Monday, October 31, 2011

The newspaper that asks no questions

For the record, not one person here in the patch believes the Herald-Standard newspaper (which goes by the fancier-sounding nowadays) is going to endorse incumbent Fayette County commissioner Angela Zimmerlink for re-election on Nov. 8.

Zimmerlink's fate was sealed the day last year when she had the audacity to question the appropriateness of using $60,000 worth of county tourism tax money -- which is supposed to go toward promoting tourism in the county -- to launch Fayette TV. That move threw a financial lifeline to the old HSTV operation, which had turned into the newspaper's own white elephant.

Let us be perfectly honest here, if a bit R-rated: On that day, Zimmerlink earned a spot on the newspaper's shit list, from which we believe she will never recover. How she was treated in print on Friday, Oct. 28 bears out this theory.

On that day, the Herald-Standard ran two stories based on what transpired at the prior day's commission meeting. The story that the newspaper -- and this would include its editors -- judged worthy of the bottom of page B-1 (an inside section) was titled, "Commissioners move toward finalizing amphitheater lease agreement." It dealt with the latest maneuvering surrounding the Great Meadows Amphitheater, which is the county's white elephant equivalent of HSTV.

The other story, which the newspaper and its editors decided to run on A-1 (that would be the front page, where the most important stories go), was headlined, "Official grilled on web postings." It dealt with accusations made during public comment, accusations made against Zimmerllink by one Tanya Cellurale, accusations that Zimmerlink correctly characterized as "pre-election banter." Coming a well-timed 11 days before the election, how could this be anything but that?

In this "story," readers learned the following: Tanya Cellurale claimed that Zimmerlink, during work hours, went on to a local chat room-style web site and posted comments that she found derogatory. Cellurale said she knew this because she had figured out Zimmerlink's "I.P. address," which is computer lingo for Internet Protocol address, which is a means to uniquely identify a person's computer. (Zimmerlink rebutted this claim, noting she "did not do anything on county time on county computers.")

But if you think the name "Cellurale" has a familiar ring to it, you're on to our next point, which is what the "story" conveniently failed to mention: Tanya Cellurale is part of the ongoing Cellurale-Kriss land dispute in Dunbar Township, involving the Meason House owned by the Krisses and any number of businesses owned by the Cellurale family. Tanya Cellurale was/is also related to Marilyn Cellurale, who ran against Zimmerink in this year's Republican primary. (Yes, the same Republican Marilyn Cellurale who received a campaign contribution from Joseph Bezjak, the uncle of incumbent Democrat Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky, whose campaign signs are now doting the landscape in tandem with those of Republican candidate Dave Lohr, whose explanation is a quaint "different people like different candidates.")

It would take a whole blog post to further explain the clashes and entanglements of the Cellurales and Krisses, and of the political and legal machinizations that have become part of that saga. Suffice it to say that no one named Cellurale is about to put a Zimmerlink sign in their yard any time soon.

Back to the Oct. 28 "story": If reporter Amy Revak and her editors at the Herald-Standard found Tanya Cellurale's accusations to be newsworthy, and if they did not feel they were being used on the eve of an election, and even if they decided it was OK to be used and opted to play along just for some Zimmerlink-slapping fun, why didn't they do some basic shoeleather reporting to at least make the effort appear credible?

Why didn't Revak ask, or why didn't her editors make her ask, Tanya Cellurale to provide the I.P. address that she claimed was Zimmerlink's? Why didn't the newspaper then ask Zimmerlink or the county Information Technology folks to provide the I.P. address used by her work computer? After all that would be public information, right?

If the numbers did not match, it would prove that Tanya Cellurale had leveled a false accusation.

Even if the numbers matched, that wouldn't necessarily prove that Zimmerlink had used a county computer to make website postings, or that she had done so on county time. That would take a little more newspaper investigation to corroborate, and we're not sure that anyone on the payroll is up to that task.

But if the numbers indeed matched -- and we're betting they would not -- a pressing immediate question would be: How did Tanya Cellurale get her hands on what should be proprietary county information? Did someone at the county level give her the I.P. address of Zimmerlink's work computer, or was Tanya Cellurale able to find out sensitive county computer information as a regular citizen?

We seriously doubt that anyone outside the courthouse could get their hands on something like an I.P. address, or that someone who wasn't politically motivated would even care to. We'll leave it to you to theorize on who could obtain such information from within (or authorize its release), and who could benefit from its use as a political tool.

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