Did The CA Do a Herenton Flip-Flop?

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Is Willie Herenton in legal jeopardy, or is he not in legal jeopardy in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Thursday in what is being called the "honest services" case?

An online story in The Commercial Appeal Thursday said one thing and a later version of the story (repeated in Friday's print newspaper) said exactly the opposite.

Herenton has made an issue of the fairness of The Commercial Appeal in its continuing coverage of him and especially in regard to editorial page editor Otis Sanford's role as moderator in a televised debate (now a non-debate) with Congressman Steve Cohen.

Online news is a hungry beast. Stories are constantly updated. No newspaper's coverage of a public figure should be judged on the basis of a single story. Yadda yadda yadda. But politics and political coverage are contact sports, and what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If The CA shot from the hip on the "honest services" ruling and then thought better of it after doing some reporting, it gives some credence to Herenton's complaints.

The original version posted online by reporter Marc Perrusquia said the former Memphis mayor was still in jeopardy even though the Supreme Court unanimously narrowed the scope of criminal prosecutions on the grounds that the public was deprived of someone’s honest services.

"A ruling today by the U.S. Supreme Court means Willie Herenton still may not be out from under the cloud of a federal investigation that’s loomed over him the past two years.

"The former Memphis mayor and current congressional candidate was looking to the high court for relief from a highly publicized federal grand jury probe that scrutinized payments he received from a land deal while mayor."

There were no sources in the original story and there was no direct reference to Herenton either way in the Supreme Court opinion, to which he was not a party.

A later online version and the version that appeared in Friday’s print newspaper, however, came to the opposite conclusion. Herenton, the story said, was probably not in jeopardy now. The story cited Herenton’s attorney Robert Spence and two “legal experts.” There is no link to the original story, which was rewritten to include the new material and given a new headline.

That much is standard practice. Reporters constantly revise stories these days to meet the demands of online journalism. But I was a little bit surprised to see an apparent rush to judgment on a complicated court case and a story in which the daily newspaper has become part of the story.

Bottom line: not a big deal but The CA gave Herenton some ammo. And if anyone's curious, this story did not come from him or his camp. The "honest services" case has been on the Flyer's watch list for some time.

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