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27
Yes, 1,000 wins in college basketball is remarkable. But three front pages? That’s what greeted readers of the N&O print edition Monday morning.
 
First there was Page One of the main news section. In approximately the same size type that might say “WAR!” was “1,000” – in Duke Blue, of course. Beneath were a large photo and two stories about Mike Krzyzewski’s achievement. There was room left for one other story, about Wake County schools.
 
Then came the Sports section, with a three-quarters page photo of Coach K and two more stories on the front. Then there was a special 10-page Commemorative Section. The cover was a full-page photo of “Coach W.”
 
In all, I counted 10 long stories, five shorter stories, six sidebars and graphics and 27 photos.
 
Already, as you might expect, the N&O is getting letters complaining. Obviously, K-haters couldn’t think of a worse way to wake up Monday morning. Then there are serious readers who decry devoting so much ink to basketball when there is much more important news in the world and, especially, when newspapers editorialize about scandals “driven by an over-the-top emphasis on college sports.
 
Not so fast, my friends. This is the price you pay for being able to get a newspaper at all.
 
Journalism today is about clicks, clicks on websites. The more clicks the N&O site gets, the more ads they sell, the more money they make and the more they can spend on reporters to dog your Governor, your legislature, your community, your courts, your schools, your colleges and universities and – yes – scandals “driven by an over-the-top emphasis on college sports.”
 
The N&O, like all newspapers, has suffered through hard times since the Daniels family sold the paper – at the peak of the market – 20 years ago. Ads have dried up, readers have fled, the paper has shrunk and the news staff has been decimated, or maybe double-decimated.
 
A key part of the N&O’s survival strategy is to own ACC sports coverage. Good ACC coverage is good business. It pays the bills.
 
Those of us who regularly pull against Coach K should congratulate him. Give the commemorative section to a Duke fan. And be thankful that coverage like this, even if we don’t like it, keeps the clicks clicking, the reporters digging and the paper coming every morning.
 
Still, go to hell, Duke.

 

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Posted in: General, Raleigh
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22
The liberal folks over at ProgressNC let fly with a broadside at the Governor about his ethics, then let fly again with a press conference and, by then, they had the folks at the Charlotte Observer so stirred up they let fly with broadside of their own asking, Was Pat McCrory fibbing then, or is he fibbing now?
 
The way the liberals tell it Governor McCrory underhandedly omitted facts from his Financial Disclosure Reports to hide conflicts of interest – and that he was paid a lot of money by less than saintly corporations.
 
Now it’s hard to believe anyone – even the liberals – thinks the State Ethics Commission (which as long as anyone can remember has been a toothless tiger) is going to strip the Governor’s epilates off in public but, then again, it may be the Ethics Commission is just a way station on the way to court which is where the liberals really want to end up – which would open a whole new can of worms.
 
Either way, this is no one time liberal rant about the foibles of Republican politicians. ProgressNC has fired the opening salvo in the Governor’s race and they mean to go right on chasing Pat.   


 

 

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22
After being blasted by the liberals (for hiding conflicts of interest) Governor McCrory ran head-on into a second broadside from the opposite direction: Tired of Medicaid wrecking havoc on its budget the State Senate served notice on the Governor his time is up – he’s had his chance to fix Medicaid and failed so the legislature’s going to appoint an Independent Board to solve the problem.    
 
Now, for the Governor, there’s two ways to look at the Senate’s proposal. It’s certainly a slap in the face. But, on the other hand, it may be a blessing in disguise. After all, the Senate just proposed to take the biggest tarbaby in all of state government off the Governor’s hands –so, perhaps, the practical thing for him to say would be, Thank heavens. Take it. You’re welcome to do it – but, of course, instead the Governor’s fighting the Senate tooth and nail. He dislikes losing control of roughly half of state government even more than he disliked the Legislature setting up a Commission to handle the coal ash cleanup.
 
