Tuesday, December 14, 2004

What's Not In the Paper Instead of What's In the Paper

The local paper made the national news again in the only way it makes the national news these days—by screwing up.

The paper used to win Pulitzer prizes. Now it’s held up as an example of shabby journalism.

A former editor and reporter at the local paper forwarded this story to me that appeared in The Editor & Publisher magazine Dec. 8:

Des Moines Paper Omits Key Point in Clergy Sex Case

By E&P Staff

NEW YORK—An article in The Des Moines Register [written by Lisa Livermore] this morning announced the arrest of a local youth pastor on charges of sexual exploitation of a 17-year-old client but left out one key element of the story: the pastor’s embrace of President Bush’s values in a meeting with the president last year.

The clergyman, Michael Hintz, 35, of Clive, Iowa, who is married with four children, ran a youth group oat First Assembly of God Church in Des Moines. He was charged Monday with having an inappropriate relationship for several months this year with a girl he had counseled. If convicted he faces up to a year in prison.

According to the Register, Hintz was known for urging teens to avoid pursuing romantic relationships in favor of getting closer to God.

But that wasn’t all he was known for. Last October, as the paper recalled, President Bush cited him as an example of a family that would realize tax savings with the signing of a tax relief bill. But that’s as far as the Register’s story went today.

But Tuesday, the popular Eschaton blog had cited an Associated Press story from October, revealing that Bush had actually met Hintz and his wife during a swing through Iowa. At that time, Hintz embraced the moral-values issue, according to the AP account, saying, “Where we are in this world, with not just the war on terror, but with the war with our culture that’s going on, I think we need a man that is going to be in the White House like President Bush, that’s going to stand by what he believes.”

After Hintz said that, in hopes to use part of his tax saving to go on vacation in Minnesota, Bush quipped: “Next year, maybe they’ll want to come to Texas.”


Still on the subject of newspapers, a retired Des Moines editor and reporter points out that the Charlotte Observer carried a commentary piece written by Mike Persinger that says the paper “will get out of a poll that influences the BCS mess.”

“The BCS is a mess, and as long as The Associated Press football poll is part of the problem, the Observer has cast its last vote,” Persinger wrote.

“Mack Brown’s Texas Longhorns were on the verge of being left out, and he wasn’t happy. He said as much on television after a Thanksgiving beating of Texas A&M, lobbying voters on national television to move his team ahead of other teams he called “less deserving.”

Texas fans took it from there. They bombarded AP voters, including the Observer’s Ken Tysiac, with e-mails imploring them to change their votes. Some were eloquent, many were insulting. Tysiac didn’t change, but others did.

“One Alabama voter, also a victim of the e-mail bombardment, moved the Longhorns from ninth to fifth—still being Cal on his ballot, but a gain of four precious poll points. The L.A. Times reported voters from three Texas papers—Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin—flip-flopped the Longhorns and the Bears.

“In the end, Texas moved up in the Bowl Championship Series standings, on the strength of its movement in the AP poll and a slight improvement in the computer rankings. The difference in payouts? The Rose, where Texas will play, pays $7 million to $8.5 million per team. The Holiday, where Cal was relegated, pays $1 million per team.

“With that kind of money at stake, the potential for abuse is great, and even though Tysiac’s top seven teams stayed the same before and after lobbying by Brown and Texas fans—and the Observer published his votes each week all season for the sake of accountability—the mess calls the polls the polling process into question.

“The credibility of this newspaper is more important than the prestige of voting in the AP poll. Tysiac will complete this season, the last in which a reporter from the Observer will vote in a poll tied to the BCS.

“The AP basketball poll? We don’t have a vote this season, but we would consider voting in the future. That poll is for fun and to drive fan interest, and it’s basically meaningless because the NCAA basketball champion is determined in a playoff.”


Further evidence that there’s a mess with newspapers, not just the BCS, came when Huntsville (Ala.) Times editor Melinda Gorham stupidly jumped into the fray.

Obviously, she’d have been smarter to stay out of it after reading what appeared on the Poynter news website. Chris Lang of the Arizona Daily Sun took Gorham to task

Lang injected an ugly phrase [ugly, that is to newsroom people] into his criticism: Advertising dollars.

In a column headlined “We dropped the ball on tone and sensitivity,” Gorham had apologized to Huntsville Times readers “for the column [written by the Times’ Paul Gattis] …..that ran on the front of Monday’s sports section. As several of you have pointed out in-emails, voice mails and face-to-face conversations, the tone of the column was mean-spirited and callow, brushing off the opinions of hundreds of Times readers with its ‘I really don’t care what you think’ attitude..

“We Times employees do care. A lot.

“The column’s tone stung me when I read the paper Monday morning [Dec. 8]. It stung me as I considered the volume and the validity of criticisms of the writer, the sports department, the newspaper. It stings me today because I can’t take back what was probably written during the writer’s bruised, end-of-season weariness. Sadly, the psyches of many local football fans and readers are bruised. And in some cases, readers’ weariness has turned to anger.

“Some history: Alabama beat writer Paul Gattis was asked to be one of 65 voters in this football season’s Associated Press panel, an honor that plays a part in determining national rankings and thus which team goes to which bowl. The vote is made by the individual, not by a consensus of the sports or newsroom staff…..

“Gattis, who voted Oklahoma No. 1 the whole season, explained his rationale to me a few days before Sunday’s final vote. Even if I wouldn’t necessarily have voted the way he did, his explanation of why he ranked Oklahoma first, Southern Cal second and Auburn third had merit. I told him I stood behind his obligation to vote his beliefs on the matter…..

“I asked Gattis to explain to readers, as he had explained to me, his voting for Oklahoma after the season ended. We agreed he’d write a straightforward column.

