Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Sexual harassment in Georgia state government

Georgia state government is in the dark about how pervasive sexual harassment is for its 70,000 executive branch employees, 65 percent of whom are women. Chris Joyner, Johnny Edwards and I looked at the state’s haphazard system of dealing with harassment cases in the first of multiple planned stories. We also highlighted several sexual harassment cases in the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. If you’re a Georgia state worker who has been sexually harassed, please tell us your story. Email us at Your name won’t be published if you don’t want it to be.

Update, Sept. 22: We've published two more installments, "State’s weak response to sexual harassment makes reporting risky" and "She said she’d been sexually harassed. Then she got fired for it."

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mental illness in fatal Georgia police shootings

Mental illness figures significantly in fatal police shootings in Georgia. It's a new story by my friend and colleague Brad Schrade, with number-crunching by me.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Concussions in college football

My colleague Willoughby Mariano and I have a story out this week about concussions in college football. We surveyed 62 public colleges and universities in more than a dozen states to college their concussion data. See what we found at the link above. And you can read more about how we did our research on college football concussions and the freedom of information issues involved at this link.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

20 years -- and counting -- in SPJ

I opened up my mail the other evening to see that SPJ had sent me my 20-year pin.

Has it really been that long?

Apparently so.

Anyhow, if you're a journalist, you should know that the Society of Professional Journalists is America's oldest and largest organization for journalists. Our leaders work to advocate for the First Amendment and to promote higher professional standards in our industry.

You can join online at this link.

So, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Separated at birth? DiCaprio and Cropper

The little-known link between guitar god Steve Cropper and actor Leonardo DiCaprio ... Here's Cropper (play it, Steve!):

And here's Leo, with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (from Leo's Instagram feed):

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Penn State scandal reminder of Clery Act issues nationwide

Let's hope there aren't many college football programs where the coaches are serial child molesters.  

But at least one facet of the mess at Penn State is also a problem at colleges across the country: Failure by higher ed institutions to follow federal law in reporting sexual assaults and other crimes on or near their campuses. 

There's a law on the books called the Clery Act that requires that colleges and universities report to the U.S. Department of Education annually about serious crimes, whether they involve students or not. The statistics are public records, and are required to be published in an annual report. 

Penn State didn't get the message. According to the report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, PSU's vaunted football program "opted out" of complying with the Clery Act. The person in charge of making sure the university complied with the law? A sergeant in the campus police department "who was able to devote only minimal time to Clery Act compliance."

One sergeant. We're not talking about Backwoods Junior College here. We're talking about a public research university with 45,000 students on its main campus alone. 

The university's policy on dealing with the Clery Act was still just a draft when the university leadership melted down last fall, and the ousted university president, Graham Spanier, told Freeh's team he wasn't aware Penn State didn't have a policy and wasn't meeting the law. 

But Penn State isn't the only one. 

Three years ago, I was honored to be a minor contributor to a series of stories the Center for Public Integrity and NPR published on sexual assaults on college campuses. A major finding of that series was that the federal Department of Education "has failed to aggressively monitor and regulate campus response to sexual assault," as NPR put it.

Simply put, schools aren't bothering to report their stats, and they're getting away with it. 

Six years ago, student journalists at Texas' Tarleton State University asked their college for copies of all of its on-campus crime reports. Under the leadership of journalism teacher Dan Malone, who won a Pulitzer at the Dallas Morning News, and working through a student outreach program of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas (for which I'm proud to be a board member), the students found that Tarleton had underreported crimes on campus to the federal government, a violation of the Clery Act

For its lack of veracity, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently upheld $110,000 in fines against Tarleton State.

The Clery Act takes its name from Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered in her own dorm room at Lehigh University. Congress passed the law in 1989. 

Twenty years down the road, colleges and universities like Penn State still aren't taking it seriously. The victims pay the price for the schools' silence. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

Wordle: Declaration of IndependenceFor Independence Day, my first while living in (or near) the nation's capital, here's a Wordle of the Declaration of Independence, created by Wordle user Sofie Inkpen.

