Letters to the editor

Sinclair Broadcasting violated the public trust?

The censorship, on April 30, of Ted Koppel’s reading of the names of American soldiers killed in Iraq was inexcusable. Through an irresponsible misuse of its power as a broadcaster, Sinclair Broadcast Group showed a lack of respect for the intelligence of the viewers in the communities in which it operates. It is unfortunate that in the year in which the hard-working crew of WLOS celebrates its 50th anniversary, we learn that it is not our local station manager [who] has the final say in what we view. Instead, it is Sinclair Chairman David Smith who decides what is broadcast in our community based on his desire to curry favor with the Bush administration.

That Sinclair is operating as a tool of the Bush administration is evident in its political contributions. In 2004, Sinclair made $65,434 in political donations — 98 percent of that to Republicans and 2 percent to Democrats — according to opensecrets.org [a Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics]. And, according to the [same] non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, Sinclair executives have donated more than $16,000 in hard money and more than $120,000 in soft money to President Bush and his allies since 2000. It is also noteworthy that in 2003, the president attempted to push through a sweeping relaxation of media-ownership regulations that would have benefited Sinclair handsomely.

Sinclair’s political/business-based decision to censor Nightline does a disservice to the soldiers whose names it tried to silence.

Ted Koppel closed his reading by stating, “Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics.” The reading of the names, he added, “was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war, nor was it meant as an endorsement.”

A special “thank you” should go out to all of those who saw to it that the names would not be silenced, the people who gathered outside the WLOS station to read the names, and especially the Greenville FOX station WHNS, which stepped up to the plate and aired ABC’s Nightline for the benefit of our community.

The license for Sinclair in our community comes up for renewal later this year and should not be extended. When the public trust has been violated, citizens have the right to hold broadcasters accountable.

— Greg Arnold

[Ed. Note: The Center for Responsive Politics describes itself as “a non-partisan, non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C., that tracks money in politics, and its effect on elections and public policy.”]

My boycott of WLOS has begun

I am a longtime Asheville resident and business owner. I am a veteran and a father of a son who is stationed in Iraq with the Special Forces. I’m appalled by Channel 13’s choice to censor the reading of the names of those who have given their lives for our country.

Tributes are paid to fallen law officers, movie stars, athletes and TV anchors, yet not to those who are on the front lines of this ambiguous war. If my son is to die serving this country, his name should be read, loudly, and his face seen clearly. The soldiers who have lost their lives, minds and limbs deserve to be acknowledged. They are our children, our fathers and mothers. They are part of our communities. They are not just flag-draped statistics.

WLOS’s choice to censor what the owners of WLOS deem a political move by Ted Koppel, is, in itself, a political act. I am turning off WLOS and boycotting their sponsors until they honor those, by name, who have fallen.

It is a sad day for journalism and local broadcasting.

— Douglas Madaras

[Ed. Note: At press time, WLOS News Director Tom Loebig declined to comment about this letter when contacted by Xpress. However, a news story posted April 30 on CNN.com reported that Sinclair Broadcast Group “ordered” its seven ABC stations — including WLOS — not to broadcast the Nightline program.]

Love it or leave it, Mr. Caudle

[In response to Fisher Caudle [Letters, April 28]:] With all your ranting about “whiners and socialists” of Asheville (I counted no less than seven exclamation points in your letter), a “town so eaten up with government programs” (god forbid) and [with] your suggestion that “folks who can’t afford to operate here need to relocate” — perhaps it is you who may want to consider relocation. It seems that it is you who is having a difficult time operating in such a progressive town.

— Jennifer Lapidus

UNCA’s parking-lot plan is ill conceived

UNCA is planning to log three acres of the woods across from the campus on W.T. Weaver Boulevard to install a parking lot for freshmen students. They want to do this over the summer so it is ready for students in the fall. They will be making the decision about this in the next week or two.

The massive parking lot will have a decidedly negative impact on Asheville. Not only will it be a three-football-field eyesore in what is now a beautiful woods, the administration made the decision without consulting neighbors to the property (like me), the students or the faculty at the university. Only after an anonymous flyer was placed on windshields in my neighborhood did I find out about the plan. At the 11th hour, the university held two back-to-back meetings to gain community feedback – but Steve Baxley, director of facilities management for UNCA was not open to any ideas that did not give him 300 more parking spaces. … This parking lot would undo all the good work Chancellor Mullen has done improving UNCA’s role as a partner with the local community, and I have to ask “why?”

Why do they need 300 more parking spaces for freshmen?

Here’s their logic: First, the incoming freshmen class is larger than they expected. Second, the student government voted that freshmen could no longer park on campus (but this is not exactly binding on the administration). Third, they have investigated other options for satellite parking but found those options wanting. They say their only solution is to log the forest and install a huge new lot.

