It was interesting to see a letter
in a local paper a few weeks ago in which the writer announced that this
publication had a bias against the values of the Confederacy.
I publish this newsletter because I am
a trained journalist with nearly two decades of experience covering cops
and robbers, court houses, city halls, the president, congress, state houses,
war, earthquakes, floods and murders. I worked at the Milwaukee Journal,
where I reported on the Reagan Administration's importation and sale of
cocaine to generate money for the Nicaraguan Contras; at the Arizona
Republic, where I covered the Miami riots; and at the Houston Chronicle,
where I covered the Gulf War and later, the slave trade in Saudi Arabia.
Portland (Maine) Press-Herald, I looked into why out-of-state
contributors were giving money to then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell;
Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record, my first full-time newspaper
job, I was given the Emery A. Brownell Award from the National Legal Aid
and Defender Association for a series I wrote about an innocent man sentenced
to life in prison for murder on the basis of evidence contrived by the
prosecutor and sheriff. After the series ran, a judge ordered Terry Seaton
released from the state prison, but he had already served seven years.
I am not a Northerner, as the letter to
the newspaper suggested, but a Westerner, born and raised in California.
I've worked in Maine, but also in Texas. My children are in Tennessee,
and have been for years.
I publish The Putnam Pit, not just
to make money -- I give it away free -- but as a service to the community
and people I have grown to know and respect over the past 21 months. My
sense of service is to stick up for the common man in the face of corrupt
government, be it in Saudi Arabia, Texas, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Maine
I know what unbridled authority is like.
As a young man I was convicted of smuggling hashish and for getting a passport
under a false name. I've been arrested for speaking against police brutality.
From 1969 to 1972, I slept on the floor of a Lebanese prison after buying
hashish from the prime minister's family.
I've been beaten, locked in an underground
cell for weeks at a time and threatened with death.
I returned to the United States in 1972,
at 28 years old, and went straight to college, earning a bachelor's degree
in philosophy, a master's degree in journalism with a minor in history,
and I did work toward a doctorate.
I've worked full time since 1977 to even
the field between officials and their constituents, and I have earned both
local, state and national awards for my efforts to see justice done.
Since coming to Tennessee, I pointed out
that Darlene Eldridge's killer is still free; that the former property
assessor gave a break to his biggest campaign contributor; that the city
court is either incompetent or corrupt.
This publication has reported that the
district attorney general was under a cloud; that there were questions
about the administrator of Cookeville General Hospital at his previous
job; that officials locked up a man for nearly two weeks despite a release
order from the state court of appeals; that private prosecutors lost or
withheld possibly exculpatory evidence in the Fabien Eldridge attempted-murder
case while they also represented a party in a civil case arising from the
The Pit investigated where elderly
citizens could get their prescriptions the cheapest, at which restaurants
the state had found filthy kitchens and which supermarkets had the cheapest
No other paper reported these things. This
is the reason there is a free press in this country. I don't publish bridal
pictures or scary Halloween stories. I take my work seriously, I do it
honestly, and I tell the truth.
Yet I have much opposition in town. To
discredit me I'm called a Northerner, a Yankee, a tool of the Eldridges.
Let me tell you this: No one has called
me a liar to my face. When someone complains about The Putnam Pit,
when the city withholds public documents and records, when court files
are sealed and judges let lawyers lie in court, there is a problem, and
the problem is not mine. It is ours. This newsletter attempts only to create
an atmosphere in which citizens' rights are respected and no public official
ever tells you what Court Clerk Lewis Coomer told me: "I can do whatever