Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sorry, but I always love the irony when global warming protests are snowed or iced out... http://ping.fm/cgaNq

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holy Cow! ABC's Brian Ross catches FAA, $5 mil party at OMNI CNN Center -- but no CNN logos in shots. http://ping.fm/FKyAB
Holy cow! ABC's Brian http://ping.fm/JUgyU

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

House fans show their passion; MOST DVR's network TV show, hands down. From MediaWeek:http://ping.fm/cj1FH

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Kudos to my pals at 94.9 WQMX, broadcasting the annual Tree of Lights campaign to benefit the Haven of Rest! Light 'em up!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sad news from the Akron Zoo...not even a city full of Zippy fans is enough to find a foster parent! http://ping.fm/tMCG9
Whew...this picture is worth about three thousand words. Think twice on those billboard ads and Tweets... http://ping.fm/cBhcv

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Congrats to WBNS-TV GM Tom Griesdorn for national recognition. One of the good guys... http://ping.fm/zRB8U

Sunday, November 22, 2009

VIDEO Just A Little Dancin'

Thanks to my sister Barbara in Alabama for the link; heading into the holidays, it's nice to just watch people having fun doing something simple.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NFL Update: Browns at Lions won't be seen in Michigan, not enough tickets sold. My guess: not much of a difference here in NEO, either.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Here's the Jamal Lewis story -- he's a Raven at heart -- spurring so much talk in what used to be Browns Town. http://ping.fm/RTWMq

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kudos to the folks at WCPN's "Sound of Ideas" for a remarkable show this morning; the Scopes Monkey Trial was a sham! Evolution of a news story? http://ping.fm/KHDo5

Monday, November 9, 2009

Well deserved! cbs 60Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft honored with RTDNA highest honor. http://ping.fm/bbFnU

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wishing Matt Well

In the old days, rival media outlets never mentioned each other. You still see some of this today in the way some newspapers imagine their readers don't watch news the night before on television, or the way some television stations imagine their viewers don't listen to the radio at work, or the way some radio stations think their listeners live in dark caves until turning the knob.

Glad those days are changing.

We'll find out more details Friday morning but the cat is already out of the bag on Matt Patrick. He'll be stepping away from the microphones he's used for a generation in Akron, with his final shows through December on 98.1 WKDD. Still up in the air is what happens with his talk show on 640 WHLO, but either way it doesn't diminish the big change Matt will be making. It is a big change for Akron radio listeners, too.

There have been soap opera qualities to Matt's life and career, but a constant has been his unabridged, consistent caring and concern for his community. In an industry where it is common for hosts to move from city to city, Matt Patrick has called Akron home. He's worked hard to serve as a voice for those who never had the chance to step behind a piece of electronics and talk to everyone at the same time.

Matt and I actually worked together -- for one day. I was at a station he wanted to work for, and we hit the studio for some promotional announcements. It was a fun day, and we were looking forward to a fun start a couple mornings later. Unfortunately, the station he was working for at the time took a dim view of these music chairs and, an injunction later, Matt was firmly planted back at WKDD. We've been friends since.

- - -

Matt's come under quite a bit of grief lately, mostly for his outspoken comments on his talk show regarding tea parties (he supports 'em), his decision to host a rally on behalf of fire and police in Akron (his video rant can be seen here) and his programs raising questions on issues such as the Mayor's experience with police in front of the Lux nightclub and a late night in Highland Square.

None of this was really new; Matt has had a way of talking about what we were talking about for over 30 years.

There have been a few folks in northeast Ohio who've remained part of Akron even though their reach went beyond the city, even to a region or nation. Jaybird Drennen certainly fits the bill and still, in my opinion, ranks as the top radio person ever to work in the market. He set the standard in terms of class, hard work, and knowing a simple truth: be true to your neighbors and the rewards will follow. Jaybird was one of those unique individuals who understood the word rewards wasn't just about the paycheck. He clearly knew the relationship with Akron worked both ways.

Others in the news and entertainment business understand that as well. You can take Terry Pluto out of Akron, but I believe Terry would be the first to admit you won't ever take the Akron out of Terry. Bob Dyer, Regina Brett, Jewell Cardwell on the print side; Eric Mansfield, Dick Russ, Ted Henry and Virgil Dominic on the television side; Howie Chizek. Stan Piatt, and Ray Horner on the radio side. Each enjoys or built a special relationship with their respective readers, viewers and listeners here in Akron.

But there are a select few who have taken that to the next level. Jack Knight built the Beacon Journal best remembered in the glory years; Fred Anthony at WAKR radio and television and Jaybird on WSLR. I'd add Matt Patrick to that list. I don't believe Matt Patrick's time behind a mic is done; way too many electrons still buzzing through his veins.

So congratulations on a great career at WKDD, my friend. And here's looking to the next remarkable chapter in the journey. To borrow the line from CBS's Charles Osgood -- we'll see you on the radio.

- - -

Note to fans of NewsNight Akron airing on Western Reserve Public Media (you remember them as Channels 45/49) every Friday night. The show is moving, but just a half-hour later from 9:00 to 9:30 p.m. We'll still be yipping and yapping about news and community events in our hometown but we'll be doing so a bit later to make room for a hip new program about the local economy. I know -- the words hip and economy really don't belong together -- but this fresh approach to money mattes in our region adds a new element to programming aimed at showcasing just what makes northeast Ohio tick, and the kinds of things we should think about to help make northeast Ohio improve.

Same place, different time starting Friday, November 6th. In this case, we'll see you on the television.
Changes coming to Akron area radio and tv lineups...more in AM from WKDD and PM on 45/49.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thoughts on Jack Knight's legacy on the anniversary of his birthday, and how yesterday relates to today. ( http://ping.fm/uyJpu )

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Doing It Jack's Way

"Final Edition" may be prophetic in describing not only the Knight brothers Jack and Jim but also the world they left behind.

Here's a link to the University of Akron site with video clips

I had the pleasure of watching the premier of the documentary by Paul Jacoway and Kathleen Endress in main auditorium of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. There is more than a trace of irony in the location. It is located in the heart of the town Knight helped build. I have no doubt it would be a far different place if it weren't for the full support of the Knight brothers over the year, both directly and now from the Foundation which manages their legacy. The viewing came on what would have been Jack Knight's 105th birthday.

The Library sits across the street from the Akron Art Museum -- made possible largely because of Knight Foundation support -- and the John S. Knight Convention Center. Among the panelists discussing the Knight legacy was the University of Akron president, no doubt aided by the partnership with the Foundation in redeveloping the neighborhood called University Park.

There are few things for good in Akron which don't bear the Knight stamp. Maybe that's why watching this documentary left me wondering why the media institutions that Jack and Jim Knight built are considered dinosaurs today.

My hometown paper, the Akron Beacon Journal, is today a shadow of the glorious newspaper that housed Jack Knight's office (photo at left from Stanford University); it was a place where presidents came to curry favor. It was a keystone in the empire that included other newspapers that helped set a standard of excellence here and in Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, Charlotte and dozens of other cities. It was a Pulitzer factory.

At one time the biggest newspaper group in the country, Knight Newspapers and later Knight-Ridder had its life sucked dry by the very money men who put up the capital to build a news aristocracy, only to demand the heads of the royalty they created when it was time to cash out.

Going public provided the push to grow into greatness. Being public led to the demise. The strongest clip of Knight is when he tells an interviewer newspapers are not a growth industry. He doesn't say the media business is dead.

The flagship papers, such as the Beacon Journal, didn't even make the cut when McClatchy Newspapers sliced and diced what used to be Knight-Ridder into digestible chunks.

Those left behind wage a mighty struggle to live up to tradition, but under ownership who seems more skilled at reading numbers than words. Seemingly lost in the mix are the steps the Knight brothers learned at the feet of their father, expanding coverage and depth at precisely the time when the competition was cutting. Being positioned for growth when bad times turned better seems to be a common thread among great companies with a vision to be greater. Many point to and old-line corporate giant such as Ford as an example in today's auto industry, looking for an American phoenix to rise above the ruins of the car crash. Tech favorites such as Microsoft, Apple and Google are part of every newsroom. Even the ultimate service-based business of McDonald's seem to embody the sense of understanding the core mission and how to serve their customers, even those who aren't customers. Yet.

There are innovators in journalism, and realists who see the business had to evolve and adapt. The contrast is striking between those mired in what was and those moving to what will be. On one hand we want to restore the control of media and the security that brings, while employing the magic of the genie we let out of the bottle by making the web free. Living in the past allows more whining than winning.

Rich Boehne, president and CEO of E.W. Scripps, told a recent gathering arranged by the Ohio State Bar Association that we in the media are seeing the end of our salad days. The era of jaw-dropping profits is over. It was a great ride -- a fun ride -- but it is time to move on to the next thing. What remains is what we do, our core. Reporting. Storytelling. Giving voice to our communities.

