Shots Across the Bow

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How Do You Get a Comment Thread Shut Down at KnoxNews.com?

Link Henry Granju's death with the current investigation into Judge Baumgartner and possible corruption within the Knox County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office.

Sorta make me wonder, "What are they scared of?"

The latest started Sunday when Jaime Satterfield took time off from the dance floor to write a new in-depth article rehashing the information known about Richard Baumgartner's activities and adding some new information, including allegations that Baumgartner had intimidated courthouse employees into giving him their prescription drugs. The story traced Baumgartner's rise to power, starting with the alleged murder of former District Attorney Ed Dossett by his wife Raynella, which propelled both Randy Nichols and Baumgartner to their positions as District Attorney and Criminal Court judge. The article puts all the pieces into place for the first time, providing a good summary of the story to date.

But what was really interesting was the direction the comments took.

The first interesting comment came from Martha Dooley, who claimed that Sheriff Jones, contrary to the story, was not a frequent visitor to Judge Baumgartner's chambers, that nobody had ever reported the judge's drug use to the Sheriff, and that accusations that the KCSO had helped cover up Baumgartner's alcoholism and drug use were completely baseless.

If we take her at her word, then the only people in Knoxville and Knox County government that hadn't heard about Baumgartner's drug use was the KCSO.

Sadly, that isn't completely implausible given the KCSO's woeful record busting drug dealers.

It was the next exchange that really got interesting, and caused the comment thread to be shut down.

In response to one reader's comment that the scandal had grown so large that 60 Minutes, 20/20, or Dateline should come in and investigate, another reader replied that Dateline was already here, investigating the handling of the Henry Granju investigation, and that they would certainly take an interest in this prominent prescription drug case.

The comment was deleted.

The poster repeated the comment, questioning why it had been deleted, and that comment was also deleted. Other comments followed, and were just as quickly deleted. And shortly, comments were closed, keeping anybody from reading about the Dateline investigation.

The question is simple; why did the KNS feel that mentioning the Dateline story on Granju violated their commenting policy? After all, the KNS wrote at least three stories featuring Granju's name in the headline while the text of the story specifically claimed that the story had nothing to do with him. Why would they be so sensitive about bringing his case up in relation to the Baumgartner story? Is there a connection? If so, why are they trying to keep it quiet?

Or are they afraid of Dateline? It must be embarrassing for a newspaper to have a national news magazine come in and cover a story that the newspaper claimed didn't exist. Remember, the KNS, through Jaime Satterfield, performed an in depth review of the case files released by the KCSO, and proclaimed that the investigation was complete, thorough, professional, and resulted in no prosecutable acts by anybody.

And now here comes Dateline, investigating the same story and finding enough information to warrant devoting significant resources to airing the story. Incidentally, background investigation has already been done, and film crews were in Knoxville for about a week, performing interviews and laying groundwork for the next round of taping.

I don't blame the KNS for being embarrassed, but they should have been embarrassed by the shoddy brand of journalism they practice, and not just that it is now being revealed to the world.

My take on the whole mess hasn't changed. I believe corruption is rampant within Knoxville and Knox County and it will take a serious outside investigation to even begin to root it out. I believe the DA's office, the KCSO, and a portion of the KPD are all compromised. I don't trust anybody in the County government, particularly anybody associated with former Sheriff Tim Hutchinson. I believe that when the story finally breaks, we're going to see corruption revealed that dwarfs the Blanton pardon scheme.

Most of all, I believe that the folks who should be monitoring our government for corruption, the local media, are also compromised, especially the Knoxville News Sentinel. While Jack McElroy will claim that his paper is above reproach based on the article Satterfield just wrote, there is one inescapable fact that he can't ignore. This story has been going on for 2 decades now, and widely known for almost 10 years, yet the KNS either didn't notice, or didn't care.

So I'm not surprised they shut off the comments. If it does turn out that there is a connection between the Granju case and the Baumgartner story, at least beyond the obvious link of Brad Hall's involvement with both, then the KNS will look even more weak than it already does.

UPDATE! Comments are back on, although any that relate to the Dateline investigation have been censored, and at least one commentor has had their posts pulled completely, without even a placeholder remaining. When the paper of record begins to memory hole the fact that an adverse comment even exists, they've left journalism and are firmly engaged in propaganda.

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I was floored that they deleted my comments. It was a very straight forward comment that I re-posted early evening-and again..gone! After my husband read the piece, he was going to comment. Comments had been disabled.
Are they so scared of any mention of the Granju case they feel the need to delete comments?
And I have feeling that my comment was not the only one to mention Dateline and Henry. Those other comments were surely deleted too!
Posted by Misha Stafford  on  02/13  at  11:25 AM

Rich, the thing I can't figure out with News Sentinel comment moderation in general is what the criteria are. The criteria for deletion of a comment or a whole thread - or for when comments are totally disabled on a particular story - seem capricious and ever-shifting.

As I know you know, I believe that the Nes Sentinel should more rigorously and consistently moderate its comments with clear guidelines for what the community allows. It seems they often delete benign and on-topic comments for no reason I can figure out (like the ones mentioning that Dateline is coming to Knoxville and is likely to look into the case being discussed in the comments thread), while sometimes allowing very cruel and/or completely stupid and off-topic comments to remain (although I think they've recently improved with deleting the really nasty comments). I just wish I could figure out what their comments moderation guidelines are. It's very confusing as a reader.

-Katie
Posted by katie allison graju  on  02/13  at  11:29 AM

And yet the outrageous cruel baseless comments were allowed - welcomed? - under every story ever published in the KNS concerning the death of my grandson, Henry. You can write that a teenager deserved to die and that his parents failed their dead teenager, but don't dare mention Dateline?
Posted by Sue Allison  on  02/13  at  11:31 AM

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