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SouthComm City Paper editor takes one step forward, two steps back on Metro Council member

Posted in Uncategorized by Mike Byrd on April 27, 2010

Of all the shortcomings of the establishment press today, none is more central to the corruption of the profession than the decision to prioritize balance over accuracy.

Josh Marshall

Recently ensconced City Paper editor Stephen George created a blogospheric, twitterific stir yesterday with his profile of Metro Council member Emily Evans. Despite his confessed efforts to deflect charges of sympathy for or hits against Evans, he incurred the wrath of several social mediarites, including Aunt B, who cavorts in the twilight zone between bona fide blogging and local news media.

On the one hand, I believe that George is correct in arguing that “Convention center crusader” is neither a sympathy piece nor a hit piece.  On the other hand, the narrative of the story belies a profound bias against Emily Evans as a parent who both “bailed” on her job and generates extreme reactions from quarters from which George distances himself as reporter.

On Twitter yesterday I argued with some that George’s story was more balanced toward CM Evans as critic of the Mayor’s Office than anything we had seen from any print publication going back to last year. First, my simple count of the positive adjectives vs. negative adjectives that George seems to choose himself to describe her seem equal. Second, the fact that George described the anonymous character assassins honing in on Evans as subscribing to conspiracy theories is more than a slight step forward for local journos. Third, I would concede to George that his story personalized CM Evans more effectively than had been done by by echo-chamber beat reporters in the past.

And there is the rub. Relative to Big Print’s sorry track record on covering the Music City Center proposal and in the safety of the Council’s vote to support it, George’s story seems to be walking back the uncritical conveyance of anonymous hits on Ms. Evans and other council critics of Karl Dean’s initiatives. His piece seems more like smoothing over press-empowered past rancor at loyal opposition. Given that the promiscuous print press sunk to a new low in coverage of the Music City Center, balance now seems like an express elevator to quality.

Indeed, Stephen George’s journal is much more about press equivocation and triangulation: staking out a space between “conspiracy theories” against CM Evans and “class warfare-style public sentiment” for her. But the balance here is illegitimate. Commentators throw around charges of “class warfare” too easily. Given that the last time Americans saw anything remotely  resembling a class war was almost a century ago, thusly impugning public opinion against the convention center is hackneyed and just silly. Note that he avoids comparing this affair to a civil war or to a culture war, which it more closely resembles than a class war. The editor’s insinuations of blind class ideology and rabble rousing are clear in his cast of aspersion on par with Courthouse skullduggery.

In the end this profile is more about George the Journo framing his profession between claims that arise from the anonymous Courthouse elite (whose beat must be sweet if reporters are going to access news) and claims of the public (who consume his paper’s news) than it is about CM Evans. He can set himself up pronouncing pox on both houses as an arbiter who writes neither for sympathy nor for hits. The dark side of that stance is that George does fundamentally nothing to change the Courthouse’s echo-chamber in the press.

Claims of balance provide him a shield for inaccuracies and latent attacks that bleed out of his narrative. He introduces the piece by insinuating that Emily Evans offers oversimplified protests against MCC. He falls into the trap that feminists have warned us about when we describe men as assertive and women as aggressive.

Worst of all, he pens this sexist and immature paragraph:

Evans looks more like a mom than a crusader. The married mother of three children — two of whom are teenagers — carries herself with a confidence borne of the careful combination of refined intelligence and a hint of arrogance.

George appeals to motherhood as if every single reader would intuitively produce exactly the same image of mom in his or her mind. His appeal is so general as to make no sense whatsoever, because moms are various and sundry. And the end of the paragraph confuses the appeal even more: moms are intelligent and arrogant? Later he tells us that as a mom, Evans “bailed” on her job. So, when they are not being inordinately ambitious in their careers, moms are flighty and noncommittal in the workplace?

A last point on George’s discussion of family/career life: I cannot remember a previous City Paper profile of a male council member that posed the problem of his responsibilities as a father relative to his position or his career. Hence, the City Paper lapses into a vicious double standard with George’s profile.

Like others, I find curious George’s unwillingness to paraphrase or to quote fellow CM Mike Jameson (an Evans advocate) absent cursing because his paper is a “family publication”; as if children have any interest in pouring over council member profiles. Surely, nothing CM Jameson said is as ill-mannered as Finance Director Rich Riebeling’s decent into indecency by referring to Evans with terms like “nuisance” or as the lies of anonymous politicos (who are just as contemptible as any other hiding in anonymity)  calling her “destructive.” The editor’s neglect of priorities is breathtaking.

I am hard-pressed to see Stephen George’s profile of Emily Evans, a hardworking, assertive advocate for community interests, as progress in any sense but one step forward, two steps back. More personal than the past, its merits are hedged in by contrived balance. George’s own gadfly remains a young warble living on the hide of anonymous sources and emotional extremity. He fails to portray Emily Evans accurately given my own experiences.

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One Response

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  1. Kleinheider said, on April 27, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Congrats on the new blog. Like the minimalism of this WP theme.


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