Thank heavens there is still a bright line between a news story and a column.
Neither is better than the other. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
A news story is supposed to be factual. Hence, it carries the mantle of credibility, which should never drop to the ground, like the American flag.
Play fast and loose with the facts, and a reporter will be found out, if not immediately, eventually.
Need we mention several news reporters in recent memory who made up some things out of whole cloth?
Jason Blair and Janet Cooke.
The former to the embarrassment, and firing, of The New York Times executive editor, the latter to the extreme shame and humiliation of The Washington Post.
Both reporters immediately became personae non grata in journalism.
Columns, on the other hand — while not giving the writer carte blanche with the truth — offer as much freedom of expression and opinion as the publisher will allow.
In the newspaper world, such assignments have been long prized.
They typically are a reward to a reporter who could write well along with getting things right.
David Dallas, who pens a political column for the Mississippi Business Journal, writes well and compellingly. He definitely has a point of view. And that is what the First Amendment is all about. Freedom of expression.
He wrote about Haley Barbour, one of his favorite targets, in the March 13 issue of this paper.
Sometimes when you strafe an enemy base, there is what is called, bloodlessly, collateral damage.
I was hit by some of Dallas’ shrapnel.
We simply thought we would not give Barbour a free ride in his announcement that he and his righthand man, Gray Swoope, had formed an economic development arm of the prestigious and growing Butler Snow law firm, which has offices in 18 U.S. cities.
We thought it would be good to hold Barbour and Swoope accountable for their economic development record during Barbour’s two terms. And so the story in the March 6 edition reflected that. I’m not aware that any other news organization did that.
But Dallas could only see the invisible hand of the Southern Co., a longtime Barbour client through his BGR Group in Washington, D.C., using the Journal as a platform for propaganda.
Barbour protested, but not strongly, that he didn’t see what his record had anything to do with his new venture.
Because it’s your record, he was told.
So we offered a list of his major achievements and major failures.
One from the win column: the Toyota plant at Blue Springs, with 2,000 good jobs and more than that in indirect jobs. Another winner: the Steel Dynamics at Columbus, 680 first-rate jobs.
Not surprisingly, he defended even his failures, saying that he thinks that the state’s taxpayers will be “made whole” eventually by the sale of what was to be the Twin Creeks Technologies solar-panel plant in Senatobia and the KiOR plant in Columbus. Unpaid bill: about $100 million. And no jobs to show for those efforts.
“The likelihood is that the state is going to come out fine on those,” Barbour said, “though it is disappointing that those potentialities did not come into full fruition.”
“Potentialities” is a euphemism for jobs. “Full fruition” evades that truth the projects bore no fruit, much less “fully.”
By one score, the Barbour-Swoope team was a .500 ball club, with a big game still being played out. But in which league? Double-A, Triple-A? Major League expansion club?
The thing that set off Dallas, the columnist, was the Kemper County power plant under construction.
The jury is out on that project, whose construction costs are indeed bearing bad fruit beyond the fears of Mississippi Power Co.
The harvest of electricity from a first-of-its-kind clean-coal power plant won’t be known for some time. It is supposed to go online next year.
What we have here, with Barbour and Dallas, is not a failure to communicate, to use the famous authoritarian phrase from “Cool Hand Luke” that became the battle cry of a generation.
We have two communicators at the top of their voices, if not their form.
» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1016