All while figuring out how to do it at less expense. New technology and hardware. New methods and mindsets. Fresh approaches looking forward instead of the backwards pining for days gone by. Among broadcasters, groups such as Fisher Broadcasting in the Seattle area, Hearst with properties across the nation, and those with strong Ohio roots such as Scripps, Cox (based in Atlanta but let's not forget the foundation in Dayton) and the print and broadcast operations of Columbus-based Dispatch stand out even in times of tumult.

My friend Steve Safran of the media consulting firm Audience Research and Development notes "...wishing is NOT a business model." We spend an inordinate amount of time pining for the champagne times where we controlled not only the products of journalism and media but also the delivery. When innovation knocks there will be those who refuse to answer because they think the warmth and safety will be protected by not opening the door.

We need to be honest with our partners in the community; our readers, listeners, viewers and website visitors. We should be open with our talent in explaining why jobs don't pay what they used to; we must be transparent with our backers by reinforcing their support buys a business but not our editorial value. Jack Knight's handling when his company went public, telling analysts their money would be better spent elsewhere if they didn't like what he was doing, was real leadership. That wisdom is reflected today by media companies taking their companies back and, in some cases, ownership reclaiming their properties at a fraction of the cash flow formula from the same people so eager to buy over the past decade.

The lesson and legacy left by the Knight brothers profiled in "Final Edition" speaks to service, staying true to the mission and the value of independence both editorial and financial. Mourning the era of such masters of the universe wastes time finding solutions to what we need to figure out: making a living the same time we make a difference.
Not on web yet but soon from CWRU: using Second Life to illustrate ethics training. ( http://ping.fm/NQt2f )
Wow. Twice as many people made an Escape From New York than left Michigan since 2000. ( http://ping.fm/NmuhL )
Mayor Plusquellic says AFD Lt. now apologizes for chain of events leading to APD event. ( http://ping.fm/iRLDo )

Monday, October 26, 2009

Former Summit County Sheriff, US Marshal David Troutman dies. More coming up on @WAKR and @AkronNewsNow

Saturday, October 24, 2009

ND tops BC in a great game 20-16. I'd say the Irish win, the IIIII-rish win but that might confuse some of my BC pals.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Most Wanted: An Investigation

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...Akron's version of the political Great White Shark swims back along the beachfront. In this case, the shark description doesn't point to an individual -- I'd like to make that clear from the outset. It describes what has become the norm, the style, the tone of political discourse in Akron magnified by the latest chapter from the Mayor's office.

What we need is more investigation

From a media perspective, the weekend story of Don Plusquellic's interaction with Akron police, sparked by a 9-1-1 call about his driving, was fading from view after exploding Monday with the first word from 19 Action News and subsequent reporting from all media outlets. As the news cycle progressed, the story basically began to focus more on fact than speculation and by Wednesday morning it appeared to have exhausted itself. Most public response, pro and con, seemed to have moved on.

Plusquellic's news conference Wednesday re-ignited the story with his extraordinary charges he was targeted by a thousand dollar bounty offered APD officers by disgruntled members of the Akron Fire Department for dirt. Specifically, a grand incentive to sit outside clubs waiting for the Mayor, Fire Chief or deputy fire chiefs to exit under the influence to be stopped and arrested when driving under the influence.

This afternoon, the head of the Akron Firefighters Union IAFF Local 330, Phil Gauer, held his own news conference to respond to the Mayor's charge of a bounty on his head and the role an AFD Lieutenant played in this past weekend's 9-1-1 call. Gauer raises questions on the conduct of the mayor and his use of a city vehicle. In the same story, FOP Lodge 7 President Paul Hlynsky, representing police officers, says APD members would not hesitate to enforce the law on the mayor or anyone else but worry about retaliation.

The news cycle beast is fed again, and this will be the week we'll remember either as "the Drive" or "the Set Up" depending on your point of view.

To note such a bounty is offensive is beyond words. It paints a picture of Akron as Iron Curtain, with a Stasi-like secret police mentality turning friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor, worker against manager, all using the most vile methods such spy agencies are rightfully reviled and hated for. In this case, it's people we trust to protect us turning spymaster using some of the other people we trust to protect us against the people we choose to lead us.

I am no fan of the Mayor's personal style, but I do respect his leadership -- both good and bad. In this case, I respect the courage in making this public even as it saddens me his remarks add more fuel to the fire of Akron's desperate and despicable political underbelly. That we have reached this point is sad, but can any one of us say we are not surprised we've sunk to this level?

- - -

Mayor Plusquellic's revelation is being dismissed as paranoia by his detractors, but have no doubt there are those operatives on both sides of the political discussion who are comfortable and willing to play this game exactly as he describes. It is serious enough to not just let lay unanswered by people in this community who care deeply that Akron is better than this, and that respect and decency in the public marketplace of ideas and issues is something we have a right to demand and expect.

It's why we shouldn't just move forward and chalk this off to the latest colorful politics. If the Mayor's charge and observations are correct, does this rise to the level of bribery or obstruction of justice? Is it criminal or just bar talk from angry city workers, spawned on a bar stool of their own? Do we really want to keep walking past this car wreck of a cornerstone of what we expect from our political system -- the ability for all of us to express ourselves while still respecting the views of others, especially those who disagree with us? Haven't we reached the point of putting our foot down and saying "enough" yet when elected leaders are so brazenly not only stalked but openly hunted like Bambi before Thanksgiving?

- - -

The safe thing to do is wring our hands, make commentary and move on. This isn't one of those times, because this attacks the core of our political system. This is an attack on all of us, because if it's Don Plusquellic this time is it Russ Pry next? Don Robart? Chris Grimm? Bill Roth? Matt Patrick? Howie Chizek? Me? You?

The right thing to do is treat this as it is: assault on all of us. If indeed Mayor Plusquellic is the target of head-hunting video vigilantes pining to corner him in an embarrassing moment or, worst yet, fabricate such an incident, then it is something that should be fully investigated and prosecuted. This isn't about the free-flow of ideas, it is about protecting our public discourse and sending a clear and convincing message that such poli-paparazzi tactics won't be tolerated in our free and open society.

Prosecutor Walsh and Sheriff Alexander are in a unique position to fully and fairly investigate the allegations the Mayor is making. Representing both Democrat and Republican parties, both have earned the public trust to get to the bottom of this. Mayor Plusquellic should turn over the information he has, whether anecdotal or factual, for an independent investigator to research and weigh. If there is wrongdoing, it should be exposed. If it is criminal, it should be prosecuted. Those involved should be held accountable.

- - -

Finally a word to those in the spotlight.

In a story which won recognition and national awards for investigative journalism, KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs was getting repeated tips that a local prosecutor, in charge of prosecuting DUI cases, was in fact living a double life. They decided to see for themselves and investigated the prosecutor, even taping several bar trips and drinking habits. The prosecutor was understandably outraged that his conduct would be on such public display, disputed the drink count and has promised voters he isn't drinking again while using a county-owned car. According to recent news accounts, he is in a tough fight for re-election. At least one local newspaper, when endorsing the prosecutor's opponent, admits the scandal is big enough for voters to consider but only in examining the total operation of the office.

In this particular report by the Colorado Springs TV station, reporters followed the public official in question multiple times before assembling the report they eventually aired. I think there is a big difference in a journalism enterprise undertaking such an investigation as opposed to a general public shadowing of a public official. Such reporting by the television station brings to the case legal reviews and the standards reporters observe in compiling investigative work. The standard is higher than simply following someone.

The Colorado case isn't the same as this latest event involving the mayor and public safety forces in Akron. There is no credible evidence the mayor was impaired; a police lieutenant determined Plusquellic's demeanor, appearance or behavior did not trigger further investigation. If there was any lapse on the part of the mayor it is his heavy foot on the gas pedal, something he is well-familiar with and admits.

That said, in today's age of instant publication (including video) it should serve as a not-so-subtle warning to all public officials and public figures that they are not invisible. More than ever, their actions make them more accountable to those who put them in office or place them on a pedestal. Like it or not, the public spotlight comes with a sharp price to pay in the loss of privacy and sometimes perspective.

Putting their names before us and asking us voters to choose them to lead is still public service, not a public waiver. It bears repeating: if it's something you wouldn't do with everybody watching -- don't do it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

MORE on Plusquellic charge a bounty was put on him, police & fire chiefs by disgrunted firefighters. http://ping.fm/2bj8W
DEVELOPING @AkronNewsNow Plusquellic now says firefighters had a bounty out for any dirt against him; charges it started with residency fight.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is A Little Quiet Asking Too Much?

With three weeks to go before elections impacting city council seats across the region; school board races determining the direction local education of our kids should take; whether or not we can bet on Ohio or even assure that lump of chicken on our plates was treated humanely -- what is it we're talking about?

What kind of driver is Mayor Plusquellic?

