Static: Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Did He Interview Himself?

Some of you are probably weary of Static continuously lobbing snark grenades at the Fort Worth Star-What-the-Hellagram and tv news crews, but somebody’s got to hold local media accountable (don’t expect a media outlet to ever declare: “This just in — we’re incompetent!”). This month, eChaser, a newsletter directed at local journalists and public relations flaks, offers a column by Greater Fort Worth Public Relations Society of America prez Marc Flake, who described Star-T development managing editor Larry Lutz’s presentation at the PRSA January chapter meeting. Lutz, according to Flake, showcased upcoming changes “in the paper’s look and feel” and said the newspaper would cut back on some reporting and, in its place, refer readers to organizations’ web sites for more information.

Flake, a PR man at heart (he’s spokesman for Tarrant County), gushed about the possibilities: “... it’s not too farfetched to think that the public will start getting information directly from our sites, without the media filter.” Gee, wouldn’t governments and corporations love to do away with that pesky “media filter,” which is also translated as “journalistic pride” and “work ethic” and “devotion to truth?”

Lutz, however, told Static that Flake’s interpretation of his speech that day missed the gist of his message. News articles will be researched and reported as always, but links to web sites will be included more often with stories so readers can research organizations on their own, he said.

Whew! Imagine if organizations were allowed to write their own articles? That would be a travesty, an affront to integrity, a terrible ... holy crap! Static stumbled across a Jan. 31 story that appeared on the front page, above the fold, in the Star-T’s Weatherford edition. The story described how Michael Lee Kirkland was busted for having 10 marijuana plants in his house and sentenced to seven years in jail and a $2,500 fine. The plants must have been mere sprouts — the haul netted only a half-pound. Hell, Static and friends can smoke that much over one long — and admittedly lost — weekend. An assistant district attorney was quoted as saying the pot was grown for Kirkland’s personal consumption.

Kirkland didn’t appear to be dangerous — his prior convictions were misdemeanors, mostly small drug busts. So it looks to Static like this either shouldn’t have been a story at all, or the reporter should have done a bit more work to explain that many people would find fault with the idea of giving a 56-year-old guy a long sentence for growing pot for his own use. The reporter could have talked to a group like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, comprised of current and former cops and lawyers who think it’s folly to spend $1 billion a year filling jails and prisons with marijuana offenders. Or he might have quoted someone about the lack of medical evidence that marijuana creates health problems.

Oh, no wonder. In this case, the “reporter” was none other than Parker County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Swain.

Lutz described the Weatherford community newspaper as a Star-T affiliate with its own publisher and editorial staff, and he referred any questions or concerns to them. Static called the paper at 6 p.m. but nobody answered. They must have all gone home early since they’re letting the DA’s office write copy for them.

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