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."
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.
President Barack Obama is turning to black radio listeners to plead for midterm votes, a targeted approach to drum up Democratic support at a time when many candidates don't want him around in person.
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.