- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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April 29

The Cleveland Daily Banner on anonymous sources:

When it comes to dispensing public information, “anonymous sources” often do more harm than good - not just to organizations whose reputations are on the line, but to the circumstance itself.

Why?

One, the information can be inaccurate.

Two, the information can be misleading.

Three, the information can be circulated for all the wrong reasons: hidden agendas, political rivalry, axes to grind and grudges to bear.

Four, the information can be harmful to the innocent.

Five, the information can erode, or destroy, credibility.

Six, the information can create a level of chaos that could have been avoided had protocol, as well as common and professional courtesies, been followed.

Seven, the information - especially in today’s cyber world - can reach unprecedented numbers within an unbelievably short amount of time, and if it is factually incorrect the problem is compounded with each telling and by every text or social media posting.

Eight, the information can endanger - or, at the very least unnecessarily delay - resolution of the issue.

Nine, the information can weather time itself because once it finds its way to the internet, it can be picked up time and time again by browsers around the globe; in other words, once in cyberspace its merciless impact can be perpetual.

Ten, the information can be sliced and diced, intentionally edited and distributed out of context to fit the messenger’s need … whether for right or wrong.

Those are just 10 reasons why the use of anonymous sources by news media outlets is a bad idea. It is why we at the Cleveland Daily Banner refuse to use them as a matter of routine. It doesn’t mean we have not used them in the past. But it does mean a situation must be extraordinarily dire for us to base a news story on unsubstantiated claims.

In fairness, not all news media organizations share our mindset. Many contend the promise of anonymity is what makes or breaks a story. Their point is arguable, but here’s our belief: Eventually, the truth will out. And if reliable - and identified - sources are used, the risks for misinterpretation and inaccurate reporting are greatly lessened.

It’s also about accountability.

When a source is identified, that source is responsible for accuracy. If there’s a factual glitch, it is the job of the source and the media outlet to make it right whether through a correction, a clarification or a follow-up story to set the record straight.

When a source is not identified, it becomes much too easy for all involved - reporters, editors and the source - to throw up their hands in perceived innocence while blaming the other for any inaccuracies or misdeeds; and even worse, while they’re pointing fingers behind closed doors, the innocent are rapidly becoming the victims.

In spite of anything we have to say, many news media outlets - regional, state, national and global - regularly employ the use of anonymous sources.

Some do it to get the story first.

Some do it to ward off the distraction of spins from public relations or marketing professionals.

Some do it to better sell their product, whether print or electronic.

Some do it simply because they can do it; that is, they answer to no regulatory authority … other than a court of civil law whose judge is well versed in the rules of libel and slander.

Some do it because they believe everybody else does it.

Some do it because they’ve always done it that way.

This whole issue of anonymous sources surfaced - again - last week when Cleveland Chief of Police Mark Gibson and Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson worked to dispel rumors that their agencies were “feuding.”

Fueled by reports from regional media outlets that relied on anonymity as their primary source of information, the saga grew and grew with each telling and with every social media posting. To bring the furor to a head - and to sort fact from fiction - Gibson and Watson agreed to a joint interview broadcast live this past Wednesday morning on Mix 104.1. Interviewers were the station’s Steve Hartline and our newspaper’s own Brian Graves.

The law enforcement officials’ mutual decision to talk freely about an incident in late March involving a prisoner who was arrested by a CPD officer - but who was refused access into the Bradley County Justice Center due to a prior injury that had not been medically treated - was an appropriate step.

It provided a forum to bring clarity to the circumstances. It spoke to the issue of two law enforcement agencies operating with two different policies. It assured the people of Cleveland and Bradley County that public safety remains the No. 1 priority for both. It dispelled rumors that the CPD and BCSO don’t get along.

Let us be clear. We have no doubt in times past these two entities have quarreled. Even to this day, individual officers probably don’t always see eye to eye. It’s human nature. But such isolated disagreements don’t constitute a feud between agencies.

In days, months and years to come, it is likely the CPD and BCSO won’t always agree. That’s expected. It’s a part of working together as separate jurisdictions within the same county. Of real importance, however, is how they resolve their differences.

Here’s our bottom line:

Both agencies should remain fully transparent, so long as the innocent are not endangered, in all they say and do. Information dissemination should be left to agency professionals who are tasked with this responsibility. News media outlets should exercise restraint … not in the sense of failing to report, but in remembering that while it might be considered important by some to get it first, it’s more important to get it right.

And finally this reminder: Truth is rarely a matter of black and white. Its shades of grey paint the real story, and all are influenced by public perception, by a willingness to both listen and to hear, and sometimes by who’s doing the telling.

