Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 24 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 24



By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

July 24, 2009


After months of concern and much speculation, the new No Child Left Behind scores are out in Tennessee.

And for the first time in six years, Metro Nashville Public Schools made enough progress to stop any further state takeover of the local school system or to have Mayor Karl Dean take charge (at least for this school year).

Metro Schools Director Dr. Jesse Register is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. He tries to put the test results in context and talk about the challenging road still ahead for the school system. He disputes those in the community who rumor that Metro Schools passed "on a technicality" or that it got a break from state officials who said the system had made enough progress to fall into the "safe harbor" category (meaning enough progress to pass).

I've been interested in how prominent community leaders have responded to this No Child News. Another failure for Metro would have resulted in a monumental PR black eye for this city (Nashville is the only system in the state that was facing the dire consequences of a possible full state takeover with perhaps the Director and even the entire School Board ousted).

Yet both Chamber of Commerce Chief Ralph Schulz and Mayor Dean seemed to focus their comments (as least as reported in THE TENNESSEAN) on the challenges yet ahead, rather than indulge in much celebration for what has been accomplished, or express much relief at Nashville public schools not falling into a new educational abyss. Said Schultz:"We have miles of territory to cover to make our schools what they ought to be. We need greater and faster gains."

Mayor Dean focused a good bit of his comments in the official statement released by his office on the fact that "starting this year school standards are going up, meaning our challenge is only going to be greater." Another odd thing about the Mayor's statement: It makes absolutely no reference to either Dr. Register or the Metro School Board, concluding, "(we) will be talking with the Governor and Department of Education to determine what else we can do to help our schools succeed."

Does this mean as far as the Mayor is concerned Dr. Register and the School Board aren't a part of those conversations about how to help schools succeed in the future? I seriously doubt that and when I asked Dr. Register during our interview about the Mayor's statement he took the high road and said he had seen the statement but hadn't realized that he and the School Board were not mentioned.

I do understand that the Mayor has said at a public event since the No Child test scores have been released that he thinks Dr. Register is doing a good job as Director of Schools. If asked, I think he would likely say the same thing about the School Board. But not saying anything about them in his official statement sure sends a strange signal.   

You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times this weekend (July 24-26) on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.

That includes another chance to catch us close to prime time on the main channel (WTVF-TV, NewsChannel5) at 6:30 PM on Friday evening (July 24). You can also see the show:

Friday, July 24.........7:00 PM........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Saturday, July 25....5:00 AM............NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Saturday, July 25.....5:30 PM..........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sunday, July 26.........5:00 AM.........WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5

Sunday, July 26.........5:00 AM..........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sunday, July 26.........12:30 PM........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

There is other news to report about the show and about NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Beginning August 1, Comcast is moving the PLUS to its digital tier of programming at Channel 250. With more and more of Comcast's customers going to digital service and with the Plus now located in what Comcast calls its "news neighborhood," our programming should be easier to find than ever and with an ever growing audience in that part of cable land.  

And that's not the only change ahead. According to a memo from NEWSCHANNEL5's President and General Manager Debbie Turner, "effective August 1, NEWSCHANNNEL5 PLUS will no longer be exclusive to Comcast and Charter cable. We will have the rights at that point to offer it to AT&T and other cable providers. Even better, it will also be broadcast over the air as our 5.2 channel." That means those of you with over-the-air digital TV service will be able to receive NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS for the first time.  


Our political struggle over those new gun laws (especially the one that allow gun permit holders to bring their weapons into restaurant and bars) continues to keep Tennessee in the news.

In fact, there was a major piece about it recently on THE LEDE BLOGGER, the news blog of THE NEW YORK TIMES. Editor Robert Mackey posted an article pointing out that both Tennessee, and now Arizona, have passed gun laws on this subject, adding; "The new laws stipulate that armed patrons have to refrain from drinking while in bars-in effect, creating a new category of customer, the designated shooter." This pokes fun at claims by gun law supporters that they need "expanded rights so that law-abiding citizens can protect themselves in more situations."

The blog posting brought lots of comments, including several who talked about stupid Tennessee and Arizona are to pass these laws and how they would now never step foot in our state, especially in our bars and restaurants. While others posted comments defending the new guns laws, this can't be the kind of ongoing publicity that delights our economic and community development folks who are trying to recruit new people and businesses to Tennessee.

Meanwhile, as more and more cities and counties across Tennessee are opting out of the new state law that allows guns to be brought into parks, it appears Nashville doesn't have to do anything to keep the weapons out.

After several weeks of increasingly intense debate in the community and among Metro Council members, an opinion has come out of the Metro Legal Department that claims because of a law passed by Metro Government 43 years ago (1966), guns are already banned in local parks, and this law was not overruled by the new state law. In fact, it was grandfathered in say Metro legal officials because it was passed prior to 1986.

So I guess that makes moot the bill pending before the Metro Council to ban guns in parks? And I guess it makes it pointless to hold a scheduled public hearing on the issue? So....never mind? We've already been there, done that 43 years ago on this issue, but didn't realize it?

Don't you know there are some Metro Council members very happy they got this political "get out of jail free card" and can, at least for now, avoid getting caught up in this very emotional issue.

But now comes late word via a story by Michael Cass at THE TENNESSEAN (7/24) that some council leaders (he quotes Erik Cole) say the Council should go ahead and opt-out of the new state law, as a way to provide some extra protection in case gun supporters try to repeal the old Metro law. And so it goes, on and on and on.


 The halls of the Tennessee General Assembly have been quiet since the session ended back in June. But now things are abuzz with the latest scandal to engulf another lawmaker.

This time it's Republican conservative Senator Paul Stanley of Germantown, who has often been outspoken in his support of "family values." Now there is news that back in April, the Senator was the "victim" of an extortion effort by the jealous boyfriend of one of Stanley's legislative aides, with whom Stanley allegedly was having an extra-marital affair. The boyfriend was not just jealous: he demanded money in return for some risqué pictures of the aide reportedly taken in the Senator's apartment here in Nashville.

That's when the TBI got involved, a sting operation was set up and the boyfriend was arrested just after accepting the money. Since it happened back in April, I thought surely legislative leaders had known about it, but kept it quiet while the investigation continued. Besides, can you imagine all the extra hoopla that would have been going on if this had become public knowledge back when lawmakers were here?

But now I am told, at least from Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey's office, that he knew nothing about it, until everything went public in the last few days. So the TBI and Senator Stanley found a way to keep things quiet for 3 months. On Capitol Hill, that's pretty amazing.

What will also be interesting to watch is how this story continues to unfold (and you can be sure NEWSCHANNEL5's Phil Williams will continue to be the best reporter on the story). Senator Stanley has resigned his chairmanship of the powerful Commerce Committee but so far held on to his seat. Will he be able to hold on as allegations of problems in a previous marriage now surface and as his political critics accuse of him of being a hypocrite on family values issues? What about reports on NASVILLEPOST.COM by Ken Whitehouse about the previous marital status of the intern?

And what will Lt. Governor Ramsey say? The Speaker took some heat for how he handled another recent scandal involving a Senate aide who sent out a racist e-mail. Now Ramsey is also a full-fledged gubernatorial candidate which raises the stakes on what he says in reaction to this scandal.  As this was being written, Ramsey had been out of the state and unavailable for comment. We'll see what he has to say.  

So far most lawmakers seem reluctant to comment. Both Republican and Democratic leaders have been quiet with some saying it is a personal matter. But that hasn't kept at least one partisan from sending me a text message asking: "What would Democrats do without evangelical, Republican politicians? They just keep making our case for us."

Problems like the ones Senator Stanley has can happen to any person or politician of any party (maybe that is a reason why other lawmakers are so quiet about this). One thing that is clear is that on any issue, but especially moral issues surrounding family values, if you talk the talk, you really better walk the walk.

The Stanley Affair also raises "culture issues" about the Hill again, much as the racist e-mail scandal did earlier in the year. So what will happen? Right now, I'd bet not much. Just changing or eliminating the intern program won't do it. But the culture on the Hill is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed and changed, sooner rather than later.

 In a normal news week, what is going on in Tennessee, a political scandal laced with sex and blackmail would be garnering our state more unwanted national attention. But maybe not so much this time because of what is going on in New Jersey. That's where federal agents have charged 44 people, including mayors, a vice mayor, state legislators, even religious leaders as the culmination of a multi-year investigation into public corruption and a high-volume international money-laundering conspiracy.

Wow! When they start arresting folks by the bus load, that is clearly the scandal of the week (and I hope there is no other strong competitor even for scandal of the yearJ).


President Barack Obama is putting the best face he can on it. But he's suffered a political setback now that he has been unable to get the Senate to meet his deadline to approve a health care reform plan before the August recess, which begins the end of next week. It must be particularly disappointing because the President and his allies have worked so hard to try and build a consensus and some momentum for legislative approval through numerous presidential trips, speeches, news conferences, even TV ads targeting key lawmakers (like Tennessee's Bart Gordon). But so far, to no avail.

