Papers’ Former Editorial Staff, AHA’s Spokesman Unite (UPDATE 1)

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(APN) ATLANTA — Two former editorial staff members of Georgia’s two largest circulation periodicals, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) newspaper and Creative Loafing (CL) magazine, have joined forces with Rick White, the public relations representative of the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA), Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

Lyle Harris, who wrote for the Editorial Board of the AJC has joined Mr. White’s public relations firm, Alisias, according to a business card obtained by APN listing Harris as an Alisias employee.

John Sugg, who was a former senior editor for CL and still has a column there, told APN, “I’m working with Rick White.”

Both the AJC and CL have run mostly positive coverage of AHA’s controversial plans to demolish all remaining public housing in Atlanta. CLARIFICATION: AHA announced these controversial plans in early 2007.

The AJC’s news coverage has tended to present AHA’s assertions as facts and residents’ assertions as opinions. The AJC has rarely printed any information critical of AHA during at least the last two years.

The AJC’s Editorial pages, where Harris often wrote columns on behalf of the Editorial Board, typically contained glowing editorials, and sometimes photo spreads, about AHA’s demolition plans and AHA’s director Renee Glover.

“Wow, it’s a perfect match, they belong together. It’s certainly the place [Alisias] for an editorial writer at the Journal-Constitution, who already wrote public relations pieces for the AHA and the City,” Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, said.

“As a Member of the Editorial Board, he rarely if ever represented all sides of the issue,” Beaty said of Harris. “It was usually an opinion representing the business community of Atlanta. We’ve had a challenge trying to get him to see objectively any other side of an issue than the development.”

Incidentally, AJC’s opinions editor, Cynthia Tucker, is a close friend of Glover, one veteran reporter for the AJC who recently retired told Atlanta Progressive News.

CL, a weekly freebie and “alternative” paper based in Atlanta, has not covered the public housing demolition situation very much at all, with the exception of one lengthy cover story last year by Mara Shalhoup.

Sugg has previously told APN he believes AHA is probably correct that tearing down public housing is the best thing they can do, and also that the privatization of Grady Hospital is correct.

When APN offered documents to Sugg at this week’s Community Development and Human Resources Committee with a list of questions and comments that APN recently submitted to AHA about their proposed demolitions, Sugg told Atlanta Progressive News that he and APN were not on the same side of this issue and that he is now working with Rick White.

“It is disappointing to say the least, because of Sugg’s progressive record and involvement in progressive causes,” Adam Shapiro, host of WRFG 89.3 FM’s progressive news hour “Current Events” program, told APN.

“To see this kind of thing happen, even if just on one issue, is–I keep coming back to the word, disappointed. It’s also reprehensible,” Shapiro said.

“That surprises me a lot. John Sugg has been the editor of Creative Loafing, which in some ways in the past was an alternative to the Journal-Constitution’s editorial point of view but has become less and less so. And I’m just disappointed because John’s a colleague and I thought he knew better,” Beaty said.

“He’s too good of a reporter to be working with the likes of Rick White,” Beaty said.

Harris and Sugg attended Tuesday’s CDHR meeting, along with AHA’s staff and attorneys and Rick White of Alisias.

When Sugg announced his retirement from CL, he told readers of the publication’s website that he and Harris were starting a “think tank” that would focus on public policy solutions to move the City of Atlanta forward.

Harris told APN that he and Sugg were working with White for now in the context of the PR firm, and that this work would parlay into the development of the think tank in the near future. Harris said he planned to send out a press release at that time.

Last year, APN also reported that Janis Ware, the publisher of the Atlanta Voice, one of the city’s Black newspapers, is a development partner with AHA on the McDaniel-Glen redevelopment through her nonprofit corporation, SUMMECH.

APN sent Ware a list of questions upon discovering documentation of the connection. Ware said in an email she would answer the questions but never did.

Alisias has a website but it has very little information about its staff or its clients.

“We [Alisias] specialize in providing confidential advice to individuals and entities that are distressed and/or under attack by the media, the public and special interests,” according to a description on PRWeb.com.

There is no listing for Alisias in the Georgia Corporations Database, although it may be a trade name.

Alisias was also recently in the news when Rick White stopped representing Councilman Lamar Willis.

White told the AJC on August 09, 2007, that he had been “misled” by Willis, when the AJC raised questions about a scholarship program Willis ran. Although White said he dropped Willis as a client, the incident raises questions about whether White does due diligence to ensure the statements he makes to the press and community have a factual basis.

Readers may recall, in April 2007, White asked this APN reporter, “Are you a member of the media?… Well, why don’t you act like one?” when the present reporter was asking a question of AHA director Renee Glover during commotion which occurred at an AHA public hearing.

White has failed numerous times to reply to press requests from APN regarding AHA. The one time he responded to a request, it took four weeks and the answers were incomplete.

White also promised to provide APN with copies of demolition applications for Leila Valley, Inglewood, Jonesboro North, Jonesboro South, and U Rescue Villa. Apparently after talking with AHA, White went back on his promise hours after making it. APN ended up obtaining the applications through the Freedom of Information Act.

White also has made numerous false claims regarding AHA, including regarding resident preferences and the location of voucher-leasing opportunities.

CORRECTION AND CLARIFICATION: Creative Loafing Editor Ken Edelstein emailed APN to correct that Mr. Sugg was in fact a senior editor, not a news editor. Edelstein also provided links to CL articles critical of AHA from several years ago. APN has clarified above that the lack of critical coverage has been during the last two years, after AHA announced their controversial plans to destroy all remaining public housing in Atlanta.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

Revised syndication policy:

Our syndicaton policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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