Also, check out the annual reprint of the Declaration in today's New York Times (published this year in a higher-res format along with a transcription, 'cause some of that flowing script is hard to read).

One other item: I'm 37 years old, and I love me some patriotic music, but until this weekend, I don't think I had ever heard the lyrics sung to The Stars and Stripes Forever. I'm not even sure I knew it had lyrics. But I heard it performed on A Prairie Home Companion.
Hurrah for the flag of the free!May it wave as our standard forever,The gem of the land and the sea,The banner of the right.Let despots remember the dayWhen our fathers with mighty endeavorProclaimed as they marched to the frayThat by their might and by their rightIt waves forever. 
Did you know it is the official national march? The complete lyrics are here

funny pictures - Lolcats: Friendship America Style

Sunday, January 8, 2012

King Charles II: We're Not Gonna Take It

Is it just me, or did King Charles II of England look like a middle-aged member of a 1980s hair metal band?

This observation struck me recently while deep into Magnus Magnusson's Scotland: The Story of a Nation (Grove Press, 2003).

Charles II -- who was actually king of Scotland, England and Ireland -- was the guy who was put back on the throne after the Brits ditched the Cromwells and went back to being a monarchy.

This immediately brings to mind Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" as the theme of the Restoration.

With his flowing hair, Charles II also bore resemblance to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Troy Polamalu, only with a mustache.

Photos: Portrait of King Charles II by John Michael Wright, hanging in Britain's National Portrait Gallery. Photo of painting in the public domain and used here via WikiCommons. Photo of Twisted Sister from Hair Metal Mansion Ning

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Peebles family of Emanuel County, Ga.

I'm a newbie at this Flash stuff, y'all, so my apologies if this isn't the best-looking thing you ever saw. Plus, this isn't the best-looking group of folks in the world, either. But they're my family, and you don't get to pick your family, now, do you?

If the text is hard to read, you can see this a bit bigger, too, by clicking on this link.

Monday, February 14, 2011

No more Cambodias

Seeing countries go through periods of revolution -- like what has happened in Egypt and Tunisia recently -- always brings both excitement and anxiety. The new governments there, whatever they turn out to be, could bring positive change for those societies, but there's also the risk that things could get much, much worse than they had already been.

I hope that the changes in both Egypt and Tunisia will be positive for all the people who live there, and that they will be able to live from now on in an open, democratic society that respects human rights and freedom of conscience and speech for all.

But while all this revolution has been going on, I've been thinking a bit about a revolution that went very, very badly for everyone involved: Cambodia in the 1970s.

Several months ago I read the awesome book Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare by Philip Short. I really didn't know that much about Cambodia before then.

You couldn't have made people believe it if you had written it as a movie script:

"OK, so there's this country, right, and these people come to power who are like Communists. Only they're more like a splinter Communist group because they've got some wierd beliefs about restarting human history at 'Year Zero' and converting to an all-agrarian society. And their leader is this guy who's not real smart or even really charismatic. And they take over the country, and everybody who has any kind of education, they kill them, because they don't want smart people in their country. And for the people they don't kill, they make them all leave the cities and basically work on these collective farms, only they're kind of like borderline collective farms/internment camps. And they made millions of those folks starve to death and tortured and beat them."

Hard to believe it was real life.

Of course, someone did make it into a movie, The Killing Fields, which I just saw several days ago. I'd put off seeing it for a long time, and I'm glad I finally saw it after reading the Pol Pot book, because it made much more sense to me. (Wait, I take that back. It didn't make any more sense to me, because so much of what happened was senseless. Let's just say I understood the history behind it better after reading the Pol Pot book.)

