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."
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Ten departing CEOs rake in $430 million; profile of FSU gunman emerges; Buffalo's weather woes and more national and international news for Friday, November 21, 2014.
The Ethics Board gives the lame duck Youngsville mayor permission to offer a sweet parting gift to the community he’s presided over for three terms.
The money came through a general obligation bond sale Thursday.
A legend in the Acadiana Oil Patch, Comeaux died Monday, Nov. 17.
With a growing number of alleged sexual assault victims coming out against Bill Cosby in recent weeks, upcoming projects have been canned by NBC and Netflix, but that won’t affect the once-loved comedian and actor’s scheduled performance in Lafayette.
The Baltimore Ravens' retooled secondary had no trouble against a rookie quarterback at home. This week, however, their task is far more challenging: stopping Drew Brees on the road in New Orleans.
Add Texas Gov. Rick Perry's name to the list of possible Republican presidential candidates flooding the campaign trail for GOP Senate candidate Bill Cassidy.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is in Florida this week with his fellow Republican governors for another gripe session aimed at their favorite target, the president, this time taking aim at his immigration plans.
Early voting for the runoff is shortened by two days because of the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Coach Don” Gagnard is running for school board. Today he offers his critique of the socioeconomic relationship between government subsidies and obesity.
Former Le Rosier chef who cooked at the James Beard House and was named one of the “Best New Chefs in America” by Food & Wine magazine in 1995 was 48.
Pat Cooper is contesting his termination by the LPSB, filing a petition Tuesday that calls the recent decision “arbitrary and capricious.”
A look at the numbers highlights the challenge facing Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu as she tries to win a fourth term in a Dec. 6 runoff against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising the new Republican majority will quickly resurrect Keystone XL pipeline legislation killed by Democrats, potentially setting up an early 2015 veto confrontation with President Barack Obama.
A national animal rights group has been rebuffed by a Baton Rouge district court judge, although the group might still get its day in court.
The administration says public college campuses won't be on the chopping block.
The legendary musician is performing at a $1,000-per-person fundraiser Dec. 1 in New Orleans.
Old savings and checking accounts, payroll checks, stocks and dividends, insurance proceeds, oil and gas royalty payments and other unclaimed money is sent to the state when a business cannot locate someone.