It's possible the House will take a vote, but even there the President has problems with conservative Blue Dog Democrats (including several Tennessee Congressmen such as Gordon, Jim Cooper, John Tanner and Lincoln Davis) who are still not on board. By the way, Congressman Cooper is a guest this Sunday (7/26) on FACE THE NATION with Bob Schieffer, once again underscoring our Congressman's individual prominence and the importance of the Blue Dogs in this national health care debate.       

 Frankly, it's not the Republicans who are the President's biggest problem with health care, although some of them are being foolish in publicly making statements that health care is "Obama's Waterloo" and that if health care legislation fails the GOP can regain its political power. This issue is way too important to become a political football like that.

The President's real problem is with Democrats and with his sliding job performance poll numbers on issues like health care and the economy, especially among independent voters. The Democrats certainly have the votes in both chambers to pass whatever they want. But because the President didn't want a repeat of the Clinton health care reform disaster of trying to force through a certain set bill or plan, he has allowed Congress to run the process, make up their own bills, and that has led the Obama effort straight into the political swamp.   

It would also help the President if the economy showed more signs of improvement. The Dow going over 9000 helps (if it can stay there), but unemployment keeps rising not falling. Meantime so much money has been spent on bailouts and the stimulus plan (with little to show for it some think) that the concept of spending billions, even trillions more on health care reform has the public growing doubtful and lawmakers saying "wait a minute."

So it's "see you in September" for health care reform at least in the Senate.  In the meantime, the President needs to avoid getting distracted. That includes the big mistake he made in his recent news conference by injecting himself into the controversy surrounding his friend and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. After saying he didn't know all the facts of the case, the President nevertheless stumbled headlong into racial politics, (something he has wisely avoided in the past) by saying the Cambridge, MA police department ‘acted stupidly" in the case.

There are lots of nuanced ways for a President to express his thoughts and feelings. It happens all the time in diplomacy and foreign affairs. Even when you are sticking up for a friend, saying someone "acted stupidly" is not the way for a President to publicly express himself on an emotional issue like this. It's picking a fight and a controversy the President doesn't need and maybe can't win. When he made the gaffe of saying the words "acted stupidly" I can just see his White House communications staff cringing.      


I've been thinking a lot about the past recently.

For many of you that won't be a big surprise. You know I am a history nut.

But the recent passing of legendary CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, just at a time when the nation was about to observe the 40th anniversary of the Apollo XI moon landing, brought back more memories than usual for me.

I can't think about our space program in the 1960s without also thinking about and admiring the work of Walter Cronkite, especially his coverage of the moon landing and man's first walk of exploration there forty summers ago.

Of course, no matter what TV coverage we watched, (if you are of a certain age of 45 or more) we all remember where we were and exactly what we were doing when the Eagle landed and then Neil Armstrong, followed by Buzz Aldrin, took "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

I had just finished high school and was living on my own for the summer attending a broadcasting school in Atlanta. I also worked part-time at a McDonald's restaurant in Buckhead. The day of the moon landing (it was a Sunday), I was about to take the bus to work. It was late afternoon, and since I didn't have a TV set, I listened to the moon landing on the radio. Nothing like the mind's eye to build the drama of an event like that!

Since the astronauts were not due to begin their televised moonwalk until very late that night, I thought I had plenty of time to do my work shift and be back at Amherst Hall, which was just off Peachtree Street near Piedmont Park, to watch history being made on the community TV at the boarding house.

But when I got to work I learned the moon walk was going to start early. Not surprisingly, there was almost no one eating out that night, not even a quick fast food meal at McDonald's. So the entire staff told the manager: Bring in a TV so we can stay open and watch the moon walk, or shut it down so we can go home.

We did shut down early and I managed to get back to my place just in time to join "Uncle Walter" and the astronauts for a night of history.

I remember calling my folks at home and calling my girlfriend in Nashville that night (and I probably called collect J). In these days of unlimited, free cell phone calls, text messages, Facebook, Twitter,etc., I laugh about it now. Back in the 1960s making a long distance call was a big deal, and an expensive one. Usually getting a long distance call meant something very important was happening or someone had died. I am sure my mom and dad, my brothers and sisters, even my girlfriend, were glad to hear from me, but let's keep it short, OK?

I will never have a short memory when it comes to Walter Cronkite. I first came to admire his work when he hosted "The 20th Century", a TV documentary show that aired on Sunday afternoons. He was clearly a major influence on my going into journalism. Cronkite was known as "The Most Trusted Man In America", and as the anchor of the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981 he was always the calm, knowledgeable voice amid our uncertain times. How ironic that as we look back on his body of work, we also remember the times when he too showed some emotion on the air, such as when he announced the death of President Kennedy or when Apollo XI finally touched down on the lunar surface.   

