Bill Moyers recently aired a documentary called “N.C.: Battleground State.” It outlines the activities of the a warped, cruel bunch currently running our state.
I’ve always loved public interest reporting, and I’ve always loved newspapers. As a kid, I read about Nelly Bly (1864-1922), a courageous reporter who disguised herself as a mental patient and went undercover in order to detail the horrible conditions of people living in asylums. Her reporting changed lives. At North Buncombe High, one of my history teachers told us about public interest writer, Upton Sinclair. So I read “The Jungle,” Sinclair’s novel describing the horrific conditions of immigrant workers in Chicago’s meatpacking industry at the turn-of-the-century. That book made me really appreciate the labor movement. At UNCA, I had a class called “19th Century Newspaper Women.” I learned how the power of the pen advanced the suffrage movement.
Here’s what I know: Government exists to empower and protect people and that is also true for journalism. A healthy democracy depends on a free and independent press. Period.
I don’t like criticizing the local paper. It’s hard work putting out a paper, and it’s noble work. But I’m going to say it: Gannett, the owner of our local paper, the Asheville Citizen-Times (ACT), seems intent on running the ACT into the ground. This summer, Gannett laid off eight talented, well-respected staffers in the newsroom. That was a blow to the entire community. We need more local journalists not fewer.
Today, Ashvegas reports that Gannett plans on adding 12-14 pages of USA Today content to the local paper. That’s a terrible idea. I have no interest in 12-14 pages of canned USA Today stories. Do you? For national news, I turn to the in-depth coverage of sources like the New York Times. From the ACT, I want local news — and, no, that does not include all the tiresome Billy Graham stories running in the paper every other day.
I want in-depth investigative stories. I want to know which of my local reps rejects science. I want a local daily that will follow up on Tim Moffitt’s loyalty to the sinister privateering group ALEC. I want to know what happens at public meetings. What’s going on in the planning department? What’s going on with local businesses? What good things are our local non-profits doing? I want to know how the gas pump got crushed off its stand at Enmark. I want to laugh out loud with Susan Reinhardt columns. I don’t want to read about Syria in the ACT because there are too many good national news outlets that can do a much better job informing me about topics such as Syria.
Well, I digress. What I really want to talk about is the horrible recent breach of ethics on the part of the ACT. On November 27, the ACT ran a 48-page paid political insert sponsored by Moffitt’s firm — without disclosing to readers the origin or sponsorship of the document. This must have horrified the entire newsroom as certain standards in journalism are SACRED. Unlike Moffitt’s Raleigh Digest, real newspapers have to work in an open system in order to remain credible. Otherwise, who trusts them?
The publisher’s response should have been strong and unequivocal. Instead, his tepid apology further marred the ACT’s credibility. I want the paper to succeed. However, with the newsroom lay-offs, this political insert business, and the announcement of more canned news — it all makes me wonder how long we will even have a local daily.
Here’s a description of the situation from Dr. Mark West, a board member with the Mountain Area Information Network:
The Asheville Citizen-Times ran a 48-page paid political insert, sponsored by a firm owned by Republican state representative Tim Moffitt, in its November 27 print edition without disclosing to readers the origin or sponsorship of the document.
The insert, which was not readily distinguishable from newspaper content, praised the actions of the state legislature under Republican control as it cut educational budgets, eviscerated environmental programs, and pursued gerrymandering projects which brought about a Federal lawsuit against the state.
Management of the Citizen-Times, which is owned by the Gannett newspaper chain, apologized on WLOS-TV for not labeling the insert as advertising, but did not mention its origin in Rep. Tim Moffitt’s InTouchNC, LLC. This firm’s business location is in Moffitt’s home, according to legal filings.
The insert itself makes no mention of Moffitt’s affiliation, although copies of the insert appear on Moffitt’s web site.
“The fact that the piece was paid for has to be prominently and clearly indicated,” says Dave Weinberger of the Harvard Business Review in a July 2013 article about sponsored journalism. And that’s precisely where Gannett failed. Worse, in their apology, they didn’t come clean about the political linkages of the sponsors of the insert.
The statement in the newspaper says that the Citizen “apologizes for any confusion [the failure to label the insert as advertising] may have created.” That’s akin to saying “I’m sorry calling you a name offended you;” it’s an apology that does not really admit to wrongdoing.
The Citizen-Times should cover this major failure of journalistic ethics like any other news story. They should report on who did what, when, and how.
