Buzzworm news briefs

The politics of news

Asheville-based television station WLOS has confirmed that it will air a controversial documentary about Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry as ordered by Sinclair Broadcast Group — which counts WLOS among the 62 television stations it owns, operates or provides services to nationwide. Sinclair has ordered all its stations to pre-empt regular programming during the last two weeks of the presidential campaign to broadcast Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal. The filmmaker, Carlton Sherwood, is a friend and longtime aide to former Pennsylvania governor (and current Homeland Security secretary) Tom Ridge.

The corporation has acknowledged that the film is one-sided, and the Associated Press described it as “a critical documentary about John Kerry’s antiwar activities after he returned home from Vietnam three decades ago.” But Sinclair maintains that the broadcast qualifies as news and that there’s no need to offer more balanced coverage.

According to an AP wire story, “Campaign-finance records show that the company’s executives have donated thousands of dollars to [President] Bush’s campaign.” The Democratic National Committee has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, charging that airing the film constitutes an illegal, in-kind campaign contribution.

Asheville media activist Wally Bowen notes: “Without the Fairness Doctrine, Sinclair is free to ram this anti-Kerry film down our throats. Sinclair will cover itself by offering to put someone from the Kerry campaign on the air to discuss the film. My guess is that Sinclair’s action will renew calls in Congress to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine.”

Congress established the Fairness Doctrine in 1947, requiring broadcast licensees to offer balanced coverage of the news. Under President Ronald Reagan, the FCC abolished the doctrine — and the president then vetoed a bill with which Congress had attempted to codify the doctrine.

Sinclair also stirred controversy last April when it ordered its stations not to run a Nightline episode in which ABC anchor Ted Koppel read the names of the American troops killed in Iraq.

Sinclair Media Watch, an Asheville-based grassroots group founded in response to the Nightline cancellation, notes that WLOS’ license is up for renewal. Corporations like Sinclair are granted broadcast licenses under the terms of the 1934 Communications Act and the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which state that license holders must serve the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” Licenses are renewed every eight years, and public comment is solicited during the renewal process.

Sinclair Watch member Mike Hopping says: “The FCC is open to written public comment and objection until Nov. 1. Links for writing to the FCC can be found on our Sinclair Media Watch Web site” (

WLOS plans to air the film Friday, Oct. 22. Station Manager Jack Connors declined to comment on either the broadcast or the controversy surrounding the film. Repeated calls to Sinclair Broadcast Group found no one answering the phones.

— Cecil Bothwell

School within a school

Autism is a puzzling condition that affects people in a wide variety of ways. When the subject is discussed at all, most of us tend to think of low-functioning autism, whose severe symptoms include poor or absent communication skills, social maladaption and, in most cases, mental retardation (that is, an IQ below 70). High-functioning autism, known to medical practitioners as Asperger syndrome, is harder to diagnose, less likely to be noticed — and possibly more common than the more profound form of disability.

Childhood symptoms may include failure to play or share with others, inappropriate interpersonal distance or facial expressions, failure to read others’ expressions or body language, and a distant affect.

“Adults afflicted by Asperger syndrome may have double Ph.D.s but be unable to hold a job, because they are disabled by a lack of social skills,” explains Teri Muir, co-executive director of the Veritas Christian Academy School Within a School. The program, founded by Muir and her husband, Mark, grew out of their need to find an education alternative for their son, Christopher, after he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.

In public schools, all differently abled children tend to be lumped together in “special” education classes, Muir explained. That means low- and high-functioning autistics are schooled together, despite the fact that the latter have IQs ranging from normal to genius. Furthermore, in the few programs for high-functioning autistics that exist in this country, the Muirs found that those students tended to be segregated from their typical peers. The couple decided they could do better and moved from California to Fletcher when the Veritas Christian Academy agreed to let them site their new school here.

School Within a School Program Director Marlou deVera notes that for such students, “It’s important that, at least 80 percent of the time, they are mainstreamed,” that is, educated in the same classes as all other academy students.

Alice Randles, the lower-school lead teacher, told Xpress, “Every day these kids are taught social skills, how to shake hands, how to allow body space, how to read facial expressions and body language,” the interpersonal give-and-take that seems like second nature to most of us. Randles, who taught in public schools for four years before coming to Veritas, appreciates the time available in the private setting. “The paperwork was overwhelming,” she says about her public-school tenure. “Seeing 30 kids per day, meeting their needs, is just impossible.”

At present, the School Within a School has 12 students and nine full-time instructors. Now in its fourth year, the program spans grades three through nine and will add one below and one above each year until it comprises a full K-12 curriculum.

The low student/teacher ratio, however, means costs are high. Tuition stands at $17,500 per year (financial assistance is available), while the school’s total cost approaches $25,000 per student per year. In order to meet a projected deficit of $250,000 over the next two years, the school is staging a fund-raising event Friday, Oct. 29 at the Grove Park Inn. The black-tie Gala Dinner-Auction Celebration is priced at $500 per person, and the live-auction items are similarly upscale: A private jet to a vacation resort in Las Vegas; time in a villa in Marbella, Spain; a 10-day Holland America cruise; and a private meal for eight prepared by Market Place chef Mark Rosenstein are just a few of the offerings.