We're at war on two fronts, with our best and brightest putting life and limb on the line seeking to establish toeholds of democracy on the shores of radical Islam; we're striving to figure out if the way we provide and pay for health care can be upgraded; we're well over a trillion dollars in debt, and growing.

We're not talking about these issues, either.

Akron just laid off 39 firefighters and temporarily staved off deeper layoffs of police officers until the end of the year. The City is now locked into spending tens of millions of dollars to shuttle what we flush away from the drainage when it rains. The County and cities in greater Akron are slicing into shrinking budget pies while we insist on the same, if not more, government service.

Those aren't the topics of the day.

It's whether Mayor Plusquellic is treated differently than the rest of us, whether he was set up by more than circumstance, and if he was suffering behind the wheel from after-party effects of a night out with friends. His fiercest critics are now scrambling to shout this proves everything they've ever said about him.His most vocal defenders decry the atmosphere where a guy can't even go to a birthday party at a local restaurant without being stalked by people out to get him.

Welcome to Akron politics.

This morning, "Melanie" was on WHLO's Matt Patrick program, discounting critics who say the stalking of the Mayor was a setup. She maintains she was acting in the public interest by calling to warn police of Plusquellic behind the wheel, even to the point of following him from the Firehouse Grille and Pub on Tallmadge Avenue (anyone else get the irony of the location, given the recent fire department layoffs?) on to Memorial Parkway before recounting what it's like traveling in Don's wake to Hickory Street.

We're in question mode on Akron's political version of "Speed Racer":

- The Mayor was driving fast and allegedly swerving -- so how it is "Melanie" and her boyfriend were able to keep up without breaking the law themselves? Plusquellic claims their chase car was also driving fast and erratic in hot pursuit;

- "Melanie" now admits she knew all along it was the Mayor behind the wheel, from the point where they admittedly followed him from the Firehouse Grille and Pub down Tallmadge and on to Memorial Parkway. His critics claim to have video of him peeling out of the parking lot. Doesn't that fuel charges this might be political in nature? If I thought someone was following me at one in the morning, I think I'd be tempted to get away from them;

- The owner of the Firehouse says she specifically talked with Plusquellic, said he looked fine. She told us she asked him if he was O.K. to drive. She noted the mayor backed off any legal beverages for the last hour of the party and was drinking ice water. Mayor Plusquellic says he was attending a party full of cops, including the police chief. Would they all let him drive off if he were intoxicated? Forget for a moment they are police officers (both current and retired, sworn to uphold the law) -- they're his friends. Would you let your friend drive drunk, especially knowing his a high-profile friend in the crosshairs of political enemies? It is a classic rule: just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

- at least four APD units responded to the call at Highland Square; they decided just one would make the determination the Mayor's appearance and behavior didn't trigger asking for further testing to determine impairment. "Melanie" gave the dispatcher a very specific report, even down to the license plate. Why no walking the line, or blowing into a breathalyzer? Would you or I get that kind of gentle treatment, especially from police officers now trained with zero tolerance of drunk driving?

- - -

All said, one still has to wonder if there's somebody, anybody, bending Don Plusquellic's ear that there might be better places to spend his time after midnight. Maybe you have the same gut reaction from those of us after-50 types at the radio station when first hearing the story: shouldn't adults over 30 be in bed for hours at the time the Mayor was driving home? Is this guy a magnet for this kind of trouble, or what?

As I noted in an earlier blog following the August story when the Mayor and friends found themselves witnesses to a street fight, not much good comes after midnight.

The police treatment of the Mayor should come under scrutiny as it should when dealing with any public figure. That's the nature of public figure and public official that goes with the territory. It is a double-edged sword, this part of being public. It opens doors and places us at the front of the line, most of the time. It also means our business when out and about is everybody's business, and anyone in public life should understand life under the magnifying lens both illuminates and burns at the same time. Celebrity and public life mean never being invisible. People will and do take notice.

In the case of the Mayor, the political environment in Akron clearly exists against a backdrop of backbiting, finger pointing, "gotcha" and personal attacks. This game is played by both sides, even to the point of explaining 1:00 a.m. traffic stops, 2:30 a.m. 9-1-1 calls after bar fights, verbal scuffles with parking lot attendants, critics of overspending with huge back tax liabilities, questioning the motives of those just asking questions, or vituperative attacks on those with opposing viewpoints. The comment pages on AkronNewsNow.com and Ohio.com are full of some of the most hateful, disrespectful posts one could imagine. Free speech isn't necessarily nice speech.

Anyone with political aspirations be warned: Akron's political environment can be poison laced with the personal. You have to have skin the thickness of a brick to make it in this world.

This isn't to say Don Plusquellic isn't entitled to live his life as he sees fit. He's a person who seems either hard-driving, passionate, hard-edged or always angry depending on what side you come across at any given time. He's entitled to enjoy a night with friends, he's allowed to enjoy a drink, he's allowed to croon with the karaoke machine to his heart's content (we're waiting for that video, by the way) and all without hurting another soul. It appears to me that's exactly what happened this past weekend, except those intentions crossed over to the intersection of the political.

I find it hard to believe "Melanie" went to all the trouble of leaving the same time, following the Mayor and then calling him in as pure citizenship. Akron's political environment simply raises too many red flags to believe such circumstance exists in a town where the "get" is such an important political trophy.

If his only crime is enjoying some good times with friends, then by God all of us should be so lucky to be committing the same crime.

- - -

Just last week, the Beacon Journal covered a poll which showed more than half of our neighbors no longer cared about the neighborhood. Most of Akron wouldn't recommend Akron to others. They've tuned it out; being part of the community doesn't matter anymore. One has to ask if one reason might be the community doesn't seem to want them anymore. We've become so invested in tearing down that we've forgotten how to build up. One wonders if this environment is beyond cleaning up.
9-1-1 caller says no setup; Mayor's office reports he was drinking ice-water before cop stop. ( http://ping.fm/0ljze )

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

When is it ok for authority to lie?http://ping.fm/W3QzE

When Cops Lie

It doesn't happen very often.

Police, for the most part, are trained to be trusted by the public. By the news media. Even by suspects of crimes. The actions of the Sheriff in Larimer County, Colorado in leading the media to report law enforcement didn't question "balloon boy" as a hoax calls into question the actions of his department in providing credible information to the public.

What comes first? The Sheriff points out, and most of us would use common sense to agree, that it was important to establish a level of trust and comfort with the Heene parents as a strategy to get to the bottom of Thursday's saucer-style balloon flight and gut-wrenching search for their six year old son. For hours, the nation held its breath waiting to find out the fate of the boy named Falcon.

This wasn't just your Nancy Grace-O'Reilly-Keith O-style godsend for a slow cable news night. All the major networks, all the big newspapers, all the radio news and opinion/talk shows, even the music shows, the web -- everybody -- was sucked into this one.

The breath-holding turned to cynicism even as the boy was found in a box in the family home; it worsened with the disaster on CNN's Larry King Show when guest host Wolf Blitzer effectively popped the father in the kisser with a direct question for little Falcon, answered in that tiny voice talking about "the show." It only got worse with the flurry of early-morning television interviews the following morning (who gets their kids up at five a.m. to show off on TV?) resulting in little Falcon hurling not once, but twice on the morning shows.

The parents pressed on, and even as most of us were incredulous with their actions while their son was barfing on his brother the Sheriff continued to maintain an aura of support for the Heene parents.

All a show, it turns out.

It was designed to make parents and children comfortable for what needed to come out -- the whole thing had been planned. Now the parents face possible felony charges, the Henne family name has achieved a level of notoriety the fame-seeking father hungered for but never envisioned and the three kids will be remembered as co-conspirators in the airborne cry-wolf scam everyone is talking about.

The strategy worked in landing the criminal fish. It exposed the pathetic, even twisted abuse of a child to satisfy what seems to be a classic unhealthy love of the spotlight. The system in this case worked behind the scenes to solve the case but it wasn't just being had by the Heene's but also by Sheriff Jim Alderden.

The Sheriff apologizes for "bumping up" against the line for manipulating the media. He didn't bump -- he drove over it was dozens of news vans, reporters and pundits in hot pursuit. We in the media helped him with every update, every "expert" unveiling developments, all in real time. I wonder if the role of the media in this case actually helped pump up the pressure on Heene to come clean?

We trust the police to tell us the truth -- even when recognizing it's OK to lie to suspects law enforcement suspect aren't so honest. Courts have ruled investigators can sometimes lie to suspects in order to get to the truth in a case but it's not O.K. for law enforcement witnesses and lawyers to lie in their testimony. I suspect most of you will think what Sheriff Alderden did to mislead the Heene's and pursue justice in this case was appropriate because the end justified his means.

Will we think this the next time a trusted authority uses ever tool necessary to mislead? Isn't that what many media critics accuse the media of being now? Has truth become that much of an accessory to public issues today -- from the political, to the criminal and now to the infotainment that gripped the nation for three hours last week?
Go with Nature Girl to the apple farm or stay at home and watch Browns/Steelers? That USED to be a tough question...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Just A Thought Here...

