman says the “erroneous information” consisted of a report that McFadgon had failed to appear in court and that drugs were indeed found in her home during the raid. McFadgon, however, has not been indicted for anything and therefore cannot have failed to appear in court. And The Commercial Appeal, citing unnamed “federal sources,” reported that about $70,000 but no drugs were seized.

Although Hoffman declined to name the offending “media outlet,” Herenton was referring to WMC-TV Channel 5, whose crime reporter, Joyce Peterson, reported both items. As for the claim that McFadgon missed a court appearance, WMC news director Peggy Phillip says the station reported that she had not appeared in federal court “because she had not been indicted.” Which, of course, is also the reason why you, me, Mayor Herenton, and most of the metro Memphis population haven’t appeared in federal court either. In other words, it’s true in a way that hardly bears reporting.

As for the claim that drugs were in fact found in McFadgon’s residence, Phillip is more direct.

“We have an issue where the mayor’s office and Carey Hoffman are saying this is true,” she says. “We have other sources saying this is true. The two don’t match up. We’re going with our source, because they’re closer to the investigation.”

Phillip also clarifies that Peterson reported not that drugs had been found, but that “evidence of drugs” had.

“Joyce [Peterson] has a source,” she says. “We’re standing by that phrase based on that source.” Phillip would not elaborate on what the “evidence of drugs” consists of, except to say it is “not necessarily limited to the $70,000.”

Sound like a hedge? You betcha. Peterson and WMC are alone out on a limb, and once somebody gets indicted (or doesn’t), we’ll find out who should be apologizing to whom.

Behold The Man

Speaking of WMC, “reorganization,” as it’s called, seems to be going full tilt over at 1960 Union. Joyce Peterson has moved to the crime beat; “50 Who Matter,” a series intended to observe the station’s 50th anniversary by profiling 50 important Memphians had its plug pulled this side of 30; and Mike Fleming has been extricated from the television side of the business.

What next? That’s right: editorials from none other than the station’s general manager Bill Applegate. Applegate will comment on issues of the day twice a week, after the 6 p.m. newscasts on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Each editorial will then be re-broadcast at the end of Thursday’s noon newscast and Sunday’s late newscast, respectively.

According to news director Peggy Phillip, airing station editorials at the conclusion of certain newscasts is a company policy of WMC’s corporate parent, Raycom Media, aimed at getting its stations more involved in their communities.

The editorials started airing last Wednesday, and Applegate has so far introduced their mission and commented on how Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire represent all that is right with America.

I don’t know about that, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen a station general manager in front of the camera that I feel like Dorothy et al when Toto finally pulled away the curtain to reveal the Wizard, an average man working at wheels and levers.

The Wizard could not be reached for comment.

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