Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Trusting Private Media With Public Policy


This past Monday, July 28th, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a front page piece by writer Alan Judd. It was a piece concerning the Central Branch Library and the Library Master Plan. And thought the piece was well written with some facts included, I and others felt that there were just too many glaring omissions (missing facts) for this piece to be seen as entirely independent and objective. Consequentially, I opted to post a public reply here on this site (see below) and I also sent a copy of this reply to Alan Judd via Email.

Thereafter Mr. Judd responded in a timely manner. And in his response and subsequent correspondence(s) I learned that wrote as he wrote because he was essentially "filling in" for AJC writer David Bennett (a.k.a. D.L. Bennett) who is officially assigned to this story, but currently on a two week vacation.

Et Viola!

That's when it all started to make sense. Because, from the start, I had noticed that Alan Judd had not written about this subject before. No, it was writer David Bennett who was the one in the last weeks and months, that had repeatedly wrote about this issue. And in reading Mr. Bennett's news articles, I noted that he had, time and time again, given preference to Commissioner Rob Pitts and Library Director John Szabo, all the while omitting and/or distorting the overwhelming voice(s) of dissent against Mr. Szabo and Pitts' bullish plan to hijack the budget and turn it to their favor.

It was a voice of dissent, which included Commission Chair Dr. John Eaves along with Commissioner Lynn Riley, as well as the Mayor(s) of Roswell and Sandy Springs, just to name a few. Then there were other omissions like the unanimous public support of the two year vetting process, which created the original Library Master Plan; that process now being totally ignored, effectively subverting the will of the people. Another omission was the fact that prior to coming to Atlanta, John Szabo was known as a tourist attraction library builder, as he had successfully done this exact thing (built a big fancy new central branch) when he was the head of The Tampa (Clearwater) Public Library System. Then there is this issue of public officials forming stealthy pacts with private developers, this being seen in the Buckhead Library incident with commissioner Tom Lowe and "friend" developer Ben Carter. There is plenty, plenty more that's been omitted, but I'll stop there.

Bottom line is this. David Bennet never really mentioned any of this. And when I confronted him on this some weeks back he claimed that he was just writing updates. What? What does that mean? The guy has written three or more news articles about this library fiasco and he wants me to believe that he couldn't have done a better job at representing the voice of both sides of this issue? How crazy is that?

Anyway. When David Bennet went on vacation and Alan Judd was temporarily handed the reigns for the follow-up story, he was given a major hot potato issue, with scant half the facts. Mr. Judd had not been ordered to follow this issue from the start, because he was not the writer originally assigned to cover it. But, David Bennet was. Thus, I now sense that Mr. Judd honestly and truly did the best he could. But with being given just a couple of days to write the piece, and with all the prior documentation having come from David Bennett, what else could Mr. Judd do, but mostly fumble the ball? Though with that said, I must say that he still did a better job than Mr. Bennet.

It's a terrible set of circumstances for a writer to find themselves in. And though I offer no apologies for my public reply, I do feel a sincere sympathy for Alan Judd or any other writer who finds themselves faced with such a loaded deck. Yet when one adds to this incident the overall horror that so many corporate news outlets are being faced with today, namely their demise via forced downsizing (AJC just laid off 200 of it's staff) it's a wonder that any work is getting down at all.

Thus as I sit here agape at the media prospects, I can't help but wonder...how can a profit driven, market controlled, corporate media system be consistently depended upon to provide thorough, accurate, independent analysis and prose, when their own financial floor is crumbling beneath their very feet?

Is this realistic? Is this possible? And in the meantime, who's watching our elected officials?