Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Blanchard defended

The Indpendent rises to defend the integrity of local writer Kevin Blanchard in the brouhaha over BellSouth's Oliver's threat to pull the Cingular call center out of Lafayette. It's pretty certain that local reporters are feeling some real anger over his treatment when you see one paper run a story defending a writer at another and, however gently, castigating the editorial decisions of the competition. The Independent is right about this (as LPF made clear in its own remarks on the matter): all that was retracted was a headline Blanchard did not write. Oliver does not deny the words Blanchard cited and doesn't argue, indeed he confirms, the context in which they were uttered. Nor does he back down on the practical implications of his words. Oliver wants you to know that pulling cellular business out of a town where someone has presumed to compete with a minority owner of that cellular business in a different market somehow makes business (rather than retributive) sense. It doesn't. It's just a threat. The Advocate caved on this one and getting called to task by the competition is appropriate.

What was really different about Blanchard's coverage was that Oliver was accurately reported about what he was saying in the semi-private context of a meeting with "influentials." A lot of loose talk goes on in such circumstances and BellSouth is a past master of using such events to stir up unwarranted fear and doubt in the guise of presenting "information." In this case it was subsequently revealed that BellSouth couldn't pull out if it wanted to and could convince the majority owner that some revenge on its behalf was in order. In exchange for a substantial governmental subsidy, Cingular has a contractual obligation to stay. Oliver neglected to mention this while he shared other, less substantial, "evidence" with the worthies.

When this issue first blew up an Advertiser article hinted that Oliver had made similar remarks during a presentation to the editorial board at that paper. The Independent opens up that angle a bit more:

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.

Oliver is trading on the good reputation of his company and his own reputation when he tries to manipulate people in this way. The Chamber is considering an endorsement currently. They'd be wise to re-evaluate the accuracy of what the incumbents have told them in private in light of this behavior. In trut, all our "influentials" would be wise to take with a grain of salt what the incumbents tell them behind closed doors. It's more likely that you're being taken than being given the "real" inside story. If the incumbents are saying things in private that they won't say in public, it's a good general principle to doubt that the private remarks would bear up under scrutiny.

Especially if the person speaking is Bill Oliver.

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