Who Heals the Healer?
(Or: Drop them stones, Henry!)
By Jackson Baker
OCTOBER 13, 1997: Henry Walker, who toils for the Nashville Scene, is the media critic to end all media critics. Literally.
Henry would seem to be an amiable enough fellow. He is, however, a self-appointed scold of the state's news media and something of a hanging judge.
Every Tennessean who writes or broadcasts news for a living falls within the purview -- and the lash -- of Walker's "Desperately Seeking the News" column. Confession: He once reached his corrective hand across the wilds of West Tennessee to designate an apparent error on my part -- concerning a state Young Democrat election.
I tried to persuade Henry that the error was, in fact, more apparent than real -- that, indeed, the matter in question (whether the state Democratic chairman had an interest in the YD outcome) was one which lent itself to interpretation.
To no avail. Walker's attitude was one of strict literalism. He judged thus-and-so in the story to be incorrect and went on to aver: I'd-like-to-help-you-guy, but -- the law's the law. Memphis' own Officer Selby, that scourge of minor traffic offenders, would have been proud.
Walker's editor, the Scene's Bruce Dobie, evidently was. For he used the interchange as a takeoff point for a lecture on journalistic integrity to fellow editors gathered at this year's
Association of Alternative Newspapers convention in Montreal.
Imagine my disillusionment, then, at the dogs and ponies put on display by Walker and Dobie when it came their time to own up to error. Or to worse.
The Scene kicked up a humongous fuss with Liz Garrigan's recent cover story about Memphis' Steve Cohen -- one which had the Midtown state senator, a putative candidate for governor, seeming to acknowledge marijuana use at a recent gathering of journalists.
Other journalists quickly uncovered the fact -- not mentioned in the story -- that the gathering was one of Scene staffers, no less. (We chose not to out the name of the staffer who gave the party, a fact undoubtedly calming to Dobie, who had called us to express concern about that prospect. This was the same Dobie, mind you, who publicly lectured on our own squeamishness last spring.)
Henry Walker was unaccountably silent during the first week or two of a media furor which focused more on the Scene's disingenuousness than it did over the dope-smoking allegation (denied, for the record, by Cohen).
Walker has now belatedly confessed what several of us media jaywalkers already knew -- that he was at the party in question, a fact which he now, in an ex post facto column, admits he lied about to other journalists. (What he doesn't own up to is that he was not just there but -- how to put it? -- in the middle of the action.)
Walker quotes editor Dobie as saying to him, "Henry, I've got to fire you I can't have a media critic who lies to the press." Some 600 not altogether forthcoming words later, we read, "Am I still fired? Not if you're reading this column. "
Hmmmm. That must have been about as rigorous a tribunal as the one conducted by Dexter King for James Earl Ray -- which took about 10 seconds to get from "Did you kill my father?" to "No, I didn't" to "I believe you."
Two weeks ago, when he was still pretending not to have been at the party, Walker told Jeff Woods of the Nashville Banner that Garrigan's account might have involved "entrapment." Deleting that reference from an extended quote of himself in his modified, limited hangout piece, he seems eager to square all his circles. "Raising the issue [of pot use] certainly wasn't `entrapment'." he now allows.
Well, okay, we all change our minds.
We all fall short of inerrant rectitude as journalists, too. In weak moments, we might even be tempted to cover our tracks. Rarely, one of us even develops a compulsion to be holier-than-thou.
Who can heal the healer? Wrong question. The right one is: Will this affair cure Henry Walker?
(Jackson Baker is a senior editor of the Flyer.)
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