What does it take to get a story covered in Nashville?
|May 7||Public post|| 17|
So three years and a few days ago, I moved to Nashville to cover politics for the Nashville Scene and Post both. As it was my job as a legislative reporter to try to make sources, I reached out to people I didn’t already know to get coffee or lunch or a drink, as one does. Which is how a few weeks after starting my job, I walked into Clyde’s at about 7 p.m. on a Thursday to meet Cade Cothren.
“I am right when you walk in. Blue shorts, white shirt, drunken,” Cothren emailed me a few minutes prior to my arrival. I had thought I was just meeting him, but it turned out that a whole lot of GOP staffers, plus a few lobbyists and other political types, were in attendance — it was a regular monthly gathering. And they were all drunk.
Then Glen Casada showed up. And here’s what I texted a friend of mine later that night, a friend whose sole advice upon starting my job was, “Don’t ever let them hug you.”
It’s been three years, and memories from that evening still creep me out. (Missing from that text exchange is the sloppy drunk married man who repeatedly tried to grab my thigh; he’s not on staff and is reportedly sober now, so I’m sparing his name.) I did mail payment for my drinks the next day, after telling my boss what had happened — cash, so the guy couldn’t rip up a check. And to be clear, Cothren did not sexually harass me that night or any other occasion. But after that one Thursday night, I stayed clear of ever hanging out with that crowd again, and, except on rare occasions, meeting anyone for a work-related drink not immediately first thing after leaving the office.
Why am I bringing this up now? Well, despite the public reactions from some people this past week, everyone on the Hill knows and has known for a very long time that House Speaker Glen Casada is a sexist creep and a racist. They know he had repeated affairs before his wife finally divorced him in 2017, and that some of those women had connections to his official work. Every reporter up there knows that Casada is a liar, and every reporter has had Cothren lie to their faces too. But so often the lies are just taken at face value by people who should know better.
Take, for example, the incident that has ultimately brought us to this point today, where Cothren has been forced to resign from his absurdly overpaid job and Casada is reportedly on the verge of being forced out of leadership, if not entirely out of the House — that one moment where a very frustrated activist named Justin Jones tossed an almost-empty cup of iced tea into an elevator near Casada and Rep. Debra Moody. As I reported two months ago, if Casada and Moody had actually been soaked in the liquid, they would have known it was iced tea, not “hot coffee” as they publicly claimed. Not a single reporter bothered to ask Jones his version of events and in doing so, propagated a falsehood that made Jones out to be more dangerous than he was. Hot coffee can burn you; it can cause real damage. A few drops of iced tea can possibly stain a white shirt, at worst.
But not only has anyone still not bothered to correct the record on the “hot coffee,” for two months not a single person followed up on my reporting that either Cothren or Casada had attempted to frame Jones, in order to revoke his bail, via an altered screenshot sent to Davidson County D.A. Glenn Funk. That’s a felony, mind you, submitting false evidence.
Finally last week NewsChannel 5’s Phil Williams confirmed my original reporting, adding the bonus material that Cothren unsurprisingly has a history of sending racist texts. More reporting followed, with texts about drug use, seeming sexually harassment, and lewd conversations between Cothren and Casada, leading to the former’s resignation last night.
I’ve asked repeatedly over the past few days why no one bothered to follow up on my original reporting — a story that I pitched to a few outlets but had no takers, leading to the creation of this newsletter. Was it simply because Funk’s office refused to release the doctored screenshot until weeks after Jones’ attorney first attempted to subpoena the material? If so, then that story would have been out a couple of weeks ago when Nick Leonardo finally got the documents. It wasn’t.
Instead, I have been told by more than one reporter — all white, all male (and, to be clear, not Williams, to whom I have not spoken) — that my reporting was not a story without the text messages.
Let me repeat that: The chief of staff of the House Speaker allegedly committing a felony in order to get a young black man wrongfully held in jail without bond was not enough of a “hook” on its own. Why, exactly, do you think that is? Hmmm …
Williams has confirmed on Twitter that Funk had no plans for a special prosecutor until his reporting started. But Funk has personally known about Cothren’s misconduct the entire time. The email with the original faked screenshot was sent to Funk personally. And I texted Funk’s personal cell phone on March 7, before publishing my original investigation, asking if the person who submitted the faked screenshot would be charged with a crime.
Questions need to be asked about why Funk’s office sat on this for so long. Questions need to be asked about House Majority Caucus Chair Cameron Sexton’s, the Tennessee Republican Party’s and other legislators’s and politicos’ roles in pressing for Jones’ bond to be revoked in the first place. And very serious questions need to be asked in Nashville newsrooms about why some alleged felonies — your standard generic crime coverage — end up in print or on television every day, but others aren’t a story without racist and sexist texts attached to them.
Housekeeping notes: This newsletter really will become a regular thing with a regular(ish) schedule soon. This past month has been full of illness (me and my dog) and death (my dog), and just trying to muddle through menial freelance work has been more than I can handle. Your patience is (and has been) appreciated.
I hope that within the next month or two, I will have enough stories reported out to request paying for some of them. And if I don’t, I will not be using that option. (And in case, I will still be sending out some stories to all subscribers, paid or not.)
However, if you would like to help fund the ongoing reporting of said stories (of which there are at least three in process), I’m on Venmo @cgervin. To be very clear, if you don’t ever give me money, that’s ok! (This still holds when I get organized enough to do the subscription part.) I am in the same boat, where I can’t pay a lot of publications for their hard work in reporting, because car payments and the like have to take precedence. It sucks. I get it.
Again, I am not actually asking anyone for money until I’m actually sending out reporting that will hopefully be worth paying for. But a few people have contacted me and asked if they could give me money now. So if that is you, Venmo away. All money will go to bills and/or espresso at the locally-owned coffee shop where I go to write two or three times a week. (The espresso is $3 and fair trade, and obviously I tip.)
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