I almost had to call an ambulance this evening. Really. You see, I just read Robert Stein’s Amarillo Globe-News story, “Mayor wants to know who leaked information,” posted to the one of the news pages on the third-rate media outlet’s website. I had trouble breathing; I just couldn’t catch my breath from laughing.
As if Globe-News editorials weren’t bad enough, replete with poor writing and facts harder to find than a diamond in a Florida swamp, we now get an article that starts editorializing in the first sentence. Then, it goes on to whine in chorus with Paul Harpole, our Trumpian mayor, about a leak from a City Council executive session. Harpole’s panties are all in a wad because ABC7 Amarillo had a scoop from a confidential source on the council choosing a new city manager.Harpole, who is of that Amarillo-type paternalistic ilk who think they know better than the citizenry which is mostly beneath them, is in high dudgeon about ABC7 Amarillo having information before Hiz Honor could control it as the hero of the staged news conference. In the past, that TV station has popped stories that angered Harpole: KVII broke a story about United Way a few years ago that set Harpole on a course of undercutting ABC7 Amarillo whenever he could. He usually passed news tidbits to the Globe-News when he got wind that the TV station was nosing around. It’s fair to say that the Globe-News has been one of Harpole’s useful idiots.
But what ABC7 Amarillo did on this story, and others, was in the finest traditions of American journalism. Think the Pentagon Papers. Or Watergate. Confidential sources are part of the lifeblood of reporting and if it were not for people willing to leak information, the United States and Amarillo would be the worse for it. How ironic that this dust-up about something secretive has to do with Texas’ inferior Open Meeting Act.
Of the 25 years I’ve been a journalist, I’ve lived in Amarillo almost 14 years and I’ve never seen a community so culturally ignorant about the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The understanding of what a free press is to society lives only in lip service to the denizens of public and large private institutions here. And as for the separation of church and state? I guess cinching the Bible belt tightly around “church” and “state” to keep them together is part of the problem.
So, let me throw a little shade at the Globe-News on this attempt at newswriting.
“Amarillo City Council members are once again showing their dysfunctional and, perhaps, petty sides.” — What place is it of a news page to label “City Council members” dysfunctional? And which members, if it’s going in the lede — that is, the first paragraph? In whose judgment, too, is behavior petty? Seems to me that bringing transparency to the most important post on the city payroll is what should be done. Folks, this is about control, and we all know that.
Then, the story goes on: “On Thursday, the sole finalist for Amarillo’s city manager position and details surrounding his hiring were leaked to local media following a Tuesday afternoon executive session of the council, a headhunter and the city attorney.” — Actually, the leak wasn’t to local “media” because “media” is plural. The information was leaked to only one outlet. The sentence more accurately should have read, “On Thursday, the sole finalist for Amarillo’s city manager position and details surrounding his hiring were leaked to one of the local TV stations while the rest of the media stood around with their pants down. This followed a Tuesday afternoon executive session of the council, a headhunter and the city attorney.”
Oh, for God sakes, how did Harpole “stop short” if the Globe-News named Burkett?” Why not publish the whole quote?
Now, Robert and your editors, please don’t break your arms patting yourselves on the back. You don’t deserve it. You all are just upset that ABC7 Amarillo has a better news team than you do. And, having worked at the Globe-News for as long as my ethics could stand it, I know about the policy about anonymous and confidential sources. It’s too stringent and it’s gutless and it deprives Amarillo of real news.
Here are the next two paragraphs:
“It does, however, present the city with possible issues of civil liability, violation of the council’s own policy and procedures as well as breach of the public trust.” — This is one of those sentences that begs for attribution because, given we know this story is slanted, we need to know if the city attorney said it or if Stein is just dropping in an opinion.
Why in the world would a news outlet tell anyone? When The Amarillo Independent came across confidential information from the Amarillo Police Department a few years ago, the department’s Internal Affairs officer called to ask where we got it. The Indy didn’t give up the information and no good and decent media outlet would. If the Globe-News had that kind of information, it wouldn’t give up the source either — which would be the exception to the ethical and decent label.
Also, what’s up with this cute little tactic of alternately writing “a local television station” and then “KVII” when everyone knows from earlier I the story that it’s ABC7 Amarillo. Calling councilors petty and then being this petty about a TV station?
Sometimes, readers will see an editorial note at the end of a story. Maybe if material not reported directly is worked into the story, you’d see a note such as, “The Associate Press Contributed to this story.”
In this case, Stein’s story should have the editorial note, “Paul Harpole contributed to this story because the Globe-News agree to be his mouthpiece.