Like the alleged "blue wall of silence" among police, it is unusual when journalists break a similar grey wall of silence and publicly blast another journalist.
So when Bud Kennedy’s April 27 Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper column slammed KETK-TV reporter Lindsay Landry’s coverage of the Tea Party in Tyler, Texas, it caught StinkyJournalism's attention. (Not subtle, Kennedy wondered in a tweet if Landry's work was "the worst TV news report ever"?).
Kennedy is a senior journalist at the Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram, whereas Landry is a young reporter at KETK, an NBC-TV affiliate in Tyler, Texas.
Kennedy reported that Landry was “almost beside herself,” April 26 when Glenn Beck and Texas Gov. Rick Perry attended the Tea Party in Tyler. Kennedy described her as having a positive bias in favor of the proceedings, judging from her “frenzied” and “breathlessly” reporting the rally, which she called "fun."
Since KETK doesn't air in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, most Star-Telegram readers couldn't easily see for themselves if Kennedy was right about Landry's biased reporting. From reading the column, it's not evident if Landry was instructed to report that way, or if, objectively, all her political reporting is as "frenzied" as Kennedy described it. He does not provide her side of the story.
StinkyJournalism contacted KETK news director Neal Barton who confirmed that it takes about two and a half hours to get from KETK's station to the Star-Telegram's office. “We thought it was somewhat odd, but somewhat delicious as well” that Kennedy would write about a TV segment that was not broadcast in his area.
In an interview with StinkyJournalism Kennedy justified not contacting Landry or the station before writing his column because it was an opinion piece. However, StinkyJournalism doesn't agree with that view because Kennedy's column attacks Landry without giving her a chance to respond before publication--an ethical requirement of fairness when attacking someone. And, if Kennedy had contacted the station beforehand, he might not have made a factual error in his column.
Kennedy incorrectly reported that Landry was a first-year reporter. Barton, Landry's boss and KETK news director, corrected his error in his commentary segment, Neal Barton's POV, the day after the column, that Landry is in her third year as a reporter. Kennedy did update his column online to reflect the correction.
What does Landry say? Is she biased?
We contacted Landry by phone to obtain her response. She didn’t think it was a fair evaluation of her reporting. “He took it as I was endorsing the Tea Party," Landry said, "but I was just doing an assignment." Landry said she's not publicly affiliated with any political parties.
“We all have off days,” Landry said. “We can’t be spot on all the time.”
She said she was just reporting a story. She said she would have shown another side to the story if there had been one to tell.
"Unfortunately, in my opinion, the days of Walter Cronkite are kind of over,” Landry said. “It doesn’t work in most markets for you to be completely unbiased so the TV station I work for, and I don’t necessarily agree, has taken a right-wing approach….That’s our audience.”
Landry said KETK has gotten a "huge response" to its Tea Party coverage, so the stations' reporting is sort of "a right-wing view of the news."
Barton said Kennedy's column “digs at Tea Parties, Glenn Beck and seemingly our reporter for even covering such events” and that “Bud just wanted to do a hit piece.”
Barton further told StinkyJournalism, that obviously both his POV segment and Kennedy's column are commentary and they're both entitled to their opinions. But, he thinks KETK is "right on track with our coverage of the Tea Party.”
“The Tea Parties right now are a hot button,” Barton said. “I think most media outlets don’t particularly care for them. Here they’re very popular.”
"I really think he should have attacked the station rather than me personally," Landry said. "Most of the time I do the stories that I’m told to report on so I actually think he went too far in attacking me.”
Landry said she tried to be unbiased in her reporting, but that “every time I do these stories, it’s so hard to find a liberal.” She said it's hard to get a hold of representatives from the Democratic party for stories.
Barton also said that KETK tries to give both sides, and “sometimes people are outraged because they’re pretty much used to getting more of a leftward leaning message, and we try very hard not to do that, and when we do that, you stick out like a sore thumb.”
“We always give both sides if that’s possible, if the other side will correspond with us,” Barton said. But like Landry said, Barton said it’s very hard to get a hold of Democratic party spokespeople. Whenever reporting on politics, Barton said “we always call the Smith County Democrats, and usually they are slow to respond."
Hmmm. Are Democrats so hard to find?
However, the Smith County Democrats say otherwise. David Henderson, chair of the Smith County Democrats, told StinkyJournalism in an e-mail that KETK has his phone number “but seldom call.” When they do, he said “I always respond.” While Henderson wrote that he doesn’t watch KETK he said “other Democrats complain about” the coverage of their party.
Regarding other media in the Tyler area, Henderson noted that “the local newspaper contacts me with some frequency” as does KLTV, another station. “As the designated hitter, I respond as soon as possible and go on air if at all possible. If I can’t do it, I refer the caller to one of our Deputy County Chairs, usually Michael Tolbert.”
Kennedy said that after his column, he got the impression that KETK is "trying to focus its marketing appeal to a certain niche of viewers, and it may be that (Landry) has either been told to appeal to a certain group of viewers" or that Landry maybe was trying to please her boss by reporting a certain way.
KETK's Web site may provide evidence of this view. It currently features a contest for tickets to see Sarah Palin, Republican and former governor of Alaska, in Tyler, Texas.
Local versus national media coverage
“I find that local stations and local newspapers are often more accurate and more responsible than the national coverage,” Kennedy told StinkyJournalism. “In this case, I was surprised to find that a local station seemed to be lobbying for people to come to the event instead of reporting on what it was. I expected to see a report on the event. I didn’t expect to see cheerleading.”
Barton said someone sent him the Kennedy column and he thought “Oh Bud, it must be slow over there.” As someone who used to work in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, Barton recalled that “usually, there’s non-stop news,” but apparently there was time to focus on Landry’s reporting.
Kennedy told StinkyJournalism he found Landry’s report when he was checking out media coverage of Tea Parties in Texas. It was on April 25, that he tweeted about the report, asking if it was "the worst TV news report ever."
“The local TV news has been the last bastion for fair and responsible reporting, and that’s why I trust local TV news more than cable networks,” Kennedy said.
Either way, he doesn't like it. “I’m sad to see local TV news go down the road of cable TV news where businesses pick their product niche and try to appeal to a certain market instead,” Kennedy said.
It showed fairness in his column when Kennedy asked Nann Goplerud, interim chairwoman of the University of North Texas’s journalism school and a former broadcaster, for her opinion on Landry's Tea Party segment.
Rather than attack her personally, Goplerud “blamed inexperience.” Unfortunately, her additional perspective still doesn't balance his column. An editorial is not a license for unfair commentary.