“Instead, a writer’s ‘Let me explain’ attitude turned into a ‘Leave me alone’ column.

“Even though signed columns are meant to reflect a writer’s sensibilities and style, there are certain attributes that should never be circumvented: civility, tolerance of counter-opinions and a tone that coaxes a reader to ponder the concept more than the columnist.

“We didn’t do that in Monday’s column. I deeply regret it.”

Lang. in his Arizona Daily Sun column, said Gorham’s “front page apology ruined any credibility sportswriter Paul Gattis may have had with his readers. Someone wrote a legitimate column, some people didn’t like it, so a weak-minded publisher wanted an immediate retraction so as not to lose advertising money.

“This is a major, major problem, folks.”

I’d say it’s time for Gattis to look for another job. Gorham, too.


Maybe it’s because of the holidays, maybe not. But my e-mail bag has no more room in it.

Obviously, people have a lot on their minds:


“Bring back Maury! Does anyone besides me think Keeler’s column in Sunday’s Register was a piece of shit? He witnessed one of the best moments in the history of Kinnick Stadium and he wrote a piece he could have done while sitting on the throne at home. The guy makes Maury White look like a Pulitzer winner.”

[NOTE: “Eastern Iowa Retiree” was talking about Sean Keeler, a sports columnist at the local paper. “Eastern Iowa Retiree” obviously thought Keeler didn’t do justice to Iowa’s final game of the 2004 regular season—a 30-7 victory over Wisconsin that helped give the Hawkeyes a share of the Big Ten championship. “Eastern Iowa Retiree” thought Keeler possibly wrote the column that appeared in the Iowa City edition of the paper while at home. Who knows, maybe he did. Apparently, anything goes nowadays. The “Maury” referred to by “Eastern Iowa Retiree” was Maury White, a longtime sports columnist at the local paper who never won a Pulitzer Prize, but is probably rolling over in his grave these days over what’s happening at 8th and Locust. Maury is not meant to be confused with the Morrie in Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays With Morrie”].


“It’s hard for me to understand how a good guy like Gary Thompson can pal around with an asshole like Eustachy. He makes Alford look good.”

[NOTE: My goodness, “asshole” is not a very nice thing—especially when it’s so close to Christmas--for “Mr. Astute” to call Larry Eustachy, the former Iowa State basketball coach who has quit drinking and now is coaching at Southern Mississippi. Mr. Astute must be referring to the appearance of Thompson, a former Iowa State basketball standout, among a number of Cyclone fans who are supportive of Eustachy and were seated behind his bench when Southern Mississippi appeared in the recent Gazette Hawkeye Challenge at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. My guess is the “Alford” that “Mr. Astute” is referring to is Iowa coach Steve Alford, not Sam Alford, his dad].


So what is going on with this Drake basketball program? Seems like the wheels are coming off.”

[NOTE: “Just Wondering” wrote his e-mail an hour or two after Drake lost its Missouri Valley Conference opener to Wichita State, 75-53, at the Knapp Center. The 22-point loss shocked me, too. But I wouldn’t necessarily say the wheels are coming off the Bulldogs’ pickup truck. I’m not sure they were ever on. One or two people have whispered that major-college basketball has maybe passed coach Tom Davis by, but it’s probably too early for that kind of talk. Hang in there, “Just Wondering.” Things could get better. On the other hand, things could get a lot worse].


“The 75-53 loss to Wichita State was terrible for Drake. If they struggle badly the rest of the way, Davis might quit after this season. No hope in sight, really, unless that DMACC guard can lead them out of the wilderness.”

[NOTE:The “Davis” referred to by “Another Opinion” is, I think, Drake coach Tom Davis, who is in his second season after becoming the all-time winningest basketball coach at Iowa. As far as I know, he has not indicated he plans to retire again in March, 2005. The DMACC guard talked about by “Another Opinion” is Al Stewart, a 5-10 player from Des Moines Area Community College in Boone, who has signed a national letter of intent with Drake. “In all of my years of coaching, I can’t remember any other time when several of my team members encouraged me to recruit a player,” Davis said of Stewart. “After playing with him in the Capitol City Summer League, our players were convinced that Al would be a great fit for our system…..” However, it’s not often that a 5-10 player can improve an entire collegiate basketball program].


“I see Witosky has found something to write about. Egad, that guy can stretch a 12-inch story into 50 inches easier than anyone I know.”

[I’m guessing “Witosky” is Tom Witosky, who works in the sports department at the local paper. I think the 50-inch story that “Newspaper Critic” is referring to had something to do with Iowa State, not about the junior college football team at Fort Dodge. I didn’t read past the first 12 inches, so it’s impossible for me to make an intelligent comment on what “Newspaper Critic” says].


“Hey, Jerk,

“Why don’t you ever have anything positive to say about the Clones? You know, I remember those five years we crushed Iowa’s ego on the field. What did you have to say then? That’s okay, Ferentz will be gone within a year and I can guarantee at Cyclone win next year. What will you have to say then? Go **** yourself.”

[NOTE: Hey, that kind of message reminds me of my earlier writing life. I’ll bet “Happy Holidays” used to write to me when there was still an Opinion Page. Something tells me that guy and I won’t be going to lunch anytime soon. The only reason I think the e-mail from “Happy Holidays” was meant for me and not Pat Harty at the Iowa City Press-Citizen is because it came in on my computer. There was a man’s name on the “From” line. It was either that guy, a phony name or someone using that guy’s computer. And the words and characters “Go **** yourself” sound to me like a four-letter thing that’s physically impossible to do. But, just to make sure, I’ll check with my doctor. Or maybe Rob Borsellino. He might know about things like that, too].

Vol. 4, No. 286
Dec. 14, 2004