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The Putnam Pit
[No bull]

An independent voice with no political loyalties


How I See The Putnam Pit's Role in this Community

Putnam Pit editor

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. At the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald, I looked into why out-of-state contributors were giving money to then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell; at the 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 or Cookeville.

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 same incident.

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 food.

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 I want."