Now all this sounds like there’s a great deal of hostility between the Governor and the Senate but, in a way, the Senators like the Governor just fine and want him to get reelected –they just think he didn’t get the job done on Medicaid.
 
It’s also hard not to empathize with the Governor: He’s got liberals shooting at him from one side and Republicans shooting at him from the other and whoever claimed the middle ground was the safe place to be never got caught in a crossfire.


 

 

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16
The mystery isn’t how he died; it’s the Department of Prisons’ silence.
 
Michael Kerr was in and out of trouble with the law for a decade – he was a thief, assaulted a woman and tried to outrun a policeman in a patrol car – then two crimes committed against him left him on the edge of madness: First his son Anthony was murdered then, a year later, his second son Gabriel was murdered then, three months after that, Kerr fired nine shots into a house trailer (where the second murderer’s cousin lived) and, holding the empty pistol, called out “this isn’t over” before he drove away.  
 
His sister says he suffered three nervous breakdowns in the local jail waiting for trial and after he arrived in prison the doctors there diagnosed him with schizophrenia but no one bothered to ask if madness meant his thirty one year prison sentence was a mistake. Three years later he was found dead in the back of a prison van.
 
An autopsy the next morning revealed he’d died for an unexpected reason: Thirst. But an autopsy couldn’t explain how a man in a prison cell with a sink couldn’t get a drink of water so the Medical Examiner, Susan Venuti, asked for Kerr’s prison records but the Prisons Department told her, No.
 
Months later, reporters digging through court filings and letters (including a letter from the prisoner in the cell next to Kerr) pieced together part of the story.
 
The doctors at Kerr’s prison had put him on medications which worked fine until the morning three years later when he stopped taking the drugs; three months after that he landed in solitary confinement and four days after that a prison Captain reported he was just sitting on the floor in his cell in his own urine.
 
After Kerr clogged up his sink and flooded his cell four times they shut off his water; when a guard, afraid he was becoming dehydrated, handed him a cup of water he took a couple swallows, poured the rest on the cell floor and looked back at the guard and said, “Come on in the water’s fine.”
 
Kerr’d spent seventeen days in solitary when the prisoner in the next cell began keeping a notebook: On March 6 he wrote Kerr “used the bathroom on hisself” then added he’d heard the guard and a sergeant talking saying “his pants is halfway down, his butt is out, look at his crusty feet.”
 
The prisoner wrote Kerr “ate nothing” the next day and “they called a Code Blue because he was unresponsive” – a guard and a captain went into Kerr’s cell and put him in leg irons and handcuffs then a nurse entered the cell and examined him – after she left the guard removed the leg irons, walked out of the cell, turned, and told Kerr to come to the door so he could remove his handcuffs but Kerr didn’t move.
 
Two days later the inmate in the next cell wrote “third straight day in handcuff pants still half way off and urine and feces all over cell.”
 
On the twenty-first day Kerr was still lying on his cot and the guards, along with a nurse, went into his cell and “asked did he want his vitals taken he didn’t respond so they said are you refusing to have your vitals taken he didn’t say nothing so they say okay you refusing and left.”
 
The next morning a prison psychologist called Kerr’s sister and told her, Your prayers have been answered, they’re moving him to the hospital at Central Prison.
 
When the guards went to move Kerr he was lying on his cot, pants and underwear around his ankles, in excrement and urine, and when they tried to unlock the handcuffs they were clogged with dried feces.
 
When they rolled him out the cell door in a wheelchair the prisoner in the next cell saw “his eyes wide open but seeing nothing and he had something white coming out of his mouth.”
 
The guards drove Kerr not to the local hospital but to Central Prison Hospital three hours away and between one prison and another the evils he’d done and the evils done to him consummated in dry squalor inside the back of the prison van – a prison official called his sister that afternoon to tell her he was dead when he arrived in Raleigh. 
 