 Cronkite was not just our source for information and comfort in times of peril, when he spoke out, people listened. That's why when he returned from a 1968 trip to South Vietnam, and commented in a rare on-air editorial that he no longer thought America could win the war, President Johnson realized as LBJ put it: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."   

Unfortunately, I never had the privilege to meet or talk with Walter Cronkite, although I got close once. In the late 1970s, while I was working at Channel 5, I went on vacation to visit my in-laws in South Florida. That trip included seeing a Miami Dolphins game. My then-boss, Chris Clark was also due in Miami to attend the national Radio & Television News Directors convention.

Since we had an extra ticket, and the Dolphins' opponent was Minnesota (whose quarterback was Fran Tarkenton, an ole Georgia Bulldog which is Chris' school) we invited him to join us. After watching Minnesota win the game (but still trying to butter up the boss), we went to dinner at Joe's Stone Crabs, one of the great restaurants (even today) in Miami Beach (now better known as South Beach).    

The place was jammed, but fortunately since my father-in-law dined there with some frequency, we managed to get a table and have dinner. On our way out, who do we see cooling his heels, waiting for a table in the lobby? Walter Cronkite!

My mother-in-law, surprised to see such a familiar face, blurted out in a loud voice: "Why, that's Walter Cronkite!" He smiled at us, nodded and we went on our way.

Our children, and pretty much anyone under the age of 35 or 40, cannot really appreciate who and what Walter Cronkite was, just as I am not sure they understand their elders' continued excitement with our memories of the first lunar landing. The world has changed a lot, and so has journalism. There will never be another Walter Cronkite and those of us who watched and admired his work will miss him.

But there can and should be another lunar landing...or even a mission to Mars. Man should never lose his desire to explore new worlds, not only for what we can learn, but for how it can bring us all together, not only as a country, but as an entire world, just like the Apollo XI mission did so many years ago. 

I've had the chance recently to re-read several histories of the moon landing and watch a couple of TV specials about Apollo XI. I was struck at how close to disaster and failure the mission came on several occasions, but how with skill, human ingenuity and a little luck, the astronauts and those supporting them, succeeded. When you consider how far we've come in terms of technology, especially with computers, it is hard to believe this nation managed to get to the moon 40 years ago. Would you take a 40-year old car for a trip of any distance today, even with a new engine and fresh tires?

But it just goes to show with everyone working together for the same goal (to the win the Space Race and beat the Russians to the Moon) anything is possible.  

As Walter Cronkite would say:"That's the way it is."


Nashville has had its own epiphany with history in recent days. The guilty verdict in the Marcia Trimble trial brought to an end a 34-year murder mystery that most had long since thought would remain forever unsolved.

But the dedicated detectives in the Metro Police Department and the prosecutors in the D.A.'s office would not give up. Using good detective work and technology not even dreamed of when Marcia disappeared and was murdered in late February, 1975, they managed to identify and convict her killer despite the passage of over three decades.  This was not a CSI or a COLD CASE TV show. This was real-life police work and an excellent case presented by the District Attorney's office.

I've had the opportunity a few times in the past to meet and briefly talk with Marcia's mother, Virginia Trimble Ritter. She is a great and kind lady. I've always admired her for how she handled herself, her seeming serenity over the years, in dealing with such a tragic loss. But to see her on the witness stand during the trial, breaking down when she saw and touched her daughter's clothing again, I think for many of us, as Virginia Trimble Ritter said it was for her, it was like Marcia being killed again.

That's something of an odd thing to say in some ways since I, and most people in Nashville, never knew Marcia.  But her disappearance and murder marked a major change in our community. We all felt we knew Marcia and her family and that what happened to her could happen to us, to our family. Nashville had perhaps never felt that way before, and perhaps has never felt fully safe ever since.

The Trimble case has always been front and center in the media, not only because of the compelling elements of the story but also because it occurred right as electronic TV newsgathering, including the ability to go live from the scene of a story, was just beginning. I think that clearly added a new dimension to the case, which continued with news stories every few years in and around the anniversary of her disappearance and death; stories which always pointed out the continuing unsolved status of the case.

So if Nashville and Virginia Trimble Ritter can have any kind of closure from the guilty verdict in this case, it is not just that Marcia's killer has finally been identified and will be punished. Maybe now we can also finally put the mystery of the Marcia Trimble case to rest as well after over three decades in the headlines.  

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