I think they have other options. A recent parking study indicated that they do not have a lack of parking, only a lack of convenient parking on campus. Even with a large class of freshmen, they have made no attempt … to decrease the number of cars on campus. In fact, the university charges all students a parking fee, regardless of whether they even own a car or ever need to park on campus. And the university wants those fees because they pay for parking lots. What if the university only charged students who actually want to park on campus – but charge them a higher fee? Then the university would still have the revenue they need, but create an incentive for students to leave their cars at home.

UNCA could also work with the city to improve public transit to campus, decreasing the need for students to have cars. The administration has already been approached multiple times about this option.

Maybe instead of requiring purchase of a parking sticker, [students] could require purchase of a bus pass.

As a woman, I would be terribly concerned about any 19-year-old getting out of her car in this location, especially at night. – and call-boxes are cold consolation to someone calling in about what has already happened. In that location, even the local police officers I’ve spoken to think it would be a matter of “when” and not “if.”

What if only those freshmen who had off-campus jobs (or some other compelling reason like being primary caretaker to an elderly relative) could park on campus, and those students who had cars, but just needed them to go home occasionally, could park in satellite parking at the River Road facility? Shuttle service would be an option.

Another reason Baxley cited is the loss of spaces during the next few years while some new buildings are under construction. That will be a temporary need, and this lot would be permanent. Seventy-year-old trees take 70 years to grow back. There is surely a better “temporary solution.”

I live one block away and, like many residents, I use the woods almost daily. I’ve met many neighbors and even people who actually travel to the woods to hike, jog and ride their bikes. These woods serve an important role as an inner-city park, not just for members of the community, but also for the students at the university.

If the university were converting some already disturbed land to a parking lot, the stakes would not be so high. But these beautiful woods are an asset to the university and the community, and they need to be protected.

If you want to be heard, you need to call now. Contact Chancellor Jim Mullen, Provost

— Gillian Coats

Vest got his facts wrong

Jason Vest’s story, “Fables of Reconstruction,” [published on the Mountain Xpress Web site, April 21] illustrates the danger of relying on third-hand reports for your facts. In particular, it recites incorrect claims about Bechtel’s work in Iraq.

It quotes an article by two other journalists, who in turn quoted an Iraqi plant manager’s claim that Bechtel had failed to supply needed parts to fix a steam generator. The fact is, as we told the original reporters, Bechtel specified what parts were needed, but the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was responsible for the purchase and delivery of those parts.

Mr. Vest’s story also recycles a quote from the earlier story speculating that work in the power sector was being held up because Russian, German, and French companies could not participate in the rebuilding of Iraq. As we and USAID have stated publicly, Bechtel is free to choose subcontractors from those countries. Indeed, our current list of subcontractors includes two German firms: Siemens and Standard Aggregatebau AG.

— Francis Canavan
Public Affairs Manager
Bechtel Iraq Infrastructure Reconstruction Program

[Ed. Note: Reporter Jason Vest replies to the above letter as follows:

It’s interesting that when Canavan complains about a “recycled quote,” the flack doesn’t actually reproduce the quote — which was a statement of fact about Bush administration policy barring French, Russian and German companies from bidding on tenders they might be better suited for as primary [contractors], not subcontractors, in Iraq — but rather attempts a disingenuous sleight-of-hand. I never said anything remotely like “could not participate in the rebuilding of Iraq,” and I certainly don’t contest the fact that subcontractors in Iraq can be from any nation.

It also bears mentioning — as Canavan doesn’t — that under a pre-war UN oil-for-food contract, Germany’s Siemens AG was tasked with repairing two turbines at the Daura power plant, which the company originally built. But as Michael Jansen of The Irish Times noted in a Jan. 3, 2004, dispatch, “Bechtel, the US company given the contract to restore electricity, refused to permit Siemens to finish refurbishing the turbines.” It was only after “several months of acrimony” in 2003, that “Bechtel capitulated” and let a Siemens team return.]

The Apollo project is misguided

Both Ms. Pannullo’s energy dreams and nightmares are about 10 miles off the mark [in her April 21 commentary] “The Apollo Alliance: Embracing a positive energy future.”

The nightmare is that the future fossil-fuels crisis will impact housing more than food as more Americans freeze to death than starve. It will cause tens of millions to flee the Northeast and move to Asheville, much as the energy crisis of the 1970s built Atlanta. When they find new housing banned, Asheville will become the national center of housing riots. Her son, without the ability to build a home, will be among the rioters and among the frozen dead.

The only hope, if it’s not too late, is that the [proposed] $30 billion a year be used for hugely cost-effective birth-control assistance and advocacy instead of marginally cost-effective energy pipe dreams or weapons. With public responsibility, millions of otherwise frozen children will be prevented. Fossil-fuel taxes, tradable rationing and [funding of] buses by every level of government can encourage smaller housing structures with more units and less energy consumption per unit with realistic technology.

The result can’t possibly be happy, fun, artsy or pretty, but those of us already on this planet might just survive.

— Alan Ditmore

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