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Nashville Scene Desperately Seeking the News

Equal treatment

By Henry Walker

SEPTEMBER 8, 1997:  While the mainstream media continue to feed the public's insatiable appetite for details about the death of Princess Diana, editors and news directors hypocritically condemn the tabloids for giving her so little privacy.

The lead editorial in Monday's Tennessean bemoaned readers' 20-year fascination with Diana. But the same issue published a dozen news stories about her and her family, 13 photographs, and a drawing explaining how the crash occurred. Tuesday's paper featured a "special report" on Diana, six more stories, five photos, and a column, including a grisly account of how French doctors manually tried to squeeze life into her failing heart.

"Media here spurn work of paparazzi," according to one Tennessean article. Editor Frank Sutherland was quoted as saying his paper won't buy celebrity photographs from free-lancers "unless it was a legitimate news event, where the celebrity knew he was in public or at a public event." In the same self-righteous tone, editors at the Star and the National Enquirer have promised not to buy or publish photos of the injured princess inside the wrecked vehicle. "That's blood money," said a spokesman for the Enquirer. A local newsstand owner said he will personally review all the tabloids and won't sell any papers that print pictures that are "intrusive" of Diana's privacy.

When the press all talk as one, be suspicious. Diana's death is obviously a "legitimate news event," and photos of her trapped in the car are newsworthy and ought to be published.

Newspapers routinely show accident victims, if the pictures are not too gruesome, and television news reports often include videotape of someone getting killed or maimed, after warning viewers that they might want to "turn their heads from the screen."

Pictures of one of the year's biggest news stories will soon be published worldwide. It's just a question of who's going to do it first. Within a few days, a week at most, we will all be staring curiously at Diana's bloody face and pondering the fragility of life.

Great spirits

Indian graves, it seems, are everywhere--on the site of a future Wal-Mart in West Meade and, now, beneath a yet-to-be-built library in Brentwood--provoking demonstrations, prayer ceremonies, threats of lawsuits, and lots of sympathetic media attention. Even The New York Times published a story comparing the removal of Indian graves in West Meade to the infamous Trail of Tears.

Quoting local Cherokees and descendants of other modern tribes, reporters solemnly revealed that an Indian spirit "doesn't reach its final destination until it totally returns to the earth," meaning the ancient bones can't be moved until they've crumbled to dust. It's a Native American tradition "as ancient as the Americas," wrote one gullible journalist.

But neither the press nor their Native American sources know much about those prehistoric graves or the beliefs of the dead who lie there. No one does. These were the mysterious "Mound Builders" who flourished in Middle Tennessee around 1100 A.D. but disappeared long before white settlers arrived, leaving behind abandoned earthen forts, temple mounds, and "vast cemeteries of an extinct race, immense numbers of whose remains are buried in all the caves and mounds, and at every living spring on both sides of the Cumberland," according to an early history of Nashville. Indians of that era, claiming less knowledge than some of their descendants, said there are no traditions to explain the origin or fate of the Mound Builders.

Nashville's pioneers found no Indians living here, just the strange mounds and innumerable, stone-lined graves, which soon disappeared beneath cultivated fields, roads, and houses. Perhaps, as the tradition says, the spirits of the Mound Builders don't like being moved, but at least they're not making up stories for the Times.

Ripped off

Have a Nice Day Cafe, a restaurant on Second Avenue, pulled its full-page ads from the Scene recently after food critic Kay West scorched the menu, the drinks, the clientele, and the whole concept of opening a theme restaurant based on the 1970s.

Two weeks later, the Cafe's full-page ad appeared in In Review, a local biweekly paper. The display ad, which was designed by the Scene's staff, was picked up at the Scene's offices by someone claiming to be "Rob Lewis" of "the Morrow Agency," representing the Cafe. Officials from the restaurant told the Scene they never heard of Rob Lewis or the Morrow Agency. Rob Jackson, who sells ads for In Review, admits he "changed a few facts" in order to "make sure I got the ad." He said he thought that if he identified himself, the Scene might not have given him the copy. A Scene spokesman said anyone representing the customer would have been given the ad for a $20 fee.

While In Review's sales staff is busy lifting other people's designs, the paper's editorial writers have been shamelessly borrowing story ideas from Business Nashville.

Six weeks ago, the July-August issue of Business Nashville published profiles of two local businesses--a line of male cosmetics and a housecleaning service--and a longer article on competition among Nashville supermarkets, headlined "Food Fight." Last week, In Review printed short profiles of both the cosmetics and housecleaning companies and a feature on competition among local grocery stores called "food fight."

To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the Scene (615-244-7989, ext. 445), call him at his office, 615-252-2363, or send an e-mail to hwalker@bccb.com

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