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."
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, April 18, 2014:
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.