The only thing I didn't like about the movie was the use of John Lennon's Imagine at the very end. Imagine is such a hopeful song, and I just couldn't believe that anyone who had just lived through what Dith Pran had lived through would have such a positive outlook on the world right then. Maybe later on, but not right then. There is always hope in this world, yes, but while he made it out alive, certainly he had seen horrors brought upon himself and many people. If I were him, I'd have been relieved, and excited to see my family, but God, I'd have been depressed and angry, too. I think I'd have been a walking basket case, frankly. I wouldn't have cared about the world "living as one" right then. There'd have been too many dead people to have seen that rosy a future.

(You can see the real Dith Pran talking about his experiences in this New York Times video at this link. He passed on a couple of years ago of cancer.)

But here's one thing that blew me away when I read the book (the very end of the book): A lot of these top Khmer Rouge dudes are still alive and still have not yet been tried on criminal charges. Nuon Chea -- "Brother Number Two" -- as well as Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan are all still alive and are awaiting trial from the UN on charges related to the Cambodian genocide.

What the heck, UN?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Time once again for the Tennessean Three-Star Forum Banquet

There an awful lot of things I miss about Nashville, my adopted hometown, and one of them is happening tonight: The Three-Star Forum Banquet.

Once a year, The Tennessean newspaper holds a sit-down dinner to honor the people who wrote the best letters to the editor of the previous year. It's been held almost every year since back before World War II. In my 14 years at the paper, I think I went to maybe 8 or 10 of them. And for the last several years I was at the paper, I was the idiot in charge of coordinating the newspaper's this-is-almost-as-big-as-the-Second-Coming coverage of the event.

Now, I could get all syrupy here about what a wonderful time it was to spend in the company of the people who wrote in letters to the editor -- and I did indeed have some very nice times and meet some interesting people at the tables I hosted. But more than anything, I came to love the Forum Banquet as part ritual, part family reunion, part theater of the absurd.

I'm not old enough to have lived through The Supposed Good Ole Days when Halberstam and Wicker and Kovach were regular bylines, but when I came to the paper as an intern in 1994, The Tennessean still thought of itself as a family. And one of my first assignments in my first week on the job was learning how important The Forum Banquet was and being part of the crew that covered it.

If the paper was, and is, a family, then the Forum Banquet is the annual family reunion. One night a year, everyone puts on their Sunday clothes and hauls over to the Maxwell House, dons the red flower and nametag in their lapel, looks on the board to find the table they're hosting, and hopes they get good people at their table.

Times change, people come and go, the size of the paper gets skinnier and there's a redesign every few years, but the Forum Banquet remains. And at the end of the night, everyone gets up and sings Auld Lang SyneMr. Seigenthaler did it, Halberstam and Wicker and Kovach and all those guys probably did it. I believe it is the newspaper's single most lasting tradition in the community. (For a more complete history of the Forum Banquet, I would point you to the piece written a few years ago by my friend and colleague Andy Humbles, if you can still find it online. There was also an interesting piece in Time magazine published in the 1940s that is online.)

I did meet some very nice people at the tables I hosted. I talked about what was going on at the legislature with a volunteer lobbyist for a local advocacy group. I once had three older gentlemen at my table, all in their 70s and 80s -- all of them repeat Forum Banquet attendees -- and, in conversation, we discovered that two of them had been in attendance at a legendary Vanderbilt football game in the early 1950s or so, and the third gent had listened to the game on the radio. At my last Forum Banquet, in 2008, I had at my table Mr. Foster Shockley, who was at either his 24th or 25th Forum Banquet.

The people who write letters to the editor are the most regular readers we have. In an era of news from on your iPhone, they not only read the paper, they take the time to write something and -- gasp! -- they attach their real name to it. Not drunkdawg68 or govolsgo2005. Their real names. Remember when people actually had to stand behind the things they said and wrote? And if they responded to someone else's opinion, they had to say something more substantive than "You and your whole family are s---heads"?

It's like finding out somebody somewhere still actually takes the effort to make Coca-Cola with real cane sugar in it. You think, this is great. This is so much better than what we have now. Why did this ever go away?

