Monday, November 6, 2017

Citizen-Times Declares Open Season on Dee Williams

Editorial displays paper’s antagonism

Late last week Asheville Unreported received separate but similar messages from two different sources: be on the lookout, they said, the Citizen-Times is going to do a very negative piece on city council candidate Dee Williams. It will be in the Sunday edition.

One of the sources is very close to the Citizen-Times organization. That, coupled with the paper’s backhanded coverage of Williams’ candidacy to date, prompted AU to take the unusual – but not unheard-of – step of actually reaching out to the Citizen-Times.

AC-T editor Katie Wadington was out of town; calls to her were routed, instead of to an assistant editor, to Brian Ponder, who according to the paper’s masthead has the interesting title of “Writing Coach.”

“This is the part where I assure you that AU, as a news vehicle itself, doesn't care what you write about whom, as long as it's true (the same, of course, applies to us) nor are we in the business of second-guessing our colleagues' timing or motives,” AU’s Roger McCredie told Ponder in an e-mail. “But when multiple readers ask us to look into something, I think we owe it to them to do so.

“So the questions at hand seem to be:

(a) is AC-T in fact preparing a pre-election piece of some sort on Williams; 
(b) whether you're planning to do any similar reporting on any of the other candidates; and 
(c) if not, why Williams, and why now?

“Please also know that I fully understand you are not obligated to respond to any of this and in fact that you are perfectly within your rights to tell me to go to hell at my earliest convenience. But I hope you'll be kind enough to humor me and give me just a yea or nay -- which will be the extent of what I relay to the enquiring minds,” McCredie concluded.

Two days later Ponder replied.

“Thanks for your email and sorry for the late reply. Joel Burgess is covering Asheville city elections for us, and I know he talks with each of the candidates when he is writing about them and their campaigns. Thanks for reaching out,” Ponder said.
So McCredie forwarded his conversation with Ponder to Burgess. “ Brian Ponder has handed off to you, so I'm just going to put the same questions to you that I did to him (see below). I am aware that you included Williams in your recent candidate profile piece,” McCredie said to Burgess, who covers local government matters for the paper.

No reply.

Citizen-Times Editorial Snideness

But on Sunday, Nov. 5, the Citizen Times’ editorial board presented its evaluation of the six candidates who are looking to fill the three open council seats. The pundits had positive things to say about each one, even those who clearly had not earned the paper’s official stamp of approval.

Except for the editorial’s blurb about Williams. Among the other wrapups, which ranged in tone from courteous to fawning, Williams’ was startling in its snideness.

In its entirety the Williams entry read:
Dee Williams is a perennial candidate who stresses racial justice and fighting gentrification. Williams has no doubt been a force of good in our community with a sharp mind and a willingness to roll up her sleeves. The only candidate who has registered with every party imaginable, her supporters admire her for being beholden only to the issues, and not to any political force.
However, Williams’ tendency to focus more on lauding her own accomplishments and offering sometimes convoluted criticisms of past leadership, rather than offering ideas or solutions for the future, has made it difficult to glean what solutions she offers exactly. We hope if Williams is elected, she will shift her focus toward our shared future and away from oppositional rhetoric”
All newspapers have opinions and at least in this case the Citizen-Times managed to reserve theirs for the editorial page instead of weaving it into what passes for their news content; AC-T even managed to show more finesse than usual by alternating some damning-with-faint-praise (“a force of good in our community with a sharp mind and a willingness to roll up her sleeves”) with Facebook-caliber snarkiness (“a perennial candidate … who has registered with every party imaginable”, “lauding her own accomplishments and offering sometimes convoluted criticisms of past leadership”, oppositional rhetoric”. Among the bland comments on the other candidates, the paper’s savaging of Williams sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Similarly, in his own candidate wrapup earlier, reporter Burgess carefully played up Williams’ endorsement by the Green Party in a nonpartisan election and pointedly referred to a history of “controversy” surrounding the candidate. This, again, among otherwise positive candidate profiles.

So why the AC-T laser target on Williams’ forehead?
The most obvious answer appears to be a combination of blatant dislike combined with visceral fear. Williams represents a black Asheville that has seen itself displaced in favor of rampant development and gentrification since the 1980’s. She has proved herself indeed “beholden only to the issues, and not to any political force,” and that could be downright inconvenient on a council known for its cronyism and its better aversion to transparency.

Past political targets of the Citizen-Times

It appears the Citizen-Times is in the habit of writing negative pieces just before elections as it did last October when it wrote a rather disparaging article about then running incumbent, Mike Fryar, Buncombe County Commissioner. In that piece it ran with an alleged claim (which was never proven) by then Buncombe County Manager, that Mr. Fryar tried to hit her on the head with a phone. That article also went into great detail about how Mr. Fryar absorbed way too much time asking questions, so much time that Ms. Greene was unable to do her job.  However, a year later, it turns out Mr. Fryar was onto something when Ms. Greene suddenly retired in June along with her high-earning son for whom no one knows exactly what he did for the County.  And now, the Citizen-Times has published a novel about Ms. Wanda Greene and her bonuses and pay, trying to make up for their earlier mistakes.

And next to the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, the city government’s biggest cheerleader is the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Related articles about the Citizen-Times

In April of this year, Asheville Unreported ran a two-part series entitled “The Late, Great Citizen-Times. You can read this mini-series here:

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