...but if this was YOUR kid on national TV getting sick or you are doing the interview, don't you think you would:

1. At least ask during the interview if the boy needs help?
2. Tell the interviewer your kids need to get off-camera?

This thing just keeps getting more strange by the minute...

Taking The Stairs -- One Key At A Time

With Balloon Boy (or BoxinAtticBoy, as my wife calls him) winding down we can move on to other interesting media.

This certainly doesn't come close to approaching the gravity -- or lack thereof -- in a story of a six-year old thought to be aboard a runaway weather balloon, but it is pretty cool. Hats off again to Volkswagen's innovative advertising folks...


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thanks to my wife Nature Girl for best line of the day: balloonboy is really boxinatticboy after all this.
More from AP coverage of BalloonBoy -- found in a box in the attic and yes, he was seen in person... http://ping.fm/HJms5
UPDATE ABC News: BalloonBoy found safe at home.
Just TOO weird...Balloon boy is from family on ABC's "Wife Swap" show, kept balloon in yard to chase storms. http://ping.fm/m05im
PUCO schedules time and date for public hearings on FirstEnergy bulb blooper. Here's details... http://ping.fm/DdTIO
Is Jennifer Brunner a saint for taking on Jack the Dragon in Summit County? Some thoughts sparked by photo choices... http://ping.fm/6rrrb

Political Sainthood?


Maybe it's just me on a rainy, chilly Thursday morning...but does anyone else wonder why the photo editor at the Akron Beacon Journal decided to pick the photo of Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer
Brunner that shows her with a halo? I mean, I'm betting the Beacon isn't a big fan of Jack Morrison to begin with -- but graphically deciding it's Dragon Jack versus St. Jennifer?

My apologies for not having a cleaner photo; taken with the mobile phone camera. The
ABJ's story is here and you'll find other coverage, including Morrison's letter, here on AkronNewsNow.com. There's additional links on the ANN version in case you need help getting up-to-date.

Jack doesn't look like a happy guy in this photo while Jennifer's coming off like Joan of Arc.

For the record: I still think Morrison should step down from the University of Akron Board of Trustees and this case also raises enough question for local republicans to look for other leadership to represent them on the Board of Elections.

Jack Morrison may very well win the legal arguments of this case. The political decision, however, is one of appearance. In politics it is the perception that serves as currency, and the perception now is Morrison is a distraction and liability. It doesn't diminish his service both to University and party, which has been considerable. Contrary to the partisan calls for his removal I don't think it permanently tars Morrison's reputation, but it is a reminder of how appearances matter in the public arena.

Ultimately judges will decide the legality of Morrison's case; the jury now is the political public, and that ought to be more of a consideration.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

More information on services for Mike Partin to be updated Sunday afternoon; here's a link. http://ping.fm/B5uze
Very sad news from @denisealex on the passing of Ohio AP Broadcasters leader Mike Partin; only 42, lately of WBNS-ONN.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Maybe if we spent more time on the future instead of mourning what used to be? (http://ping.fm/I14TS)
Common sense victory: FirstEnergy puts disastrous bulb program on hold. Just what were they thinking to begin with? http://ping.fm/BTZFD

ON HOLD: The 300% Markup

(this post updates one published earlier this afternoon)

Remember the good ol' days when a light bulb above the head meant someone had a good idea?

One has to wonder how that all changed in the executive offices at Akron-based FirstEnergy when it came to their program to unload millions of compact fluorescent light bulbs on consumers in what has to be one of the most expensive flip-a-switch programs of all time.

Breaking it down, the utility planned to "give" households across northeast Ohio a pair of the twisty bulbs to save energy. Unlike other power companies -- included next-door utility neighbor American Electric Power and fellow midwest utility XCEL Energy in Minnesota -- this program wasn't offering cost-saving coupons to spur us to buy more expensive bulbs to save power. FirstEnergy planned to have people going door-to-door carrying gift bags with bulbs and brochures extolling the virtues of the less-costly lights.

Except these really aren't less costly, at least not to you and me.

AEP's program -- ranging across multiple states -- offers a markdown program in partnership with bulb manufacturer and retailers, essentially allowing ratepayers to get the bulbs at a discount. Since they started the program in May, more than 700,000 have taken advantage of the discounts.

The bulbs -- which FirstEnergy admits cost them $3.50 apiece -- were to be paid for by consumers whether we want them or not, and instead of paying $7.00 for the pair we would be charged the equivalent of more than $21.00 over a three year period. The utility was tacking on the charge as a 60-cent add-on to your utility bill. A month. Over three years.

Did the Akron folks miss out on a utility conference where others shared?

Never mind you didn't get asked whether you want the light bulb.

Never mind if you are in the minority of people who reportedly get migraine headaches from the compact bulbs.

Never mind if it galls you to pay for bulbs you may or may not use.

Not only do you not have a choice on whether you are getting the bulbs, you don't have a choice on paying for them, either.

FirstEnergy's Mark Durbin earlier today told AkronNewsNow's Tina Kaufmann the utility was moving ahead with the program Monday regardless of what the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio said. Governor Strickland's objection to the contrary, they'd already made arrangements to hand-deliver millions of these bulbs to the doorsteps of people who didn't want to pay for something they didn't order -- whether it was subject to a 300% markup or not.

It would be on the bill; you have to pay it.

Less than an hour later, Durbin called back to tell us the bulb program has officially been put on hold.

I would have hated to be one of the souls unfortunate enough to have a job delivering these bulbs to residences where ratepayers may be actually home at the time. Would it surprise anyone if the welcome were hostile? Does anyone at FirstEnergy's executive suite live in a world where the word "trespass" comes to mind?

This is basic mail order 101: if I get something delivered to me I didn't order, I can refuse it. I can refuse to pay for it. What makes this different other than the fact the PUCO originally gave it's OK to a program without first checking to see whether it passed a common sense sniff test.

Mother Nature needs the help, environmentalists say, and utility companies have to help shoulder the burden by reducing electric use even as we pay more for fewer kilowatts. But I find it hard to believe even the most hard-shell greenie thinks making people pay $21 for what costs them $7 makes sense.

Based on today's quick turnaround, maybe common sense is exactly what arrived unordered at FirstEnergy's offices. And they didn't even have to pay for it, unless you count a public relations black eye as payment.


Monday, October 5, 2009

More information on Strickland reprieve announcement re: Ohio lethal injection. http://ping.fm/agjM3
BREAKING: Strickland issues temporary reprieve to Ohio killers. More time to appeal "vein delay" defense against lethal injection.
Is it really that tough to find a vein? What's the real question about lethal injection? http://ping.fm/K7wj3

Getting Blood From A Stone-Cold Killer

There's a great deal of talk today on a decision by the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to postpone Thursday's scheduled execution of Lawrence Reynolds Jr. He's the Cuyahoga Falls man, otherwise known as inmate #A296121, on Death Row for the New Year's Day 1994 murder of neighbor Loretta Foster.

The appeals court, on a 2-1 ruling, decided more time was needed to give Reynolds' argument the botched execution of fellow Death Row inmate Romell Broom -- because of a two-hour try to find a usable vein to pump the lethal cocktail into Broom's body -- posed enough question to provide a delay. Summit County's prosecutors today appeared resigned to the delay even as the Ohio Attorney General's office was mounting an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Having witnessed nearly a half-dozen executions by lethal injection, I can attest that most appeared to be handled in a professional manner with the necessary injection of a needle into the condemned inmate accomplished with little apparent pain or discomfort. This clearly wasn't the case with Broom, which triggered Governor Strickland to order a temporary halt to Broom's execution. That decision and case now spark the latest strategy used by Reynolds to avoid a trip to the execution chamber in Lucasville, his last measure of defense as arguments for clemency failed.

This particular process hits home for thousands of people everyday; anyone who ever had to push back a sleeve for a blood test has experienced roughly the same kind of medical procedure used in administering execution by lethal injection. For the most part, it is a remarkably successful process; a report published in 2002 by a pair of Mayo Clinic researchers (found here on PubMed, the website of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health) reports the failure rate is remarkably low:

Of 833289 encounters, 829723 were successful. Phlebotomies were unsuccessful because patients were not fasting as directed (32.2%), phlebotomy orders were missing information (22.5%), patients specimens were difficult to draw (13.0%), patients left the collection area before specimens were collected (11.8%), patients were improperly prepared for reasons other than fasting (6.3%), patients presented at the wrong time (3.1%), or for other reasons (11.8%). Only 2153 specimens (0.3%) were unsuitable; these samples were hemolyzed (18.1%), of insufficient quantity (16.0%), clotted (13.4%), lost or not received in the laboratory (11.5%), inadequately labeled (5.8%), at variance with previous or expected results (4.8%), or unacceptable for other reasons (31.1%).