And like all newspaper traditions, the Forum Banquet has its own folklore. Several longtime newsroom staffers claimed to have been the person who had a lady at their table who, in an earlier era when wine flowed freely at the banquet, got drunk. Maybe as many people claimed to have hosted that lady at their table as claimed to have been the victim of one of Jerry Thompson's backward-named fake obit jokes. (There's just no way you could all be telling the truth. When I was younger, I believed all of you who told me that. Now that I'm older, I don't think I believe any of you.)

The quality of the guest speakers varied, though they almost always spoke on the importance of the First Amendment and free speech. More than the content of any of the speeches, I remember when the speaker for the evening was to be a retired high-ranking military man originally from Nashville, whose father had headed Metro's water system when our editor, Frank Sutherland, had been a young reporter covering City Hall. When Mr. Sutherland introduced our speaker that night, he recalled how our speaker for the evening had been taken prisoner during the Vietnam War, and how Mr. Sutherland had gotten a bracelet bearing our speaker's name, the type of which was commonly distributed back then in remembrance of American POWs. Mr. Sutherland said he had kept that bracelet all those years, and that night at the podium at the Forum Banquet, he pulled out the bracelet and gave it to the man whose name was on it.

But nice gestures and small talk with longtime readers aren't all that the Forum Banquet offers. It's also the wildest show in town.

The greatest tradition of the Forum Banquet has to be the open-mic period: Every letter writer in attendance is given the chance to stand up at a microphone and talk for one minute on any subject of their choosing. Some don't, but most of them do, and the resulting hour or so makes the American Idol tryout shows look like MacNeil and Lehrer.

Some of the letter-writers make totally comprehensible statements taking traditional left/right stances on major issues like education, the war on terrorism, city government and the like. Yeah, yeah, yeah, boring, boring, boring. Bring on the crazies!

One guy got up a couple years ago and asked that we all listen to one minute of silence, after which he stood at the microphone for the remaining 45 seconds or so and said nothing. Another got up and observed that it was Arbor Day, and said that people in the Netherlands referred to it as "Plant a Wooden Shoe Day."

People say whatever comes to their minds, or whatever obsession or rant they're on that day. Some of it's comprehensible. Some of it isn't. The story we used to publish in the following Sunday's newspaper -- in which we were instructed to quote each letter-writer who spoke -- always had a substantial section at the end that could have easily been subheaded "miscellaneous," because we couldn't group the joke-tellers and thank-yous and randomness under any other topic heading.

Sometimes people get up and respond back to what an earlier letter-writer had said at the mic. Thankfully, no punches were thrown at the banquets I attended, though I was concerned at the 2008 Forum Banquet, when one speaker got up and told us that he thought most of us in the room were guilty of sedition that he wanted to meet another letter-writer on the battlefield and put a bullet between his eyes. And then, as the dude left the mic and sat down, he hurled a few comments back at an earlier speaker at another table who had dissed President Bush, ending with the very adult command "So shut up!" (The guy was a Metro employee. Doesn't that make you feel better now?)

Some people go up to the mic to thank the paper for picking their letter and inviting them to the banquet. One lady wrote and recited her own poetry. Yes, about the banquet. Some people shoot questions out at the Tennessean editors on the dias or spew criticism at the paper.

People also ask questions of the prominent figures delivering the keynote address. I remember when the speaker a few years ago was Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas. Most of the letter-writers had had their say and sat down, but there was an older lady who got up and went to the microphone on the right of the ballroom. She addressed her comments to the police chief. Her name, she said, was Virginia Trimble.

Say whatever you want to say, but say it in 60 seconds, or you'll get gonged. Yes, they time it. Religiously. well, there's no gong, but there is a brass bell that's rung at the end of your time.

And when all the letter-writers who want to speak have spoken, it will be time to sing Auld Lang Syne. The lyrics are printed in the program in your chair, and the pianist for the evening will give everybody some idea of the tune. And then it will be time to go home. At least until next year.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How a San Francisco cable car makes a U-Turn

I shot this with a handheld Flip cam last October when I visited San Francisco for the Online News Association conference.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Podcast: My idea that might make you rich -- and Twitter clients, too

The JP Podcast kicks off with discussion of an idea that I'm giving away that could make someone very wealthy. Click here to listen in.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Steve McNair: He earned Nashville fans' respect

When people pass on, there's a natural inclination to glorify their achievements. So let me preface this by saying that I had thought about writing these comments about a year or two ago, well before today's terrible and shocking news.