***
 
There was no confession. Or contrition. Instead a veil of silence descended over the Department of Prisons. They told the Medical Examiner, No, then had a committee write a report then did an ‘internal’ investigation then, a month later, an under Secretary – David Guice – called for the SBI to investigate but the minute an SBI agent asked for Kerr’s records the Prison Department told him, No, too.  
 
The silence stretched on for five months then the Prisons Department cracked the door a fraction, giving the Medical Examiner not Kerr’s medical records or prison records but the report written by its internal committee; after that the Medical Examiner gave up asking and released her autopsy report and said without Kerr’s records she couldn’t determine whether Kerr’s death was suicide, homicide or accident.
 
A week later the U.S. Attorney in Raleigh began a grand jury investigation and Kerr’s story landed in the newspapers and the scramble began in the Prisons Department: The Secretary of Public Safety, Frank Perry, announced his Department had conducted not just a “thorough” but a “transparent” investigation and that the Department had disciplined 40 employees – including nine who’d been fired – then added, “We have been righteous with our investigation and dismissals.”
 
The press then asked Perry why a “transparent” investigation hadn’t included giving Kerr’s records to the Medical Examiner and Perry announced that was for “a righteous reason like privacy or respect for HIPAA” then a reporter, getting down to brass tacks, asked if Perry knew of even one Medical Examiner who’d ever before been denied a dead man’s prison records because of HIPAA laws and Perry said he didn’t know.
 
Broken politics is more than just Congressmen pointing fingers and screaming.
 
There may have been a dozen reasons why silence descended on the Department of Prisons: Frank Perry may have been worried about a lawsuit – he may be working to avoid a lawsuit by negotiating a settlement, right now, and he may figure the less known about what went on in Michael Kerr’s prison cell the less his Department will have to pay. Or there could be other reasons.
 
But Frank Perry holds his office as a public trust and when he buries the truth that’s a breach of trust which, in a democracy, is like plague: Secretary Perry, speak no more of righteousness until you tell how Michael Kerr died of thirst in solitary confinement.  

 


 

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15
On their first day in session, legislative leaders sent a message to Governor McCrory: We’re back, and we’re in charge.
 
McCrory has talked about three things in recent weeks: He wants more money for economic incentives, he may want to expand Medicaid and he wants a Dix deal with Raleigh (not Charlotte).
 
In their opening-day news conference, Senator Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore said flatly that they’re not going to expand Medicaid. Senator Berger said he would wait to hear more about what the Governor wants on incentives. And, while McCrory proclaimed the Dix deal he negotiated “good news” for the city and the state, some legislators act like he handed them a skunk.
 
Three strikeouts would not be a good way to start the year.

 

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29
Gary has a point in his column (below) ‘Pat and Jesse’: Pat McCrory’s fight with the Associated Press isn’t like Jesse’s long-running battles with the media.
 
In Jesse’s eyes, the media was biased. It didn’t like his conservative philosophy. Plus, as Senator John East once said admiringly, Jesse was a brawler. Part of him loved a good fight. But he was also subtle, picking his fights (with the media) on issues most people agreed with him on.
 
Pat McCrory’s a different kind of leader. He’s genial and personable and prefers avoiding a fight to diving into the middle of one.
 
But after he read the Associated Press report saying he hadn’t disclosed $600,000 in salary and stock options he’d received for serving on the Board of Lending Tree (an on-line lending company) he lost his geniality – he came out swinging, ripping into the AP saying itwas lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.
 
The Governor fired both barrels and when the bell rang ending the First Round the AP returned to its corner on wobbly-knees.
 
But the Governor still had a problem too – he’d picked a fight that left him facing a lose-lose proposition: If the AP was right he was in a fix. And if the AP was wrong it was still going to be hard to convince people Lending Tree had paid him $600,000 for his acumen about mortgage banking.
 