Pretty substantial numbers; more than 833,000 "encounters" and fewer than 2200, or 0.3%, were deemed "unsuitable." This report doesn't note, however, how many specimens were listed as successful despite being difficult to draw. To the arguments of lawyers for inmates Broom/Reynolds, the low number doesn't matter because the state has a duty to avoid cruel and unusual punishment. Critics can counter the activity is neither unusual -- it is performed thousands, if not millions of times, daily in hospitals, clinics and labs across the globe -- nor cruel if we are to consider those millions of individuals spiked with a needle everyday.

For the family and friends of Loretta Foster, none of this matters. They've waited for more than 15 years for justice. Their exasperation as what seems to be another last-minute straw grasped by a desperate killer is understandable. The question we asking ourselves is whether all of this is a new legal ploy twister in opposition to capital punishment or a bigger issue: can the state apply death in any form without being cruel, and how do we define cruel?

Blame It On Rio!

Much has been made about the decision to pick Brazil over the US for the 2016 Olympics, and whether or not it was a slap in the face to this country and President Obama.

Me? I think the President was right to make the trip; every other nation on the finalist list (Spain, Brazil, Japan) sent their top elected leaders to help make the pitch.

It's the biggest show in the world; we should expect our CEO's to be part of the team trying to land the big one.

As to whether the decision to bypass Chicago for Rio was a slap in the face to the U.S., I'd note the games have never been held in South America -- a HUGE consideration for a "world" games -- and then there's just a great presentation, as seen below...



Lesson: not every decision is based on celebrity status or whether the other side likes us. Sometimes it's a pretty simple answer: it is time for the other guys.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday Morning Blues

Used to be these Sunday mornings were exciting times; up early, get some stuff done, park in front of the TV for pregame or head down to the stadium for the in-person experience.

But those days seem to have had the life sucked out of them the past few years.

It's game day in northeast Ohio, what used to be reason to celebrate. Regardless of weather it was Browns Day, but now even the sunniest, clearest Sundays seem to be gloomy. There's just no fun left in the morning, and afternoons now become just another weekend day -- just without college football. Maybe the answer is in recording a college football game and watching on Sunday.

- - -

It isn't often we see a healthy dose of journalism schizophrenia, but this morning's Akron Beacon Journal provides an example. I think it's a good thing, too -- seeing more diversity of opinion from columnists from the editorial pages adds to the public debate rather than detract. What makes this so interesting is the interesting choices of headlines: Friday's editorial remarked "spare us the rhetoric" when noting the Strickland plan to delay a tax decrease was really a tax increase. "Not a tax increase" said the editorial. Flash forward to Sunday where ABJ writer Dennis Willard shares his observation that the Strickland plan is a tax increase; "Strickland tax freeze a tax hike."

It's nice to see different opinions make it into print.

- - -

For those of you who missed it: yes, Western Reserve Public Media, former known as PBS 45/49, moved NewsNight Akron to a different time. The programming folks are in a moving mode and figured the loyal viewership of the Akron area's only regular broadcast television news discussion program would be strong enough to play musical chairs with NNA and other programs. If you have DVR then it's easy -- just tell the recorder to find the show. There's an early Saturday morning replay in the event you don't want to skip Jay Leno.

- - -

We ran into an interesting situation when trying to plan coverage of this Thursday's first forum featuring all of Akron's school board candidates. The now-eight person field is holding an event sponsored by the League of Women Voters at Resnick Community Learning Center, formerly known as Fairlawn Elementary. The LWV was in favor of our offer to broadcast the event live on 1590 WAKR and possible stream video on AkronNewsNow.

Then federal regulations stepped in.

The school gets phone and Internet service at greatly reduced rates thanks to FCC regulations but those same regulations put limits on the services being used for "school purposes only," and the schools hold that even a forum for school board candidates doesn't meet "school purposes only." Even, we are told, presidential visits bar the Secret Service from using those services.

We'll do a workaround; not live audio or video unless we get a little more faith in wireless broadband. It does spark some thought on how community learning centers function in conjunction with public schools navigating the complicated regulations often found in help from the feds.

A reminder everyone deals with red tape...even the folks living in red tape world.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

hitting the mall after early dinner. Interesting to act like we're already 80.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sorry for Chicago but can we learn something about how star power and celebrity doesn't guarantee everything? Olympics

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

@akronnewsnow Tina Kaufmann working up story now as 38 firefighteras say goodbye in Akron; layoffs after midnight.
AP @akronnewsnow GM to shut down Saturn. http://ping.fm/xQsiC
Ironic: Indians manager Eric Wedge began his pro career in the RedSox organization and ends his first major league manager gig in Boston Sunday.
@akronnewsnow and @WAKR with LIVE Eric Wedge coverage now.
Coach Mangini named Derek Anderson Browns starter against Bengals Sunday.
WBNS10News in Columbus reporting Gov. Strickland will adjust budget plans; no slots revenue, wants a delay for phased income tax cut.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Akron FOP Lodge 7 voting and counting tonight on concession deal; details in AM on WAKR with Ray Horner, Larry States.
More on Akron union voting down concessions to save jobs. @akronnewsnow http://ping.fm/GXnM2
@akronnewsnow Sommerville, Dawson talk and take calls.
On 1590 WAKR now: City's finance director says firefighters walked away from talks, layoffs loom within 48 hours.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nature Girl in the 'burgh on business. Perfect night for...
From @akronnewsnow - Firefighter talks with City stalled. http://ping.fm/7nuOb
Great weekend in Atlanta with @chipmahaney @steviesaf and @staceywoelfel among others for rtndfcnn. Check out www.rtnda.org coverage.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Uncle Walter

Having a rare occasion to mark -- the admitted end of an era, marked by the passing of a generational giant -- calls for more than just a couple speeches. Remembering Walter Cronkite was an opportunity to think about the state of journalism and state of the media (not necessarily the same thing, one should note) and ask "what would Walter do?"

There's been plenty written, said and viewed on what Cronkite meant to television and journalism. There was one observation made Wednesday during an event held in Avery Fisher Hall at New York's Lincoln Center, that while Murrow ushered in the era of broadcast journalism it was primarily through the use of radio. Cronkite, it is said, was the real father of television journalism.

There are the Huntley-Brinkley folks at NBC who might respectfully disagree, but there is near-unanimity that Cronkite was, is, and will always be the first true "anchorman." He may very well be the last to wield such influence, given the fracturing media landscape which is remaking business models for broadcast and print journalism.

It must have been tough for President Obama to speak to the legacy of Walter, admitting from the start that unlike virtually every other speaker he didn't know Cronkite. So the President challenged the media, invoking the legacy of Walter.

Listening to the speeches, I was struck not so much by the expected platitudes on Cronkite's meaning to the business but more by what Cronkite meant to those who knew him. Former President Bill Clinton noted how Walter and Betsy Cronkite invited he and Hillary to sail in the waters off Martha's Vineyard at a particularly bad time -- when it didn't hurt to have a wayward husband photographed with America's most trusted man. It was a real moment that didn't dwell on interviews with the powerful. It was a moment of genuine humanity, recalled by one man highlighting the decency of another. "He was a good man," Clinton said in the raspy Arkansas drawl not lost to years of the world stage. Not journalism. Not media. A good man.



Nick Clooney is perhaps best known by a new generation as George's father. For those in Cincinnati's Tri-State area he's remembered as the long-time news anchor at Channel 12, certainly no stranger to the news business.


Clooney recalled the times when the local anchor and icon anchor shared dinner, telling news war stories. A night of equals, reporters to the core sharing stories. Clooney noted wife Nina, tossed aside such puffery, remarking his stories of the Newport Fire strike didn't compare well to interviewing Anwar Sadat. The most powerful moment was when Clooney spoke of their final dinner together, a time when a weakened Cronkite wasn't noticed by the restaurant crowd until he left -- and wasn't aware his fellow diners were silently standing in tribute. "Because you always stand when a gentleman leaves the room," Clooney said softly. An auditorium packed with some of the world's most jaded gasped at once. True emotion, not the "reality" that passes for today's television.

"60 Minutes" commentator Andy Rooney had the packed house laughing so hard most of us missed the next punch line, all because he was on the video screen even with his first-row seat. A friend for 65 years, it would have surprised me if Rooney could have walked up those stairs; not because of age and gait, but because he still shows the pain of losing his life-long friend, a relationship forged in wartime London through the highs and lows of creating a new journalism medium.

NBC's Tom Brokaw, CBS's Bob Schieffer, ex-CBS boss, now head of Sony, Sir Howard Stringer, current CBS corporate chief Les Moonves, incumbent CBS News chief Sean McManus -- all strode to the podium to remember not just legacy but a human man who liked a drink, loved a laugh and was forever curious. It was almost a picture of a more innocent time, despite thinking back on Cronkite's tenure spanning a World War, Korea, Vietnam, genocide, the rise of the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain, the Civil Rights movement and murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the rise of the Kennedy dynasty and death of it's President and brother, the political destruction of Nixon, all seismic shifts in American political life.

