But by the time the 3 p.m. Feb. 25 news conference rolled around, BellSouth Louisiana President Bill Oliver had issued a denial of sorts, saying he did not threaten a pullout or closure of Lafayette's Cingular Wireless call center during a "two-hour, in-depth, open discussion" with the paper's editorial board the previous day. Oliver has been one of the most outspoken critics of LUS' fiber-to-the-home proposal, and BellSouth filed suit to force local government to use an ordinance that allows for a public vote on the bond issue to fund the project. His company owns 40 percent of Cingular, which got $18 million in state and local concessions to set up a call center in north Lafayette in 2001.
Oliver's letter, which had been faxed to LEDA exec Gregg Gothreaux just after 2 p.m., also put Blanchard, a seasoned reporter, in the position of defending his story to a group of LUS supporters and fellow reporters.
"I don't write s--t that people don't tell me," an agitated Blanchard answered those seated around him at the press conference. "I don't make [this] up."
But the influential Oliver had already gotten a much warmer reception to his position from Advocate Executive Editor Linda Lightfoot, who agreed to run a correction of the headline in the paper.
Lightfoot says the story accurately reflected what Oliver said during the discussion, though she seemed obliged to comment that "lots of what was said" was not in the story. "That's the nature of the beast," acknowledges the news veteran, who has spent four decades at the capital city paper, rising to executive editor in 1991. (Lightfoot was in New York last week as a judge for the esteemed Pulitzer awards for journalism.)
The correction stated: "The Advocate â?¦ contained an article with a headline that stated BellSouth's President of Louisiana Operations Bill Oliver threatened to pull the company's operations out of the city of Lafayette if [LUS] were to offer competing telecommunications service for that city. While Oliver discussed the possible effects of such a program on his company, he did not make any threats or refer to closure of any operations."
So how do you stand by a story but not a headline that fits it? UL Lafayette journalism professor Dr. Robert Buckman says correcting the headline but standing by the story creates a "peculiar" situation. "The words certainly imply some reprisal if the LUS plan is adopted," he says. "It appears to be a thinly veiled threat."
The most compelling support for the headline on the story is Oliver's reference to Timbuktu, a city in the West African nation of Mali. According to the original Advocate story and a followup on Feb. 26, Oliver said in an LUS-dominated market, BellSouth would have less incentive to keep a call center in an area where it has diminished business interests, considering those same services could be performed by people in Timbuktu. "Would you still keep people there?" he asked The Advocate staffers.
It's not the first time Oliver has raised that question. Former Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce Chairman Gary McGoffin says Oliver made similar statements to him last year. According to McGoffin, Oliver said it would be difficult to justify maintaining the center in Lafayette and cited its possible demise as a collateral consequence of the LUS project. (The chamber has not endorsed or denounced LUS' fiber-to-the-home project.)
City-Parish President Joey Durel also says that Oliver has used the same line of reasoning in conversations with city-parish council members. In his Feb. 25 press conference, Durel fumed at Oliver's insinuations. "I believe he said the center could be anywhere. I believe he says Lafayette is insignificant," Durel said.
Carl Redman, the Advocate's managing editor, also attended the editorial board meeting with Oliver and another BellSouth official. Redman told The Independent Weekly he doesn't recall the reference to Timbuktu, and Lightfoot says she can't remember the context. "I do not remember because I did not take notes," she says. Lightfoot maintains that in a subsequent conversation she had with Redman, he did recall hearing Oliver say "Timbuktu" but not the context in which it was used.
Both of the editors use the same adjective ' "copious" ' to describe Blanchard's notes from the lengthy interview. Blanchard did not write the headline; as is customary in newspaper publishing, the paper's copy desk applied what it thought was a suitable title for the story.
For his part, Oliver says he mentioned Timbuktu in attempting to explain that such centers are not geographically specific ' that the service they perform can be done from anywhere. "It's a fictional place that in my mind is not anywhere," he says. In his letter, the BellSouth official says he was explaining BellSouth and Cingular's employee structure, the way they provide service in the state, and the companies' investment in Louisiana to educate The Advocate about the issue of government competing against private enterprise.
In his position as the top BellSouth official in the state, Oliver is a well-connected political and economic powerhouse, as BellSouth and Cingular employ 6,100 people throughout Louisiana. The decision to run a correction had nothing to do with the influence of a large corporate entity like BellSouth, say Lightfoot and Redman.
Oliver acknowledges that he would play an important role in determining a call center's fate. "I have had the opportunity to go out and get call centers to be located here," he says. But he's not authoritative enough to answer city officials' challenge to prove he didn't make threats by promising to keep the center open. (The call center is bound to operate here by a 10-year contractual agreement that expires in 2011.) "It's not something one person would do by themselves. It's a very detailed, involved process, opening one, closing one down, re-locating one. People's lives are involved," Oliver says.
Blanchard's initial story and the resulting controversy were hot news on KLFY-TV10's afternoon broadcasts on Feb. 25. At the end of the televised segment, anchor Chuck Huebner reported that the station had contacted Lightfoot, who said the word "threatens" should not have been used, but Huebner did not state that the paper stood by the story.
Redman declined to supply a more fitting headline for the article. "I'm not going to speculate on what might have been a more appropriate subhead," he says.
Kevin Blanchard declined to comment, but many of his colleagues say that Blanchard's integrity is indisputable, and The Advocate's headline correction unfairly cast doubts on his reporting.
"Kevin's [ability] to get to the heart of a matter is uncanny," says former Advocate Acadiana Bureau Chief Bruce Schultz, Blanchard's one-time boss. "He's a good reporter, and he should be supported in his quest for learning and writing the truth. In the five years he worked with me at the bureau, his credibility was impeccable."
OK, so they’re bentgrass, the type used on golf course greens. But grass is grass.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill Wednesday, despite opponents who argued it would shut down the storefront lenders.
A measure to allow the state to implement its own, less stringent plan for limiting carbon dioxide emissions unanimously passed the Senate.
FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, Jodie Foster gets married, Vermont to require labels on genetically-modified food, and more news for today, April 24, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
A push to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care has been overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate health committee.
Louisiana welfare recipients would be prohibited in state law from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under a bill that received the support Wednesday of a House committee.
Senators will consider whether to prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job.
Rep. Joel Robideaux has delayed bill hearings and said unless a compromise can be reached, he won't bring up the legislation this session.
Once again, Lafayette Parish School Board President Hunter Beasley is focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the educational well-being of our public school children.
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.
State Rep. Stuart Bishop says he’s concerned with the quality of Capitol Lake, but when it comes to Louisiana’s coastline, this Lafayette Republican doesn't seem to give a damn.
Democrats sweating this year's elections may be hoping that the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.
Louisiana lawmakers are entering the second half of their three-month regular legislative session, which must end by June 2. Where some of the major issues stand: