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Tue, Nov 21, 2017 06:04 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue

This n' That


The new mayor steps in


ARH
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01/10/2007 - The recent inauguration of county and city officials across the Big Sandy area reminded me of a time when a cub reporter (i.e., yours truly) got his first taste of covering a new administration.

The time was 1986, the place was Paintsville and the new administration was that of a new mayor, Robert Wiley. It was an exciting time because Wiley had replaced a long-time mayor, the late James Trimble, and changes were in store for the city of Paintsville.

Wiley was the type of official who didn't care to speak his mind at public meetings, and such bluntness always makes for a good story. At the time, I was the news director at WSIP radio and had the advantage of playing sound bites on my newscasts of the meetings I covered. The one and only advantage that radio news has over newspapers is that no one can accuse a radio reporter of misquoting them since their comments are preserved on audio tape for everybody to hear. During one of his initial meetings as the new mayor, Wiley said that he intended to enforce the city's leash law because the town had a problem with stray dogs. Among other things, Wiley said he was tired of stepping in dog excrement all the time, but that wasn't the word he used. He used the politically incorrect word that we all say in private but would never think of repeating during a public meeting. Wiley's comment brought laughter from the audience and a heck of a good sound bite, but I knew I could never use it on my broadcast — at least not in its entirety.

After the meeting, I went back to the radio station to write the story and struggled with what to do about the dog "excrement" situation. The mayor's comment was too good to ignore, but I knew the language he used would offend many of our listeners, so I solved the problem by bleeping out the offensive part of the sound bite. When it hit the airwaves, the new mayor was heard saying that he was tired of stepping in dog (bleep) all the time. I'm sure the audio bite still offended some listeners, but at least they didn't have to hear their new mayor cussing on the air.

These days, of course, such language probably wouldn't offend a lot of people who are used to hearing and seeing a lot worse in the broadcast media. Back then, though, it wasn't acceptable, especially in a small town.

I don't think Wiley liked the fact that the sound bite was played at all, but he should have thought about that before he said it. Anything that happens during a public meeting is in the public domain, and the press has a right —not to mention a responsibility — to report it.

New officials should keep that in mind before they start accusing the media of trying to make them look bad.

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