By Steve Hunley
There are times when silence is not golden and this is one of them.
For those people who still read the Knoxville News-Sentinel, you may have noticed the same story about polling and State Senator Stacey Campfield being repeated over and over again.
The Sentinel has done its best to infer somehow that The Knoxville Focus or I personally am involved. With its usual penchant for accuracy, the Sentinel has referred to me as the “editor” of The Focus; I am in fact the owner and publisher of The Knoxville Focus. The editor of The Focus is Marianne Dedmon, but you’d have to actually go to the trouble of reading the masthead to figure that out. This is less a news story, than DIRTY POLITICS.
Just why I would want to comment in the Sentinel rather than my own paper remains a mystery. But as they want a quote, this Publisher’s Position will suffice as my reply.
After the second Sentinel article appeared, I did in fact call Patrick Birmingham, publisher of the Sentinel, and told him that the poll in question was not done at my request nor was it done for The Focus.
The Knoxville Focus does business with Cyragon Research to conduct our weekly polls. Its owner, Ben Farmer, is a mighty fine and capable young man and is an excellent pollster, The Knoxville Focus also does business with the Sentinel, which prints The Focus weekly. Despite doing business with the Sentinel, I have nothing to do with its content and am relieved to say I am not responsible for anything in the Sentinel or any mistakes made by the Sentinel. I am no more responsible should the Sentinel make a mistake in printing my paper than I am for a survey going wrong.
Cyragon has other clients besides The Focus and any polling done on the race between State Senator Stacey Campfield and Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs was not done under the auspices or at the direction of me or The Knoxville Focus. (See http://24×7.knoxfocus.com to view Brigg’s full voicemail to me.)
Senator Campfield came and sat down at my table, uninvited, at a political function this past Monday. This gave me the perfect opportunity to tell Senator Campfield that neither The Focus nor I had anything to do whatsoever with the robocall incident. I went on to tell Senator Campfield that as far as I was concerned, he could complain to the TBI, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and even the TVA for that matter. It does not alter the facts in the least.
Frankly, the Sentinel has been outraged since The Focus began running a weekly poll asking Knoxvillians and Knox Countians what they think about a variety of issues facing our community. I cannot remember just how many times Georgiana Vines of the Sentinel called me to ask about our weekly poll and it became apparent to me the Sentinel wanted to discredit the poll.
The fundamental difference between The Focus and the Sentinel is that The Focus has an opinion (just like this column which you are reading) and doesn’t attempt to disguise it. However, of utmost importance to The Focus, we are very interested in what you, the people, really think. That’s why we conduct a weekly poll. The Focus poll is an immensely popular weekly feature and done solely for the purpose of finding out what you really think about issues facing our community or country. On the other hand, in my opinion, the Sentinel doesn’t give a hoot what the people think, but rather tries to tell them what they should think.
The Sentinel tries to operate under the guise of being unbiased and objective but I doubt there’s anyone in town who actually believes that. For those who doubt it, all one has to do is consider the case of Mayor Tim Burchett.
Burchett stood in the way of the huge tax increase demanded by school Superintendent James McIntyre, which infuriated the Sentinel folks. The Sentinel went all in for McIntyre’s proposed tax increase, joining with their partners at the Chamber of Commerce to support it and try and force it down the throats of the people of Knox County. Almost daily, the Sentinel published editorials telling readers why the tax increase was necessary and lauded several Chamber millionaires who banded together to buy advertising on television to sell the tax increase.
The Focus opposed the proposed tax increase and conducted a poll showing the vast majority of Knoxvillians and Knox Countians were opposed to it; the end result was that not a single member of the Knox County Commission made a motion to increase taxes.
It was a humiliating experience for both the Sentinel and Chamber folks. It was soon after that the Sentinel started its political vendetta—and that’s exactly what it was—against Mayor Burchett. The Sentinel started publishing intimate details of Burchett’s finances. The stories were fueled with information provided by Burchett’s then-wife, with whom he was engaged in a bitter divorce. Despite the Sentinel folks denying the information came from Burchett’s spouse, it was obvious to just about everyone where they were getting the material with which they constantly beat the Mayor over the head.
Every newspaper has a voice and clearly the Sentinel grew accustomed to having a monopoly and longs for a return to those days. Attempting to discredit The Focus is the real reason behind the recurring stories about polling. Credibility is all a newspaper has. If a newspaper loses its credibility, it might as well cease to exist.
An explanation to this entire robocall debacle could be very simple. There could have been a glitch in the computer-generated calling program which caused some folks to receive multiple calls. It is a story about nothing that is being reported by the Sentinel for its own agenda. I don’t think there is a single soul who believes it qualifies as real news.
Will the authorities now investigate companies who misdial a number when sending a fax? Fax machines keep calling until the fax goes through, which is mighty annoying for the recipient of such calls. Is that harassment? Will doctor’s offices, pharmacies and the like be subject to investigation under the current harassment law?
The only other beneficiary to the Sentinel’s carping is Stacey Campfield, who can play the victim for once in his controversial life.
The Sentinel’s editorial policy is so predictable that a child could successfully guess where it will land next. The Sentinel is the voice of the political establishment in Knoxville and Knox County and where one finds the Chamber of Commerce, Lady Sentinel will surely be found in the same bed. My friend Patrick Birmingham, publisher of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, is in fact the Chair Elect of the Chamber of Commerce this year. Is it merely a happy coincidence the Sentinel just happens to come down on the side of the Chamber every time? On every issue?
The Sentinel religiously backs appointment of officials rather than elections because they think it would increase the influence of the elite and the establishment and those folks believe they would have the most influence in doing the picking. Their message is yet again clear: the people can’t be trusted, nor are they smart enough, to make important decisions. The Focus, on the other hand, has complete and total trust in “We the People.”
For whatever reason, the immensely popular weekly Focus poll has gotten under the skin of the Sentinel. Clearly they wish to be the sole voice heard by the people of Knoxville and Knox County. Every big corporation wants to be a monopoly and there is no doubt in my mind the Sentinel wants to return to the good old days where they monopolized print news in Knox County.
As I have said before, I will tell you The Focus has a point of view; I’ve never denied it and never will. When we have a point of view, it is clearly stated as such. Our opinion. The Sentinel folks pretend to be unbiased and holier than thou, sort of like the streetwalker who goes to church every Sunday. Attending church is good for the soul, but it doesn’t change the fact that one is a streetwalker.
Again, all any newspaper has is its own credibility. The little flap about a poll that may have gone haywire is much ado about nothing. The Sentinel folks can’t just come out and say they don’t like or believe the polls published in The Focus, but the reality is they just can’t let it go.
Whoever is responsible for this situation should have come forward and offered an explanation and apologized to those folks who were repeatedly called by mistake. It should have been as simple as that.
Any newspaper, as with any individual, should at the very least always be honest.
And to be very honest, sorry boys and girls, The Focus is here to stay and no amount of harassment is going to change that.