Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe. ~~ Thomas Jefferson
I cannot help but marvel at the irony of choices made last week. Two weeks ago a group of people in Cafe Aromas discussed the need for another media outlet and BOOM here we are. And, what is the first big story confronting us? It’s my old job.
The subject has added difficulties for me. As a general rule, it would be easy to say, ‘Stay away. It will look like sour grapes; a conflict of interest’, or ‘Are you crazy!!!’
Unfortunately, I cannot ignore it. The selection process for chief has been nothing short of a scene from a Mel Brooks movie. Somehow the very media that should be protecting us from the government are now neck deep in government operations.
The owner and editor of one of the most influential media outlets in northern Mississippi was appointed head of the committee to select the next police chief in Columbus. But, wait; it gets better. The Assignment Editor of our local television station was also on the committee as was the Associate Editor of our popular weekly newspaper. Talk about a political/media coup on the part of your local government! Our media has been rendered impotent in any attempt to impartially cover the story. City Hall has expertly performed a trifecta of media demolition.
It is impossible to cover a story and, at the same time, be the story or be in the story. Which is what happened last week. As we watched this comedy unfold, the first problem to rear its head occurred when the rumor mill started rumbling on about how our acting police chief was being given preferential treatment when the job description was rewritten to not require a college education. That’s right. We live in a community that does not believe one of the most important jobs in city government requires a college degree. And, we wonder why no one places much value on education? It is obvious that our leaders, and let’s include the media, fail to appreciate the importance of higher learning. Such thinking is guaranteed to keep the state of Mississippi forty-ninth in educational achievement forever.
The Commercial Dispatch first reported that the candidate had a degree then the next day printed a tiny retraction saying he did not. The Packet never addressed the issue. So, who is going to ask the tough questions? Is Birney going to ask: “Birney, did anyone get an unfair advantage by a re-writing of the job description?”
I have had an opportunity to work, talk and socialize with Mr. Imes, Steve Rodgers of WCBI and Sarah Fowler of the Packet on many occasions. They are good people, but I hope they understand that they have been played like a fiddle trio by our city’s politicians. Nero doesn’t have to fiddle while Columbus burns. Our local media is playing a swan song for him. The politicians can sit back and laugh. How easy it is to fool such important people with a little flattery and a promise of “Transparency!” Meanwhile, our community flounders as a result of compromised media objectivity and no untainted journalistic outlet.
The press in our country is known as the Fourth Estate. Journalists are expected to protect their communities from an overreaching government and be watchdogs for the underdog. Instead, we get media that are more than willing to climb into bed with our local politicians. When the separation of state and press is demolished, we should be appalled and nervous. The entire concept of the First Amendment has been sacrificed by our local media in exchange for a seat at the government’s table. What a price that has been paid for the honor to compromise the integrity of our community!
Sunday’s Commercial Dispatch article about police chief candidate Curtis Brame was interesting. But, can we trust this report by the Editor who selected him? He cannot say anything bad about the candidate without making himself look bad. Has any information been left out? How do we know?
Mr. Brame sounds fascinating. Imagine a man who has sued his former mayor expecting to work for a mayor who never accepted an Attorney General’s opinion about not interfering with the day-to-day operations of a police department. Folks, this could be a match for the ages. (The best part of being fired is never having signed any crazy little documents stating that I will not disclose information I know about the city and its officials. Sometimes it is good to be fired. It allows a person to share all kinds of information, and I will as time goes on.)
But, just when you think it can’t get worse, guess what? It gets worse. A new committee has been formed to complete the background checks and who will be in charge of this committee? Birney Imes and guess what? Don’t be surprised if other media personnel are on this five-person committee. Some people never learn or will never put their community and their occupation ahead of doing favors for their friends, the government. The day the media sides with the government over the people is a day we all lose some of our freedom!
Where is the watchdog? The community needs a watchdog. Someone has to look over the shoulders of elected officials to make sure that the common man is not trampled underfoot. Not following the rules but sacrificing the good of the people in order to take a seat at the government’s table is corruption at its highest level. It’s thumbing your nose at everything the community needs and wants from the Fourth Estate.
We need a watchdog, not a lap dog. By being ready to jump and whimper at the demands of city government, no cool detachment is possible. If we cannot trust the media, who will protect us from the powerful, the dishonest or the manipulative? The people stand alone with no one to defend their rights.
No, we have a vacuum when we have a press that gives up its responsibilities to the community in order to serve on a search committee. Our city is caught in the middle of a Mel Brooks movie; we can’t escape. Expect that some people may find out eventually that it is not always “good to be king.”
Joseph B. St. John ~~~~ No Compromise!
Whoever controls the media, controls the mind. ~~~ Jim Morrison
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