When the bell rang for Round Two as soon as he threw the first punch it was clear the Governor meant to cure that problem – because he didn’t even mention Lending Tree.  Instead he lit into the AP saying there were folks in Raleigh and Washington, D.C. who wanted to attack anyone who came out of the private sector and went into public service but, he added, without his time in the private sector he wouldn’t have been as good a mayor of Charlotte as he was and he wouldn’t be doing as good a job as Governor as he is.
 
The way the Governor said it sounded perfectly reasonable – but, in another way, he’d jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.
 
Because next he may hear Roy Cooper asking: And how exactly did working for an on-line lending company that was fined $3 million for misleading consumers make you a better Governor?


 

 

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19
It was a simple question but back in February after the big coal ash spill it needed a quick answer:  Were the coal ash ponds a ticking time bomb or nothing to worry about?
 
A few days ago the State Official in charge of the coal ash cleanup told the Environmental Review Commission, “We don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on under these coal ash ponds.”
 
How can that be?
 
Government is slow and cumbersome and moves like a herd of turtles but you’d have thought this once the herd would be charging but, alas, turtles are turtles – ten months later we still don’t know if coal ash ponds are leaking microscopic vermin into groundwater and who is – or isn’t – drinking it.   


 

 

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18
About a week ago the Governor went on a tear about 60 Minutes, saying Leslie Stahl had done him wrong; that he’d sat sweating under the hot lights for an hour answering questions but she hadn’t even blamed Democrats once for the coal ash spill – all his work had been for nothing. Worse than nothing.
 
Then, next, he went on a tear against the Associated Press saying they’d treated him worse than Leslie Stahl – that they’d smeared him with innuendo and that no matter what AP said the payments he’d received from Lending Tree (where he’d served as a Director) were 100% legal and he’d earned every penny of the money and he didn’t appreciate getting whacked by “drive-by journalism.”
 
Now the AP story said the Governor’s stock bonus was unusual and raised red flags but about the worse fact in the story was the Governor had been paid $185,000 by Lending Tree, an online loan company that’s a cut above a pay day lender and got fined $3 million by South Carolina for misleading consumers. The AP didn’t say the Governor had done anything illegal. Or that he’d done anything unethical (as Governor ) to help Lending Tree.  
 
So here’s an odd fact: While the AP story wasn’t exactly flattering it didn’t amount to much until the Governor stood up and did something I haven’t seen in 40 years: He announced, I’m not a crook.


 

 

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17
He’d been through, he said, the ordeal of sitting for a whole hour and fifteen minutes under hot lights, sweating, answering questions but then, he added, when he saw the interview on TV he had been shocked.
He sounded – not in the TV interview but, later, when he described the interview to a reporter – like a well-meaning boy saying, I was good, I behaved, and I got punched.
 
Wondering, What did he expect? next I watched the 60 Minutes program about Duke Energy’s coal ash spill – and he was hardly in it:
 
Leslie Stahl asked: Tell us how much the fine was?
 
Pat McCrory said: I don’t have the list but…
 
Stahl interrupted: It was $99,111.
 
And McCrory said: That’s correct. It wasn’t a big fine.
 
That was the only tough question Leslie Stahl asked Pat McCrory.
 
Still boyish at fifty-eight, Pat McCrory’s run head on into a mountain of coal ash, a posse of reporters and a battalion of cold-hearted lobbyists with no respect for boyish charm.     

 


 

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09

 

Generally speaking it looks folks see the riots in Missouri two ways – Jim Martin who serves on the local School Board gave an example in the newspaper of one way: After the riots he explained to his fellow School Board members they were watching a ‘classic disconnect between how officialdom and people in the community view things.’
 
The seed of wickedness was a breakdown in communications.
 
Other folks see a fellow throw a brick through a shop window and figure they’re not watching a failure of communications – they’re watching a fellow after a new iPhone.
 
You have to appreciate folks who put their faith in empathy but if Jim Martin, standing on the street corner in Ferguson, had said to a rioter, Hold on, we need to communicate – how do you reckon that would have worked out?

 

 

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