There was also Buzz Aldrin, America's second man to set foot on the moon, paying personal homage to the anchorman who set the standard for supporting extending mankind's reach beyond the clouds. Members of the Navy veterans protecting and serving the U.S.S Intrepid, docked in Manhattan, a favorite viewing spot for the sailing-lover Cronkite, recalled him with their highest honor: shipmate.

If Murrow is considered the patron saint of broadcast journalism, "Uncle Walter" the father of TV journalism.

- - -

All of this leads us to journalism today, a far different world than the one forged by the Cronkites, Huntleys and Brinkleys. It isn't just the white boys club anymore, although it is worth noting white men still run America's news businesses. TV is still the big dog, but gone are the 40 percent profit margins that once allowed producers in New York to send limo drivers out to pick up pizza.

It is still a cash cow, but as consultant Terry Heaton recently pointed out, business looks for growth and not just cash flow. Watching profit margins shrink by half means the business isn't as as much fun anymore; high-flying executives and anchors used to private jets with comfortable leather seats now fly coach with the rest of us. And kiss those languid lunches at the Four Seasons goodbye.

It will take a tougher breed than those used to the comforts, Heaton points out. There are jobs in journalism for those with passion and the skills to create using new tools and approaches, but those fighting the march of change will find only frustration. It will take those who want to follow the story, not the perks; the battle will be won by those who show the desire to build something new instead of mourn a passing of the old.

The new tools Cronkite saw over his career are things we take for granted now, but it bears noting when he was reporting for United Press it was a monumental task to find an international phone line, or a telegraph operator willing to send news back home during wartime. Now, even satellite phones are only as useful as their ability to shove huge packets of information upline.

Not text...live, streaming video. "You Are There" was a show holding the promise of what electronic journalism and storytelling could become. Today it resides on our phones, more mini-communications centers than just a telephone. It isn't just the journalists using these tools; the soldiers have the same tools. Mail call is still important, but more so than precious web time where we can see and talk to each other from the front?

On Wednesday, the royalty of network media shared the space at Lincoln Center to note the end of Walter's era, this American Century of television media. It was telling to watch so many reporters checking Blackberry and iPhone screens during a quick lull (myself included) or even follow the string of Tweets and text updates from inside the hall. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News -- all had an easy decision showing the current and former President speak, but the real coverage was found online as CBS fed the program worldwide, real time.

No waiting for teletypes to clear the farm reporting back home so the news package could move; no waiting for Western Union to open, or an international operator to find an open line as Cronkite learned to deal with. This story, his story, had no reason to wait. The world moves faster now. Mr. Clinton on Mr. Cronkite lives forever on YouTube. The reporting didn't need to wait for the evening news, the top of the hour radio report or tomorrow's newspaper; it was happening right there, on the spot, thanks to the soapbox software of Twitter and other social networking.

All of these new tools strike fear in the hearts of many unwilling to embrace those changes over which they hold no sway. Listening to those who came to praise Walter Cronkite, I couldn't help but think the true strength of his leadership at the helm of what was Murrow's ship was ultimately found because he recognized the tools for what they are: means to the end. Would Walter have argued against then-newfangled technology needing a satellite truck to send live images back from Vietnam over shooting film and hoping it made the last flight out.

If he were reporting today, I'd like to think Walter Cronkite would be using Twitter, Facebook, Ning, Livestream, CoverItLive, all of those tools and more to practice his craft. Maybe he wouldn't have the "most trusted man in America" tag, but he'd have the storytelling.

Whether we tell the stories of our communities -- at home or half a world away -- using a keyboard or a notepad, an uplink or a manual typewriter, the single most important element is still the storytelling. The legacy of Cronkite -- and Brinkley, and Huntley, and Chancellor, and Bradley, and Reasoner, and Reynolds, and Walters, and Jennings, and Brokaw, and yes, Rather too -- stands in their ability to transcend what it took to put the story together and instead focus on doing their best to be sure the audience at home understood.

Great legacy to carry forward.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Looking For Voter Direction

Halfway through the September 8 city primary day there's one bit of wisdom voters seem only too happy to part with: having an election day right after a holiday may not have been the brightest idea.

Of course, you made it to the polls already through that absentee/early vote, right? About five-thousand Akron voters reportedly asked for the E-Z Vote (wish I'd trademarked that one...) form to do their patriotic duty, but only three-thousand turned in their ballots so far.

Unlike past years where a big absentee vote was an indicator of interest, however, this may just be a sign that voters have finally figured out voting early means no longer being tied to a Tuesday.

When we checked in around mid-morning the best planning for the long day by elections officials seemed to be packing books or cards -- the non-partisan kind with kings, queens, jacks and aces along with the numbers. I'd note you could shoot a cannon off in the place, but that would assume there were enough people around to light the fuse.

This election bears closer watching than your normal Akron turnout because it's the first real test of political clout by both sides following the June Recall. Mayor Plusquellic's team won handily then, and the Citizens for Akron Committee boldly moved ahead in attempting to solidify the Mayor's already tight grasp on Council by trying to sweep out those few dissenting voices to be heard with a discouraging word.

But a negative campaign mailer slapping a scarlet "R" on Council's Mike Williams, John Conti and even Bruce Kilby may have backfired. These incumbents tell me it really served to fire up their supporters based on the reaction they get in face-to-face campaigning as opposed to political discourse through the mailbox.

Does Don Plusquellic get his way with the Citizens for Akron-endorsed slate? Is the push from official Akron enough to propel the experienced ticket of Terry Albanese, Jim Shealey and Jeff Fusco past Williams, Conti and another player such as Linda Omobien, Joe Finley or Kelly Mendenhall among others? Just what impact did the shenanigans of David Reymann and Ernie Tarle in Wards 6 and 7 have on those local races?

Punditry aside, nobody's plunking down money on this. Too many variables, including the weather (rain today) and turnout (very light) which benefit either side depending on who you may be talking with. It is a test, however -- a challenge to see if the alliances forged during the recall election both for and against the mayor remain strong enough to focus on what is the next step in Akron's political infighting: either consolidation of power or a new way to do business.

Joe Finley's performance head-to-head against the mayor two years ago was enough to provide a scare, and what anti-Plusquellic forces felt was a chink in the political armor. Now Finley is on the ballot again, but on his own and not running against someone. There is a Mendenhall on the ballot but it isn't Warner, it's wife Kelly. The two most powerful anti-Don brands Akron may not even be the most potent at-large vote-getters.

Whatever the results tonight, this election provides a useful glimpse into whether there truly is a political machine operating at the behest of the Mayor -- or the strength of the political muscle flexed by Plusquellic's most vocal opponents.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Respect v Genuflect

Folks watching NewsNight Akron on Western Reserve Public Media (yeah, that's the old PBS 45/49 for those of us not following at home) will hear continuing conversation on the Vietnam Memorial Park's bench.

It's been a banner week here with plenty of discussion over the role we give our elected officials. In Akron, it was sparked by the Akron Beacon Journal's Bob Dyer, first to point out the tasteless granite bench Akron provided for the Memorial Park in Clinton.

In the event you missed it, Bob's original story. In summation, Akron sent a bench with a quick toss-away line and Mayor Plusquellic's name while every other participating city took it as an opportunity to inspire and thank rather than extend the political brand.

Eric Mansfield, Phil Trexler, M.:L Schultze and I follow suit. I'll likely take some heat for comparing the rush to slap a politician's name on anything that doesn't move to a dog's desire to mark their territory. The thought stayed with me while driving to Akron this morning, coming through Macedonia (where Mayor Don Kuchta's name is on signs) through Cuyahoga Falls (where Mayor Don Robart's name is on signs) into Akron (where Mayor Don Plusquellic's name is on signs) and the studio.

Does anyone think we need the name of elected officials splattered on cars, park entrances, city limits, state lines or even gas pumps?

- - -

Some of this thinking plays out in my thoughts on President Obama's plans to address school kids next Tuesday; this webcast/cablecast comes the day before he addresses the rest of us on the subject of health care. Fox Television already says they won't carry the address, opting for entertainment instead. Here at Rubber City Radio, WAKR will carry the address thanks largely to the Indians having a night off. Otherwise, we would stream it.

When the President of the United States asks for time to talk directly to voters -- after all, we're the ones who decide who manages the country every four years -- we should clear the time. But in today's fractured media landscape one or two networks skipping the speech isn't the end of the world, although it does call to question that network commitment to helping the public stay informed. Between NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, CNN Headline, CNN Financial, CSPAN123, Fox News Television, radio and web I can't imagine anyone who wants to listen or watch is being denied.

