City, CAP Relied on AJC, CL in Shelter Sabotage Campaign–Shelter Sabotage Part 3
(APN) ATLANTA — There were many aspects of the City of Atlanta and Central Atlanta Progress’s apparent conspiratorial campaign to close the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, and media strategy was one of the most important because the City and CAP wanted to shape and manage public opinion regarding the Task Force and the City’s overall efforts to address homelessness.
APN so far has reviewed over 900 pages of depositions, including the depositions of AJ Robinson and Richard Orr of CAP and Debi Starnes, the Policy Advisor on Homelessness to former Mayor Shirley Franklin and apparently to Mayor Kasim Reed, which, along with emails, illustrate the many facets of the City and CAP’s campaign.
The depositions and emails also provide a rare glimpse into CAP and the City’s internal communications regarding their media strategy, in particular the role of Atlanta’s corporate media–the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper (AJC) and Creative Loafing Atlanta magazine (CL)–in disseminating information favorable to these two entities while disparaging the Task Force.
The evidence shows a picture where Atlanta’s real estate and developer interests clearly relied on these two publications to further their agenda and were consistently happy with the news content produced by the publications in representing their interests to a broader audience.
The evidence even shows how CAP and the City played the two publications against each other in an effort to get both to print more and more negative articles about the Task Force.
It should be noted that neither publication to date has published any articles regarding the mounting evidence of the CAP and Task Force conspiracy, nor of the conflict of interest questions surrounding Starnes. Channels WSB-TV 2 and Fox 5, along with the Atlanta Progressive News, have covered these issues, on the other hand.
WATER SHUT-DOWN COVERAGE
Rhonda Cook at the AJC wrote an article about the City of Atlanta turning off the shelter’s water on December 02, 2008.
“Anita’s [Beaty, Task Force Executive Director] going to win this one the way it’s spinning now,” Orr warned in an email to Beverly Isom, Franklin’s Communications Director, and Starnes on December 02, 2008.
“Beverly: Has anyone from the Mayor’s office talked with Rhonda Cook to let her know there’s a plan to take the shelter folks if it closes?” Orr asked.
“I just did,” Starnes responded. Orr then inquired who she spoke to, and she replied “George Frankl [at Fox 5] and Rhonda Cook at the AJC.”
Then, apparently Orr began having discussions with Cook to have the AJC print more information about the financial difficulties faced by the Task Force, but he wanted the AJC to print the damaging information about the Task Force without any attribution to CAP.
“Rhonda: Off the record, we’ll be glad to give you a lot more background on the shelter issue, but it can still point you in a number of other directions. The water issue is just the tip of the iceberg. Let me know,” Orr wrote in an email to Cook on December 08, 2008.
“Perfect,” Cook responded. “I’m off Mondays so I’m just now getting this… the story I’m working on is supposed to run Sunday. I think,” Cook wrote.
“FYI – Rhonda’s response. We’re in!” Orr wrote to Robinson.
“Throw everything you got at her and think about TV,” Robinson replied.
Then Orr sent Robinson an update on December 17, 2008: “Briefed her [Starnes] on our discussions with Cook… Also Creative Loafing is working on an article for this week, as Debi has talked with the reporter Scott Henry.”
“She [Starnes] didn’t know the direction he [Henry] was taking, but felt pretty good about the interface with him,” Orr wrote.
In a follow-up to Robinson, Orr wrote, “I’m thinking about calling Rhonda and putting a bug in her ear about Creative Loafing’s piece, just to keep her fired up.”
On December 18, 2007, Orr emailed Cook a list of questions he suggested Cook should ask Beaty at the Task Force. “All good suggestions,” Cook replied.
When asked later in a deposition whether CAP also told Cook they had worked deprive the Task Force of funding in the first place, Orr replied, “I don’t tell the press everything I know.”
The next email exchange a few weeks later shows CAP attempting to continue to lobby the AJC to write negative stories about the Task Force, in part by trying to create a competition with Creative Loafing.
“Steve: I got a call from Rhonda Cook while I was out. She wanted me to follow-up with her. We’d like to keep the story line going, so if you’ve got other things we can feed her, let me know,” Orr wrote to Steve Tedder of Barry Companies on January 05, 2009.
“Thanks, Richard – could we feed her more information like what Creative Loafing ran? I thought that was a much more revealing article,” Tedder responded on January 06, 2009.
Orr at one point said he was going to give the name of the “hold-out” on the Task Force’s foreclosure at Mercy Housing to Rhonda Cook at the AJC.
Robinson admitted later in his deposition that the reason was to use the AJC inquiry to pressure Mercy into foreclosing on the Task Force.
CITY AND CAP LOBBY CITIZENS TO WRITE LETTERS TO THE AJC
The AJC opinions page also became a focal point of efforts on both sides of the debate to shape public opinion regarding the Task Force. While all this is part of a free and vibrant democratic exchange, it remains troubling that the City and CAP worked together on the anti-Task Force media strategy in the context of a larger campaign to sabotage the shelter altogether.
In addition, CAP and the City worked together using City resources in some cases to recruit private citizens to write letters attacking the Task Force as well.
After Task Force Board of Directors President Bob Cramer’s article ran in the AJC on Monday, September 10, 2007, Robinson emailed Mayor Franklin, copying Starnes, Sibley, and Beverly Isom, “Good morning… believe today’s AJC editorial from Peachtree Pine leadership needs an official response either from you, Horace, Debi, or all three… we can get some neighbors of Peachtree Pine to respond as well and others.”
“I was undecided. If u [sic] believe so I’ll reconsider,” Franklin responded.
Starnes responded she thought the response should come from Midtown residents and not from Franklin. “The few people that still read the AJC are already 98 percent informed and supportive of your efforts,” Starnes wrote.
“AJ suggested a response. There is the possibility national media will pick this up. That’s the downside of no response,” Franklin said.
Franklin then drafted a response, which Beverly Isom edited and completed.
Meanwhile, Starnes responded to Robinson and Orr, “Could you contact the Kasper people to write a letter from a RESIDENTS perspective.”
“Would the Kaplan folks consider writing a letter in response to Bob Cramer’s (Task Force Chairman) op-ed in today’s paper (copy is below)? I’ll be glad to work with you on the preparation,” Orr wrote to Judith Oxford and Henry [last name unknown] at Kaplan Properties.
“Please focus on daily impact – crime, loitering, safety, etc,” Starnes added in a follow-up to Judith Oxford and Henry.
Oxford wrote an op-ed dated September 11, 2007, although it’s not clear if it ran in the AJC.
PUBLIC RELATIONS FIRM HIRED TO ATTACK TASK FORCE?
One email from Orr to Starnes on January 29, 2008, suggests that the Edelman PR Firm may have at one time been doing public relations work for CAP to assist them in their anti-Task Force campaign.
“I’m trying to provide Edelman a list of the player [sic] in the whole discussion of homelessness. Got any additions to this list below?”
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Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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