Online: https://clevelandbanner.com/

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April 30

The Knoxville News Sentinel on shootings:

It’s been just over a month since a violent and dramatic shootout among apparent gang members in a Northwest Knoxville housing project.

The gunfire erupted about 7:15 p.m. on March 25 in Lonsdale Homes, left one man dead and four wounded, including a 15-year-old boy with a bullet lodged near his heart.

Police say the shooters were members of the same gang - including the dead man and his three associates. Homes were riddled with bullets, windows of apartments and vehicles were shattered by more than 80 rounds.

It was too similar to the December 2015 death of Fulton High School football player Zaevion Dobson, 15, who was killed shielding two friends in what police say was a retaliatory gang shooting, also in Lonsdale Homes. The sophomore was not a member of any gang, police say, just an innocent victim.

In between these shootings, 12-year-old Jajuan Latham - a cousin of Dobson’s - was killed when gang gunfire broke out while he sat in his father’s car in a nearby neighborhood park.

It is simple to say these shootings - and multiple others - could be solved or stopped if witnesses would step up and testify. Sometimes they are solved, but with a price. Ask Larry North who was shot seven times for talking to police after Dobson’s slaying.

The dilemma is rooted much deeper, according to a professor and a pastor, and needs to be addressed to help resolve the violence:

Knoxville, like many communities, remains separated by color, despite efforts to bridge the divide.

The racial inequality spills over into education, opportunity and jobs, despite efforts to level the playing field.

The justice system - police, prosecutors and courts - often aggravates those inequalities, with disparities in sentencing, such as the often-applied gang-enhancement penalty.

The members of gangs, feeling they are marginalized, create their own system of protection in the community, and the outcome harms both.

University of Tennessee sociology assistant professor Robert J. Duran, who has studied and written about street gangs in Utah and Colorado and has been observing Knoxville gangs since moving here nearly three years ago, sees the primary reason for gangs as inequality, divergent social worlds between white Knoxville and black Knoxville.

“If things were equal between whites and blacks in Tennessee or Knoxville or this country, there’d be a lot less unrest,” he says.

“It pushes people to create their own informal social code of whom to talk to and who can be trusted.”

Pastor Joseph Smith’s church, New Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, sits on Texas Avenue in the front yard of Lonsdale Homes, whose landlord is Knoxville’s Community Development Corp.

“We want to challenge the neighborhood to take ownership, even though we feel it’s outside agitators coming into the community,” Smith says.

“There is a responsibility from all of us … there’s not just one thing that we can do better, KCDC can do better, and the police department can do better.

“Gang membership is about being family … what we’re seeing is just the grass on top. We’re not seeing the root. We can’t keep cutting the grass.”

Until the inequality issues are resolved, the gangs will find recruits and the violence won’t go away.

Online: https://www.knoxnews.com/

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May 1

The Johnson City Press on a new G.I. Bill:

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, recently told the Kingsport Times-News he believes it’s time to expand education benefits for military veterans. The 1st District congressman chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, which is drafting legislation to amend what has become known as the G.I. Bill.

“We need to re-look at the G.I. Bill,” Roe said of the talks he and members of his committee have had with leaders of several national veterans organizations.

Roe, a veteran who served in the Army Medical Corps., said the G.I Bill he qualified for was one passed just after World War II.

“As we got into a volunteer Army, in 1985 they started a Montgomery G.I. Bill, a three-year pilot program where you put in $100 a month when you went in the military and you could use that within 10 years,” the congressman said. “Even today, with a Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, active duty military still choose to use the Montgomery G.I. Bill instead of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. The reason is it is better for them.”

Roe said the Montgomery G.I. Bill pays out nearly $1,800 a month.

Military.com reported last week the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush, included funding to pay 100 percent of a public four-year undergraduate education to a veteran who had served three years on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The act also provides the ability for the veteran to transfer benefits to a spouse or children after serving (or agreeing to serve) 10 years.

One proposal Roe’s committee is now exploring to amend the G.I. Bill calls for the program to automatically deduct $100 a month from the basic pay of new recruits during their first two years of service. Roe, however, says the deduction would be strictly voluntary.

“You can choose to be in it or not be in it,” he told the Times-News.

Even so, the deduction is not setting too well with some leaders of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“This new tax on troops is absurd,” VFW National Commander Brian Duffy said in a news release. “Ensuring veterans are able to successfully transition back to civilian life after military service is a cost of war, and not a fee that Congress can just pass along to our troops.”

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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