Thursday, July 14, 2011

That ingratiating Tennessean formula

John Arriola's misuse of Metro revenues is maddening enough, but news that paid PR firms and Nashville's local daily were in on the marketing of Arriola is beyond stupid. Witness an excerpt of the email correspondence from Amanda Virgillito Saad, Andrews Agency PR flack, to Clerk Arriola via NewsChannel5, which seems to perpetually kick Gannett butt on stories that embarrass Metro government bureaucrats:

l'm happy to report that the Tennesean does plan to cover the office move with a positive story. Right now the plan is a news story plus a great column from Gail Kerr. l'm still waiting for further details, but l'd love to go over talking points in advance.

I've seen this pattern of repackaging spin before. It happened with the selling of Music City Convention Center construction, during which Gail Kerr was coached by another PR firm, as Tennessean journos let the project coast without critical questions. And Karl Dean enjoyed the benefit of the tag team between reporter Michael Cass and repackager Kerr last autumn.

And now, far be it from Tennessean staffers to fail to cover butt in the wake of the NewsChannel5 stories. The past PR pattern reversed itself this week with reporter Nicole Young's story, which leads with the message that Karl Dean--who never raised spending questions of Arriola in his own budget hearings last spring--is suddenly ordering an audit of the county clerk's office. As if on cue, Gail Kerr followed yesterday with a column that was not quite as "great" as what The Andrews Agency originally planned: it placed full responsibility on Arriola, and it included a gratuitous hat tip to Charlie Cardwell, almost as if to underscore the spin that this administration is not all bad apples; and certainly as if there is a silver lining in the run-up to the August ballot.

But no more than 8 months ago and not long before the NewsChannel5 exclusive, Gail Kerr was prepped to spin out a "great" column about the county clerk whom she cut loose yesterday. Public relations is just business, my friends. And journalism is nothing personal.

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