The relationship between Nashville and Steve McNair is not just one of a town and a famous athlete. For those of you outside Nashville, let me explain a little bit about it.

I remember when the NFL's Houston Oilers first moved to Nashville to become the team that is now the Tennessee Titans. Back in those days, the team just wasn't very good. They had some potential, but they struggled constantly. This team we're getting from Texas, I thought to myself, they're not much to celebrate about.

I remember in particular that the team had two young men vying for the starting quarterback's job: Two guys named Neil O'Donnell and Steve McNair. They both had potential, but like their teams, they seemed to struggle constantly. I remember one particularly bad outing for McNair -- I can't remember whether this was in Memphis or at Vanderbilt Stadium -- but the home-field fans booed him for poor performance. I remember my friend and mentor Dwight Lewis wrote a column about it.

Today, it is hard for most of us to remember, or even believe, there was ever any doubt whether Steve should have been starting QB. And I don't recall the people of Nashville ever booing Steve McNair on the field ever again, as I recall.

Steve McNair earned the respect of the people of Nashville. And he didn't just do it by being part of a winning team. He worked his behind off for it.

Steve McNair wasn't one of those overpaid star quarterbacks who took off running for the first down and then slid toward it when a defensive player came within 20 yards of him. Steve would go running for that first down marker, and when those two defensive players grabbed him, he'd keep on running. He'd take those guys with him another 5 yards or so and just keep going. It'd take another defensive guy or two to pull him down. And even then, he didn't make it easy for them.

As a passer, Steve wouldn't ground the ball when the linebackers started to close in on him. I remember seeing linebackers grabbing him and hanging on to him as he looked around for a barely-open receiver downfield, and he'd still pull off some miracle completion.

Steve wasn't some athlete who made a zillion dollars a year and sat around on his behind and then whined about being disrespected. Steve worked. Steve earned his fans' respect by going out there and always giving his all, even when he was hurt and the odds were just unbelievable. Steve earned his pay every Sunday. Everybody knew who led that team on the field to all those just-barely and how-did-they-do-it victories.

Not only was he a really good quarterback, but Steve played hurt nearly every game in some of the Titans' best seasons, and I don't mean with some little small injury. Steve often played with serious injuries that would have sidelined most people. But he nearly always went out there, and if he went on the field, he played his heart out. It was as if you expected to read in the paper on Wednesday that he'd broken his back and was in traction but was expected to practice with the team Saturday for Sunday's game. Sometimes he was so hurt, as I recall, he wouldn't be well enough to practice with the team at all in the days before the next game -- but he'd still go out there on Sunday and pull off an incredible victory, usually at some great physical cost to himself.

And he'd go out there and he'd practically break his neck for the win. Just because he was hurt, he didn't give an inch. You'd see him limping sometimes, running back to the sidelines, and you knew he was in pain, but it never seemed to cause him to throw passes shorter, or to run slower, or to give it any less than he would physically than if he were healthy.

For all of that, Steve earned the Nashville fans' respect.

Now, Steve was not a saint. Very few people are, of course. As I recall, Steve got caught drinking and driving a few years ago. That's wrong. He shouldn't have done that. And when he was found to be drinking and driving, Steve may have gotten preferential treatment shown to him by local police officers because of his football hero status. That's also wrong. And, if what is being reported is true, it sounds like Steve was dating a woman while also still married to his wife. Also wrong.

But his achievements were still many. And that's why he's a huge sports hero to the people of Nashville.

We still don't know what happened. As of this writing, The Tennessean is saying that police say it appears to have been a murder-suicide -- Steve was shot several times, while the woman he was with was shot once.