Apr 20, 2011

Drug court judge challenges reporting behind "Very Tough Love"

A Georgia judge whose sentencing practices were scrutinized in "Very Tough Love," a recent edition of This American Life, has threatened to sue host Ira Glass and his public radio program for libel.

The March 25 episode examined the drug court administered by Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams for Georgia's Glynn, Camden and Wayne counties through the stories of three offenders who participated in the rehabilitation program, including a young woman who attempted suicide after Williams sentenced her to indefinite detention in solitary confinement. Glass contrasted the punitive sanctions that Williams imposed with national guidelines for drug court programs, concluding that the judge's approach is unduly harsh.

But a lawyer representing Williams has challenged the facts behind Glass's reporting, in both a 14-page letter threatening a lawsuit and a press release describing the story as malicious and Glass as an "admitted character assassin."

"I do not admit to being a character assassin," Glass wrote in response to Mercer University Law School Professor David Oedel, Williams' attorney. "Also: I am not a character assassin....My story was about how this particular drug court, run by Judge Williams, is not run like other drug courts. Nothing in Judge Williams' and Mr. Oedel's press release and letter contradicts that."

posted a clarification and correction to the original story, but is standing resolutely behind its reporting, armed with its own set of attorneys.

"Our clients' broadcast and related web publication are the product of intensive investigative journalism and, consistent with Mr. Glass's reputation, represent fair, accurate and unbiased reporting," wrote Michael Conway of Foley & Lardner, the Chicago-based firm representing Glass. "[Y]ou already well know that robust speech and communications about the conduct of governmental institutions and officials is the core value protected by the . . . First Amendment."

Additional coverage by ABA Journal; ATLaw, covering law issues in Georgia; Atlanta Creative Loafing; and Georgia Public Broadcasting.

KERA cuts staff and cancels its Think TV production

KERA in Dallas is eliminating six staff positions and ending its Think television production this week, the station announced today (April 20). (The radio version of the show, Think with Krys Boyd, continues on KERA-FM.) Mary Anne Alhadeff, KERA president, said in a statement that the organization has had a balanced budget for six consecutive years, "and it is important that continues.”

“The position reductions and the ending of Think TV are part of an ongoing management process to remain fiscally responsible and to move the organization forward in an ever-changing media landscape,” Alhadeff said. The statement cited uncertainty over federal public broadcasting funding for fiscal year 2012, which comes up for debate soon on Capitol Hill. CPB provides $1.8 million to the dual licensee, or about 11 percent of its operating budget.

Jon McTaggart steps into c.e.o role at American Public Media

Jon McTaggart, chief operating officer of American Public Media Group, parent company of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media. will take charge as c.e.o. July 1.  McTaggart was unanimously chosen by the board today (April 20) to succeed founder Bill Kling. See Current's story.

Sussman promoted to oversee "PRI's The World"

Andrew Sussman is the new executive producer of PRI's The World, Public Radio International announced today (April 20). He'll supervise all on-air and online components of the show, and lead the staff at headquarters in Boston as well as its London bureau. Sussman, senior program producer, has been with the show since its inception in 1995. He's also been a manager at the Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, an editor at the English-language daily Moscow Times and a host and reporter for Radio France's European bureau.

Sell overlap stations to fund pubaffairs service built around NewsHour, Minow writes

Better funding to public television and radio is one of Newton Minow's six goals for the next 50 years in American telecommunications. In this month's Atlantic, the former Federal Communications Commission and PBS chairman reflects back over the half-century since he called television programming a "vast wasteland," in a speech on May 9, 1961, to the National Association of Broadcasters (audio and transcript here).

"The 'vast wasteland' was a metaphor for a particular time in our nation’s communications history, and to my surprise it became part of the American lexicon," he writes. "It has come to identify me. My daughters threaten to engrave on my tombstone: On to a Vaster Wasteland. But those were not the two words I intended to be remembered. The two words I wanted to endure were public interest."

He writes that public television and radio "have been starved for funds for decades." He notes that pubTV stations, "as I saw when I was the chairman of PBS, are overbuilt, sometimes with four competing in the same market. Where that is so, stations should be sold and the revenue dedicated to programming a national news and public-affairs service, built on the foundation of the splendid PBS NewsHour."

His other priorities: Expand freedom, improve education, improve and extend the reach of healthcare, build and maintain a new  public safety and local and national security system, and require broadcasters to offer free time to political candidates." If broadcasters are to continue as the lone beneficiaries of their valuable spectrum assignments, it is not too much to require that, as a public service, they provide time to candidates for public office. That time is not for the candidates. It is for the voters," he writes.