“If advertorials become effectively indistinguishable from editorial, aren’t we in danger of destroying the village in order to save it?” Andrew Sullivan, former editor of the New Republic, wrote in a recent blog post. That’s a message the Citizen-Times should seriously consider.
Columbia Journalism Review has picked up the story: http://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/asheville_citizen_times_tim_moffitt_raleigh_digest_apology.php
Friday, December 28, 2012
Greensboro News & Record editorial page
Asheville is fighting to keep its municipal water system and avoid a soaking. But the state legislature has the last word.
Other cities should tune in to this drama playing out in the water-wealthy mountain community.
While Asheville operates its own water system, wastewater service is handled by a Metropolitan Sewerage District that covers all of Buncombe County. A legislative study committee reported last year that combining systems could achieve efficiencies, and a bill passed this summer would authorize a sewerage district to exercise “any power” of a city water system. The measure, pushed by Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, and Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, was seen as a prelude to a merger. But some critics suspect the ultimate goal is to privatize water services in Asheville. Moffitt and McGrady deny it, but much of this story seems to lie beneath the surface.
The Asheville City Council is trying to block any action to remove the water system from city control. It put the question to city voters in a nonbinding referendum last month. Eighty-six percent said they wanted to keep the system. It passed its own resolution, unanimously, that warned: “The forced taking of … local government infrastructure sets a dangerous precedent in the state of North Carolina, a precedent that will have a chilling effect on any local government investing in needed infrastructure in the future.”
Asheville is currently spending $40 million for water system improvements and believes any compensation it receives if its system is folded into the Metropolitan Sewerage District won’t be adequate. A recent study commissioned by the city placed the value of its water system at $177 million and also said consolidation under MSD management would reduce costs for sewer customers by $18 million to $23 million over nine years but cost Asheville water customers $33 million more.
On the other hand, if Asheville managed the consolidated operation, the city report said, all users would save money. But that has not been an option discussed by legislators, who appear to be preparing for some action in 2013.
The state does have the power to force a regional approach to the provision of water and sewer services. And, with water resources becoming more scarce and environmental concerns putting greater focus on wastewater treatment processes, any means of achieving efficiencies must be considered.
But Asheville’s objections aren’t unreasonable. Like Greensboro, High Point and most other sizable cities in North Carolina, it has made huge investments in water collection, treatment and delivery. At the very least, its customers and taxpayers deserve fair compensation for what they’ve spent. They are the ones who stand to get a soaking.
Sometimes elected officials need your help–and this is one of those times.
As you likely know, there is an effort underway to seize from the City of Asheville our water system–the 20,000 acre watershed, two reservoirs, over 1,600 miles of water lines, all of it.
As a member of Asheville City Council, I remain committed to defending our water system from state takeover legislation. But make no mistake, the threat facing Asheville is real and growing. Reps. Moffitt (R-Bunc.) and McGrady (R-Hend.) have stated their intention to introduce in January legislation forcing Asheville to merge its water system into the Metropolitan Sewerage District(MSD), who would control and manage the asset.
This Friday, Nov. 30th at 12 noon The Planning Committee of MSD, on which myself and Vice-Mayor Esther Manheimer are Asheville appointees, will be meeting at MSD’s headquarters at 2028 Riverside Drive in Woodfin. The purpose of this meeting will be consideration of the merger proposal by MSD’s consultant. Attached is the consultant’s preliminary report. The compensation piece in the report is worth close scrutiny.
Also expected to be present with be the bill’s likely sponsor, Rep. Chuck McGrady of Henderson County. A good question to ask might be why a Henderson County legislator is leading this effort. See the attached articles for more background on this question.
Unlike city council meetings, the public rarely attends MSD meetings. With so much at stake, that has to change. As mentioned, sometimes elected officials need your help. I write today to ask, if your schedule permits, you attend Friday’s meeting to help send the message this power grab by the state legislature is not going unnoticed.
Yours in service,
Asheville City Council
Early voting continues through Nov. 3. If you want to know who to vote for in Buncombe County, CLICK ICON FOR ONE-PAGE 2012 BUNCOMBE COUNTY DEMOCRATIC VOTING ROSTER:
After completely floundering at the Chamber of Commerce forum last month, Tim Moffitt has largely gone missing in action. Rather than face the hard questions, Mr. Moffitt has skipped public forums of the Asheville Civitan, the League of Women Voters, the Deerfield Candidate Reception and the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and instead chosen to hide behind the hateful mailings and ads of multimillionaire Art Pope’s PACs and the Republicans. Mr. Moffitt does not want to answer the public and media’s questions on his record of:
- Gutting education;
- Giving tax loopholes to the wealthy;
- His single-handed efforts to steal Buncombe’s community assets for the benefit of other counties or private interests.