For more information about the school or the gala, contact Sheila Alewine at 681-0547 (e-mail:

— Cecil Bothwell

Earthen where?

For the past 20 years, artist Kitty Couch threw pots in the Plum Branch watershed outside of Burnsville. From her studio she looked out across a pond on her 48 acre tract with Mount Celo on the horizon. Plum Branch is classified as trout waters, indicating better than average water quality; it flows into the South Toe River, which is recognized as a “nationally significant aquatic habitat.”

In January, Couch died in a car crash while traveling in Vietnam, and her property passed to her four daughters. Now the heirs, in conjunction with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, have permanently preserved the scenic and biologically valuable tract by creating a conservation easement. Although it precludes future development, it gives the property owners immediate and continuing tax breaks.

SAHC has protected more than 22,000 acres in the southern Appalachians over the past three decades, including key sites adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Roan Highlands and Shining Rock Wilderness.

To learn more about conservation easements and SAHC, visit

— Cecil Bothwell

Honoring women of note

They are leaders and mentors. They shine in the workplace and in the community. They are creative, imaginative and disciplined. They’re the type of women honored by the Asheville YWCA in its annual Tribute to Women of Influence Awards Banquet.

The YWCA is now accepting nominations for this year’s TWIN honorees, who will be recognized at a ceremony in March. Each year, about 20 women are celebrated, and one is recognized as Honoree of the Year. Eligible candidates are local women with management responsibilities who demonstrate admirable qualities beyond simple job qualifications; nominations should focus on professionally and personally accomplished women.

Nominations will be accepted through Dec. 31, though the YW would prefer to receive them as soon as possible. To obtain a nomination form or for more information, contact Marketing Director Ami Worthen at 254-7206, ext. 205 (e-mail:

— Amelia Pelly

Redefining war crimes

Can we wage an effective war against terrorism while preserving our civil liberties at home? How can we wage a just and effective war in the modern era? These timely questions will be the focus of “Civil Liberties and War Crimes in a Post-9/11 World,” a free public forum sponsored by the WNC chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the UNCA chapter of Amnesty International and Mountain Xpress. The event happens Wednesday, Oct. 27 in Room 104 of UNCA’s new Highsmith Center, starting at 7 p.m.

“What we’re trying to do before the election is throw the spotlight on the erosion of civil liberties over the last four years and what another four years, particularly under the Bush administration, might portend for that,” explains Belk Distinguished Professor of Humanities Mark Gibney of UNCA, who’s moderating the forum.

“We’re using the term ‘war crimes’ purposefully,” he notes. “What we’re trying to do is broaden the notion of war crimes to include crimes that are being committed all in the name of the war on terror. So we’re taking that term — which has a fixed meaning, for example, in international law — [and] we’re trying to extend it to include the kinds of things governments can do now, whether it’s ‘sneak and peak’ or the unlimited detentions … and talking about those as sort of a class of war crimes. Because they’re crimes the government’s committing under the cover of this war on terror.”

Speakers will include local attorneys Frank Goldsmith, a former Army JAG Corps officer, and Bruce Elmore, both ACLU members, and local activist Christiana Glenn Tugman, a former student of Gibney’s who wrote her senior thesis on the PATRIOT Act. Each will speak for about 10 minutes, after which audience members will be invited to join the discussion.

For more information or to register, call Alex Cury at 232-1608.

— Lisa Watters

Out in the infield

Cerebral types have often described baseball as a metaphor for America. The national pastime has been dissected, analyzed and lionized by everyone from George Will to Ken Burns. And in every weighty tome and epic documentary, we’re reminded that America is baseball and the diamond is us.

Yet during the game’s lengthy history, only two major-league players have ever come out of the closet (and both did so after their playing days were over). Considering the thousands of men who’ve played in The Show over the past century-plus, this flies in the face of even the most conservative estimates of the number of homosexual Americans. And, ironically, baseball is a game that worships and is governed by statistics and percentages. Go figure.

Or, better yet, ask a baseball insider who’s viewed the game through the eyes of a gay man: Dave Pallone, who spent 18 years behind the plate as an umpire, including 10 years in the major leagues. He’ll be at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee on Wednesday, Oct. 27 for a public talk titled “Who’s Really on First?”

Pallone’s 1990 autobiography, Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball (Viking), was a New York Times best seller. Since then, he’s become a sought-after national speaker on the topic of sexual orientation. His visit to Western is part of the Visiting Scholars Series. The talk will take place in the auditorium of the Forsyth Building, beginning at 7 p.m.

For more information, contact Kandence Otto, assistant professor of sport management, at 227-3550.

— Brian Sarzynski


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