Having landed in favor of airing the address, however, I do believe it's important to note why and accept others won't make the same call. Just because the President wants the time doesn't mean they should get the time. We established early on that America is a nation built on the concept of all of us are created equal (not just the men, by the way), and while it's taken us a long time to fully embrace that concept it really does mean ALL. That includes Presidents, Governors, Mayors, Senators -- all the way down the list. It is appropriate to ask we respect the office, even respect the person -- but to take it to the next level seen by politicians to splatter their name, image and cause in every aspect of our lives makes me uncomfortable.

We have a right to object to bowing down to any man (or woman) who expects it just because we elected them to manage our affairs. We've allowed the political class to use our parks, road signs, post offices and public buildings for their own personal branding for far too long, but until Dyer's column showcased the logical extension of that mindset it was easy for us to dismiss the cult of personality seemingly driving today's politics.

On Facebook recently I noted schools can't allow God through the door -- anybody's God -- so why is it acceptable for politicians to waltz right in? Seems to me kids should be learning how to read, and don't really need the President (or Governor, or Mayor) to get in their faces and remind them why they're in school.

A good friend weighed in that the President should get the chance because he's the President. That works when he's addressing a joint session of Congress, but to pull kids out of class to watch him on television? There's a uniquely American question to be asked when authority is used as an excuse: so what? Is that really enough of a reason to turn elementary school into another place to spread the political personal brand?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

On Schools and Political Cults

There's a simple phrase liberal activists like to use when rallying their troops: "no justice, no peace." Can we amend it to include "no God, no politicians?"

I'd like to say I find amusing the current flap over plans by President Obama to follow in the footsteps of...wait for it...George H.W. Bush. On Tuesday, President O is supposed to address students across the nation just like President 41 did nearly two decades ago.

This White House even had lesson plans ready to go; at first, students were asked to write an essay on how they could help the president. Now the geniuses in Washington realize how creepy that sounds, so they're asking our little skulls-full-of-mush to just write how they can realize their own dreams and goals.

Why should this creep all of us out? Because, deep down, we all have good reason to fear what happens when hero worship turns to just plain worship. Check out this video aired in a Utah school district where Hollywood stars giving their "pledge" go a bit over-the top:



Hey, just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me. I've always wondered just how so many people march in lockstep (or goosestep) in the cults of personality that inevitably lead us astray.

Back when H.W. did it folks on the left weren't happy; using the system for politics, they said. Now the folks on the right are squealing with the shoe on the other foot. They're both political pigs.

The irony here is school across the nation won't let God -- anybody's God, even talk of it -- in schools.

Why then do we even entertain the thought of exposing kids to politics?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

UPDATE The Bench

Sometimes a screw up is just so massive it's a no-brainer to step back, take your licks and move forward. Those are the kind of lessons one learns playing sports, and the Quarterback from Kenmore is paying attention.

Tuesday's Akron Beacon Journal story from Bob Dyer brought to attention the poor display of Akron's entry of a stone bench for Clinton's Vietnam Memorial. Other cities taking part in the program inscribed inspiration on their granite, but Akron sent a simple toss-away message and then added Mayor Don Plusquellic's name, as if it was one of those "welcome to..." signs plastered on every entrance to the city, city park and city building.

Please.

Now Plusquellic's stepped up to the line, telling Dyer he's not afraid to admit his mistake -- adding he (and, by extension, his minions) should have paid far greater attention to what must have seemed to be a routine request. Plusquellic deserves praise for taking responsibility and not ducking into the "staff did it" defense so frequently displayed by Washington.

This is serious stuff; comments on the original story run about as you would expect. No politician in his/her right mind disses the service of those who've made the ultimate sacrifice. Those are some of the lessons learned from America's Vietnam experience; along with a more questioning public in times of war, with the exception of Iraq, when post-9/11 still had most of us spoiling to send in the bombers. The political class, however, learned a valuable lesson when opposing military action: don't oppose the military, make clear it's the action one is not in favor of.

Mayor Plusquellic was right and proper in deciding to 'man up' and tell Dyer he would do the right thing. It would be surprising if some thoughtful soul or company didn't step up and shell out the couple thousand dollars to fix the error -- given the warchest the Mayor's supporters amassed for the June recall, that should be something done in a couple minutes on the phone.

Plusquellic deserves kudos. Dyer's original story was titled "Akron's Tastelessness to Last Forever" but in this case forever doesn't have to be much longer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Bench

Here's a reason why it's important for strong, independent voices in the local media -- keywords here being strong and independent. Where else would someone point out the obvious that's been right under our noses?

Bob Dyer's column in Tuesday's Akron Beacon Journal describes a battle of benches in Clinton's Vietnam Memorial, specifically Akron's contribution. If you haven't seen the story, take the time to read it now. Take another minute to see the picture, which tells a thousand words by itself.

Imagine, as Bob notes, dozens of marble and granite benches bearing quotations of leadership, sacrifice and patriotism matched to Akron's entry -- bearing the name of the Mayor.

According to the article, the ball was dropped on South High Street by the high-thinking political types who must have imagined small-town Clinton was looking for the same thing we tolerate everyday driving into the City, passing parks and recreation areas. We've become numb to the flowering of the political name brand on the things owned by the taxpayers; we expect to see Don Plusquellic, or Don Robart, or Don Kuchta (in my neck of the woods) plastered on every entryway to the 'burg. The Man has his stamp of approval on a city or town or village as is royalty bestowed upon him the privilege of ruling the fiefdom rather than the citizens casting a vote.

Maybe it's time to deflower the process.

Does Ohio really need to change signs every four to eight years to reflect the new dog in the Governor's office? Why do cities need to spend a dime of public money, or a minute of public worker time, making sure all the parks, byways, paths and city limit signs bear the name of the Great One, no matter which Great One is in office? How is it we tolerate this type of behavior in a nation where "We the People" start our Declaration of Independence from the slavish fealty to the elite?

Isn't Akron -- and Ohio -- worth more than providing a cheap local example of what it must be like to live in North Korea, where Kim Il fill-in-the-blank holds total power?

The difference between here and there is here we elect the elite to rule so long as they follow a few basic rules which provide the appearance "they" really are more like "us". Dyer's column provides a reminder it is still up to us to remind "them" that "we" are still in charge.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's Wrong With Us?

God knows I love freedom of expresssion, but sometimes you've just got to wonder why the Founding Fathers neglected to add a note about being polite.

What passes for politics this day would make my late mother sick. And I don't think I ever heard her say a word about politics. She sure did have opinions, though, on how we should treat each other.

This week's story about the Reymann-Tarle exchange on a hot and humid Sunday makes so many good points about why politicians should observe the old adage "if you can't say something nice..."

I spoke with David Reymann the evening of the tussle; the facts in the police report, Reymann's account and Tarle's account, for the most part, all match. What is being glossed over in the aftermath is just how a mother (Mrs. Tarle) and a father (Mr. Tarle) explain to their ten-year old son just why another guy (Mr. Reymann) felt it worthwhile enough to run down the boy's dad.

Reymann tells me he "100% regrets" being the one to put the anti-Ernie literature in front of Ernie's son. I think any of us would be outraged, just as Mom and Dad Tarle were, that their son would be dragged into the childish political games adults play. Where the elder Tarle went over the line was in threatening Reymann; where Reymann went over the line is in not paying attention to what he's doing when handing out political literature to kids.

An outraged father spouts off and makes a threat; a concerned candidate is clueless who he hands his literature to and pulls out a gun. Both men should take lessons from the ten-year-old, who told his mother. Neither of these guys stand as role models for what Akron voters have a right to expect from people seeking to serve them.

What is wrong with this picture?

My Twitter friend "Wayne In Akron" -- who does a remarkable job explaining his opinion using public records -- calls to attention a tweet from Akron Ward Council Rep Kelli Crawford noting voters can cast absentee/early ballots now. She tweets "vote early, vote often!" Wayne finds it inappropriate. I respond in so many words "so what?" and note it's a common phrase. I've heard it every election since I started voting 34 years ago, along with jokes about dead people in Chicago voting twice and West Virginians trading votes for liquor. Where's the intent? Are we really turning into such a humorless society that an "oldie but moldy" phrase triggers alarm? Are we so sensitive we are now insensitive to an easy, throw away laugh?

The comments here on AkronNewsNow enable anyone with an opinion to express themselves, but we spend more and more time reviewing those opinions flagged by readers as offensive, obscene, racist, vulgar, profane or containing vicious attacks on private individuals. The Akron Beacon Journal shut down commenting on their first report of the Firestone Park fireworks beating, and I have to admit plenty of sympathy with the editors on Exchange and Main because we had the same struggle. Open debate is one thing; caustic, hateful, despicable speech is another. In the end, it's the decision of the editors and publishers what we let through, but are we really that rude a people where it must be a constant battle? We've banned some, suspended others, posted warnings -- yet the level of dialogue reflects how easy it is to be nasty when you don't sit face-to-face. Send is easier to hit than reminding ourselves it is best to be polite than sorry. This is the lesson we want to teach our kids?

What the hell is wrong with us?