Perhaps he’s avoiding this discussion …
The Mountain Xpress recently posted their candidate questionnaire, revealing Moffitt’s top three donors: Harold Brubaker, Mitchell Setzer, Bill Brawley.
Bill Brawley, is a N.C. representative from Mecklenburg County, who Moffitt appointed to the “study” committee recommending the involuntary seizure of Buncombe’s water system — which, if passed, will result in our county subsidizing Henderson’s sewage, water, and sprawl. You may recall that Brawley earned the Double Dunce-cap award from my blog after insulting the Buncombe residents and leaders who came out to Moffitt’s fake public hearing last April.
Harold Brubaker is currently on the board of ALEC, the pro-privatization, pro-corporate lobby group most recently in the news for funneling more than an estimated $4 million in gifts to state legislators for travel, hotel rooms, and meals at posh resorts since 2006. LOCAL MEDIA: PLEASE FOLLOW-UP ON THIS! I would like to know if Moffitt has traveled on ALEC’s dime.
In 1989, the New York Times reported that Mr. Brubaker was paid $10,000 to assist developers in Durham, North Carolina, regarding a real estate project that drew scrutiny from authorities. The project involved converting a hosiery mill into homes for the elderly, and caused concern when subordinates had reportedly been against the project, but funds were appropriated nevertheless.
Michell Setzer is an N.C. representative from Catawba County.
The Xpress also lists Moffitt’s endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). I’d like to remind you that the NFIB is a group has been shown to lobby on issues that favor large corporate interests and run counter to the interests of small businesses. “NFIB, which claims to be non-partisan, engages in partisan politics, and receives millions in hidden contributions. “
All this brings me to the ad in today’s paper bought and paid for by LOCAL, BUNCOMBE COUNTY RESIDENTS. Please support Jane Whilden and get your friends in District 116 to vote for her:
If you want to know who to vote for in Buncombe County, CLICK ICON FOR ONE-PAGE 2012 BUNCOMBE COUNTY DEMOCRATIC VOTING ROSTER:
Can you help hand out voting roster at early voting sites?
The Buncombe County Democratic party needs help staffing volunteers at the early voting sites to hand out the slate card above to voters coming into the polls. This is actually one of my favorite volunteer jobs to get out the vote. Voters really appreciate having a list of who to vote for in the non-partisan races, such as judges — as they are not listed by party on your ballot. If you have any free time between now and Nov. 3, please call Tom Sullivan and sign up to volunteer at: (828) 274-4482.
Taking it to the streets! Water Rally Oct. 30
[UPDATE 10/29/12: RALLY CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER]
A rally and press conference in support of voting NO on the water referendum is planned for Tuesday, Oct. 30, from 5:30-6:00 pm (meet at 5:15!) at Pack Square Park at the Vance Memorial; Intersection of Patton Ave. and Biltmore Ave. This rally is sponsored by Clean Water for NC, Food and Water Watch, WNCA, WENOCA Sierra Club, Mountain Voices Alliance, PARC, and other local partners.
Bring: Signs, baseballs and baseball gloves. Suggested sign messages: “Vote ‘NO’ on water referendum,” “Defend our water! Vote NO,” “A vote of NO is a grand slam for local control,” “Save Asheville’s water,” etc. Sign-making materials will be available at Clean Water for NC’s office … contact Katie Hicks, CWFNC, if you’d like to come by to make signs. (Katie Hicks: 828-251-1291, Katie Hicks)
Great news! The water referendum may be binding
At Monday’s water forum, Asheville’s Vice-Mayor Ester Manheimer said that the water referendum may very well be binding — a referendum of this kind has never been tested in N.C.’s courts. Previous to Monday, I had understood that the referendum was a symbolic opportunity for City voters to express their objection to Tim Moffitt’s slimy attempt to have the state seize the water system (an action that — if it comes to fruition — will force Buncombe County to subsidize Henderson County’s water and sewage costs and put our water at risk of privatization). The fact that the referendum may be binding makes it especially important to get to the polls and vote NO to the referendum.
The Power of 5 Women is a project to support and elect Democratic women in Buncombe County.Last Sunday, we ran this ad in the Asheville Citizen-Times, and we have two more ads coming out this Sunday opposing Tim Moffitt. We would like to raise enough money to run more ads. Please click on the link if you would like to donate: