Muzzled In Memphis

I really hope this works out for both Wendi and the CA, but I’m afraid it won’t for either.

About a week after the Brooks flap, there were some folks who expressed to me they were worried she was being silenced. I don’t work for the CA so I have no knowledge one way or the other.

But I held out hope that her most recent column dealing County MWBE contracts (current policy and the impact) was a way to deal with the issue that started the mess without getting into the distraction that Brooks herself created.

Now, just days after that column, it appears on first glance that the former is true.

I do hope, as others have suggested in other forums, that this turns into a new way to report and talk about crime in the media. There’s no question the current model (bleeds it leads) not only doesn’t address the societal ills that exist, but also enables a guilty until proven innocent attitude that is contrary to our legal system, and in some way glamorizes the crimes themselves.

I don’t have much faith that this will be the case in the new era of “You can have it your way” journalism…but one can hope.

That’s the comment I left in response to this article at the Memphis Flyer regarding the reassignment of now former Metro Columnist Wendi Thomas.

The CA’s decision to reassign Thomas comes at an inconvenient time for the paper. Now, just two months out from County elections, it goes without saying that there would be a great deal to comment on as campaigns kick into high gear. But apparently that’s not on the menu for the CA.

In fact, Thomas’ most recent column probably hit too close to home for some of those candidates…and future columns might have cast doubt on some of the forthcoming endorsements from the paper’s editorial board…a body that consistently engages in false equivalence, lightweight analysis, and an inattention to detail that would lead one to believe they don’t read the very paper in which their editorials are published.

Those issues aside, Thomas’ last column served to illustrate the way local government seeks to shield itself from criticism by using the ‘rhetoric of inclusion’, while hiding persistent sins of omission in terms of published data, and offering little if any true self-examination.

County and City government does and has consistently gone out of its way to do one thing and say another on a whole host of issues, all the while shielding themselves from analysis behind a wall of cloistered data (One can’t ask for it if they don’t know its there).

This strategy isn’t remarkable in any way. It happens everywhere to one degree or another. Its an easy way to say a policy is working without having to do the heavy lifting of actually showing its achieving the intended result. It also shields those who may profit from said policy at the expense of others from being found out…which might be embarrassing or something.

And while Thomas hasn’t always used data to support her arguments, and I certainly have had differences with some of her columns…its mighty suspicious that a county where a large portion of the population is African-American women wouldn’t have a columnist who is an African-American woman…something Betsy points to here at Pith.

So, I go back to my original comment…and wish Wendi well on her new and surprising assignment. I hope she can find a way to use her new role to bring forward some of that cloistered data in a meaningful way, that will help illustrate how some really bad policy is impacting our community.

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