In a report on their 10 p.m. newscast, reporter Rick Tillery did a follow-up on newspaper stories earlier in the day (here and here) on residents reaction to the 2005 version of the Verne Kennedy push poll on the LUS fiber project.
Comments from two citizens who appeared on camera tracked comments in the papers. Tillery reported that the poll had been sponsored by Cox "and another communications company." The story cut back to a second comment from citizen Debbie Ryan, before Tillery said that the identity of the second company was not known "until now."
At this point, Cox VP Gary Cassard was shown on camera saying that Cox had been invited to sponsor the poll by BellSouth.
The significance of this statement rests in a single sentence in push poll story by The Daily Advertiser's Claire Taylor that appeared in Wednesday's paper. The sentence, in its entirety reads:
BellSouth spokesman John Williams said the company is not involved in the survey.What an amazing sentence! Let's examine what it means.
First, it means that BellSouth would not own up to its own actions. Asked directly if the company was involved with the poll, local BellSouth rep John Williams denied it.
There is evidence to suggest that Williams knew he was lying when he answered that question that way.
In our Lafayette Coming Together group, one of our members posted the following on Tuesday night:
I didn’t get the call, but, interestingly enough, the wording below is identical in part to what I heard from a Bell South employee last night at a Neighborhood Watch meeting on the north side of town. We have a big group in our neighborhood, and at the end of the meeting I made a pitch for Lafayette Coming Together and the fiber initiative; immediately after that, a Bell South employee stood up and rattled off that same business about only being able to water your lawns on Monday-Wednesday-Friday and how we should expect the same from any phone and cable service provided by City-Parish government.So, on Monday night, BellSouth employees were already parroting the language of the push poll. John Williams is either a liar or so far out of the loop that he doesn't know what's happening in the company he represents — when everyone else does.
The other thing that happened between Wednesday morning and Wednesday evening is that the heat generated by this story may have finally rent the partnership between BellSouth and Cox.
In the morning papers and in the first part of the KLFY story, Cox's Gary Cassard was firm in his refusal to name the communications company that had partnered with Cox on the push poll.
In the second on-camera piece, Cassard was, in effect, blowing the whistle on BellSouth. Not only did he name BellSouth, but added that the poll was instigated by BellSouth and that Cox was invited in as a co-sponsor.
The fact that BellSouth was willing to cower behind a lie while Cox took the heat for the push poll eventually proved to be too much for Cassard and Cox to stand. Media coverage of the push poll story was rapidly turning into a public relations disaster — and (according to Cassard) the whole thing originated with BellSouth! Yet, BellSouth was unwilling to admit to their role in the poll. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
This latest attempt at public deception raises anew questions of BellSouth credibility on another matter that has been the subject of public discussion in recent months. Specifically, this episode should reopen scrutiny of BellSouth Louisiana President Bill Oliver's threat to have BellSouth try to shut down the Cingular call center in Lafayette if Lafayette voters back the LUS plan.
The Advocate wrote a headline on a story based on Oliver's meeting with the paper's editorial board which said Oliver made that threat. The reporter who wrote the story, Kevin Blanchard, said Oliver made the threat.
A Lafayette attorney, Gary McGoffin, was quoted in The Independent Weekly saying Oliver had made a similar threat in conversations with him.
Oliver worked hard to say that everyone was lying but him.
But, the BellSouth modus operandi is well established: when the truth is embarrassing, lie. When you want to deliver a threat, do so in a way the can enable you to deliver it while denying it, then call those who say you said what you said liars. When the facts don't serve your purpose, make something up.
This pattern has also infected other opponents of the LUS project. While maintaining that all they wanted was a vote, they were assiduously working to kill the LUS project. While saying they want fiber, they are opposed to the only plan that will deliver it. While saying the business plan will fail, they oppose the business approach that will enable the LUS plan to pay for itself. Saying that not a single municipal fiber project is covering its debt service, when the record is clear that they are paying their bills and delivering value to the communities they serve.
I give credit to Gary Cassard for owning up to his company's part in the push poll. But, his erstwhile partner in this endeavor appears to be allergic to the truth. And, based on the positions taken by other opponents of this plan, it appears to be contagious.