The statewide games adults play is just as bad; we are a year out of next year's races for Governor and U.S. Senator, and already both sides engage in what passes for raising issues by taking every opportunity to flood newsroom and supporter email boxes with some of the most juvenile, smarmy messages you could imagine. There's a good reason you rarely see this stuff in the paper or hear about it on radio and TV; it isn't designed to be credible political debate, it's designed to get people hacked off enough to send money to "fight the good fight." God help us when 2010 actually rolls around and this spills over to political advertising which fills every television, radio, newspaper and mailbox in the state.

What are we doing to deserve this?

On the national stage, the same folks who smirked and applauded when protesters targeted the President and Vice-President a year ago now cry foul when greeted with the same tactics over the health care debate; there are no opposing viewpoints, only liars, myths, propaganda, Nazi-like suppression of free speech, and even thugs wearing union shirts providing a beat-down on someone hold a protest sign. Despite the courage of a few elected officials such as Missouri's Claire McCaskill, who took on all comers, but is now forced to cancel Town Hall meetings. We're treated to representatives such as Georgia's David Scott -- a Blue Dog as he tells it -- yelling down a local doctor who dared ask questions about the biggest issue in the nation today after he couldn't get through to Scott on his own. Now Scott has a swastika painted on his office door. President Obama gets a more respectful reception in New Hampshire -- not exactly a bastion of liberal thought -- but Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter gets shouted down at his own meeting.

What can we do to stop this?

Usually, the American public is level-headed and responds to the above with a shrug, a comment about how happy we are that the nuts in Washington are kept away from the rest of us, encircled by a beltway, and remind ourselves we vote in spite of our elected representatives and the way politics is played. But after watching an Akron recall draw fewer than one in five voters -- and an income tax in Columbus to protect police, fire and other critical services attract the same kind of interest -- I'm beginning to think voting no is becoming a louder voice than those screaming in our ears.

We need to condemn -- in our strongest, respectful voices -- those who would seek to shout down other voices. We shouldn't accept violence anymore, whether it comes from guys puching out a protest sign holder or a cream pie in the face delivered to Ann Colter. We shouldn't tolerate those who shout down, throw down, or personally put down our neighbors who simply have another idea. That goes for the red-faced, spittle-throwing anti-war protester just as much as the red-faced, spittle-throwing health care opponent.

Enough's enough.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Isn't Free Speech Wonderful?

All the gum-flapping over the Obama White House asking supporters of the President's healthcare plans to "rat out" (the phrase used if you oppose) or "simply report myths" (if you are in favor) point out one thing: it's still great to wrap ourselves in the First Amendment.

The cynics targeting Obamacare charge even asking people to "inform" on those with opposing views -- under the edict to report false statements so they can be dealt with -- conjures up memories of secret police behind the Iron Curtain, getting even the kids to report on their parents.

On the other side, the cynics targeting any questioning of Obamacare charge even asking those questions or offering a passionate objection is little more than Nazi-era storm trooper tactics designed to build enemy lists.

Lost to both sides: by even having this discussion, and by extension painting the other side in the most over-exaggerated prose, Americans continue to prove just what is great about America. We have the freedoms to call those in power to account not just for what they do, but what we think they want to do. The First Amendment gives us that right, and it is the ultimate equalizer keeping power with the people.

Speaker Pelosi and her oh-so-serious-it-hurts-listening band of spin doctors would have us believe democracy is being taken over by the mob; Rush Limbaugh and his equally too-serious-to-want-to-invite-to-my-dinner-table band believe we are on the cusp of becoming Maoist China or, worse yet, East Germany.

Both sides have enough little truth to feed their fears to spark a conflagration among a public looking for leadership but instead settling for manipulation. Is it really a wonder most of the public mentally checks out of these beltway brawls?

It's gotten so bad passionate people who disagree are now portrayed as disruptive enough to force member of Congress to hide from their constituents, an excuse to not talk about why they vote the way they do or show their faces in so-called "Town Hall" meetings that traditionally were little more than photo ops to begin with. Now that we have something of substance to openly discuss with the folks writing the checks, all of a sudden the masters of the presentation are afraid to present.

Suggestion: send flag@WhiteHouse.gov an email EVERY time you see a posting, hear a voice in opposition or see a talking head straying from the party line. I mean EVERY time -- include CNN, MSNBC, Fox, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, even this blog -- to the point where it becomes apparent we appreciate the wide diversity of opinion on this issue. Better yet, add the National Republican Committee to the list: their website is being revamped and while they want you to tell them how you like the new look I'm sure they'd love to hear what you think on other issues. The national Democrat Committee wants to know what you think on the issues, too. You'll also be surprised just how similar the two sites look -- right down to making sure "give us money" is featured prominently.

To our elected representatives enjoying some time back home from the sauna of democracy in August, man up -- aimed at LaTourette, Ryan, Space and Boccieri. Betty Sutton should woman up. You weren't elected to sit in comfort and make decisions based only on the words of the party bosses, lobbyists you allow in your office, or union and industry big-shots back home.

These folks back home who want to hear from you, talk with you and even yell at you are more important that Obama, Pelosi, Limbaugh, Gingrich and the rest of the beltway bunch. These people are your bosses.

Earn your pay. Talk to the people. Listen to what they have to say and then vote your conscience. Then accept what comes next -- good with the bad. Just end the whining about having to put up with either side exercising this little thing called free speech so many Americans fought so hard for.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nothing Good Happens At Closing Time

It's almost as though I've had to break my own fingers to hold off posting some thoughts on Mayor Plusquellic's most interesting adventure on Akron's downtown streets nearly a week ago...but now that just about all the video and audio has been viewed and heard, the fingers are doing the talking again.

By now the facts are pretty clear:
  • Mayor Plusquellic had a busy Saturday night tending to official duties welcoming and introducing acts at the Ohio Ballet and Lock 3 before heading over to one of his favorite night spots to help celebrate a friend's birthday;
  • the night went long, a few drinks may have been had, but overall nothing spectacular and the type of night many of us have enjoyed at one time or another with friends;
  • as is sometimes the occasion at closing time, party turned to pounding. Outside a nearby club a nasty fight is underway; it does not involve the mayor's group but he is about to observe and witness;
  • Plusquellic walks into a bad situation on the way to his car. He does the right thing, calling 9-1-1 for help...just what any good citizen should do.
That's when it goes sour.

There's no dispute he was excited after seeing what he saw. Being a take-charge kind of guy, he wants to help (charitable view) or direct (critical view) what police do next. He doesn't dispute "adult language" may have been involved, admits he wasn't happy with the APD response he saw, and points out he is, after all, Akron's boss.

That's a big part of the issue. Now that this seems to be winding down, the issues of was or wasn't he (intoxicated) and did or didn't he (overstep his authority) seem to be working their way out. But the question most folks seem to have an opinion on seems to have less to do with policy and more to do with style. On that point, it would benefit both sides to remember a boss should be treated like a boss, and the employee should be treated with respect.

Apply The Other Shoe Test: if it had been Officer Plusquellic responding to the same situation and being cursed at, would Plusquellic have tolerated it? Eyewitness Wayne Jones, who says he was treated professionally by police, says the Mayor didn't cuss out the cop. I do know if we (John Q. Public) cussed out a cop, we'd be on the line for jail food the next morning. Then again, if my boss started telling me how to do my job I'd probably grumble about it but do what he said.

There's no easy answer, other than to hope the level of discourse between Chief Executive and people who work under the Chief of Police drops down a couple notches, and soon. Doubtful, given the response to city union leaders asking for more details about cuts they're supposed to swallow to help the City deal with the July budget surprise. Even from overseas, where he's talking peace in Japan on the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the mayor's response was typical: fault and pointing blame rather than collaboration. It's just his style.

Another chapter in the ongoing Hatfield and McCoy saga of City politics. Wouldn't it be nice to get beyond the feuds and get right to solutions?

- - -

This week, Columbus voters went to the polls in numbers even worse than Akron's recall election (just 18% voted) and by a slim margin (just 51.7%) approved hiking the city income tax to help stuff a big deficit and stem layoffs to "critical" city workers. Mayor Coleman -- a close friend of Mayor Plusquellic -- thanked residents for putting their money where their critical services are, in marked contrast to Plusquellic, who quickly dismissed an Akron F.O.P suggestion of a public safety levy here despite threatened layoffs. Columbus notes there are "critical" city services, including police; Akron takes the stance uniformed services should get the same budget treatment as other departments.

Question to Mayor Plusquellic and City Council: if there's a rush to reform the recall charter language without a public hearing why not even hold a single meeting to openly discuss giving Akron voters the power to decide for themselves if police, fire and EMS are important enough to shell out more?

The last time a "police levy" was on the ballot it was part of (a much smaller part of) a bid to load up economic development programs. With the budget $12 million out of balance -- according to this month's figures -- would it really hurt giving city voters the option of making public safety critical enough to pay for?