I was disappointed and hurt Sunday morning when the Chattanooga area was told -- at the very top of the daily newspaper that "Ties to sheriff pay off for 'Friends of Jim." I was disappointed because my name wasn't among those listed by Ansley Haman, a staff writer for the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, and I was hurt because I believe Jim Hammond is far and away the best sheriff to ever serve the people of Hamilton County.
I don't know why, nor can I explain, why a newspaper that touts itself "To Give The News Impartially, Without Fear Or Favor," continues to attack Sheriff Hammond. I suspect there is a disgruntled employee, or former associate of the department, who has a staff writer's ear and uses it to spread misleading and meaningless information about the sheriff's office.
The writer Haman began the front-page story like this:
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"It pays to be a friend of Jim.
"Or relative. Or campaign donor. Or neighbor.
"'Friends of Jim' is the unofficial name for a group of part-time Hamilton County Sheriff's Office employees who have ties to Sheriff Jim Hammond and are paid off the books."
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Before I begin, I'll remind you that just several weeks ago the newspaper accused the sheriff of favoritism in the way a former deputy's arrest was handled and alleged that Sheriff Hammond had "tried to pull multiple strings" on behalf of the man. The newspaper's cartoonist even submitted a sketch that I hope he thought was cute but was labeled by many as hateful.
So, yes sir, I think Sunday's latest story, "Friends of Jim," is what we who used to be in the ink business called "piling on" and I can't name many among us who don't hire our friends when we can. My grandfather taught us early that you "help your friends. You help your friend's children. And you help you friend's children's children."
As I read writer Haman's latest attempt at sensationalism, it solidified my belief the sheriff knows exactly what he's doing. By hiring former employees part-time, by putting an experienced and knowledgeable person in place to cut down on full-time positions, he is showing good leadership and also sound stewardship. It is pretty obvious to me.
But in the age of "gotcha' journalism," which some Chattanooga Times-Free Press writers use with delight to affront the newspaper's subscribers and advertisers, Sheriff Hammond doesn't flinch at the barbs they throw. Of course, they try to find "bigger rocks" to hurl and end up with mockery like Sunday's fodder, which was like drinking tepid tea.
My heavens, Hammond defended himself well on every point but the story -- unbelievably -- was still chosen as the lead story of the day. Are you going to try to tell me there isn't some kind of hogwash going on? What, was it the quote Hammond said about getting tough with gangs that got the liberals at the newspaper all astir? Please, let the man keep us safe.
Obviously the story's timing is in connection with the sheriff's department budget plea but to read it gives commissioners a clear view that no money is being spent frivolously. But with an aging fleet, greater demands on patrol officers and more needs for public safety than ever before, who among us doesn't foresee a pressing needs for a sound and effective sheriff's department?
Once again, you can read what you will but the Poison Control people will tell you the best antidote only comes when you know the type of poison and its source. Let's use some common sense; I read the story twice and -- just like the one before that accused the sheriff of pulling strings for a friend -- Jim Hammond has done nothing that I or any of my friends wouldn't have done.
I'm telling you that I've know some fine sheriffs who have served our area communities well but Jim Hammond is the best we've ever had. Quit picking at him and leave him alone. He has far more pressing matters at hand and when he takes time to answer silly questions or explain meaningless innuendo and still gets put at the top of page one in the Sunday newspaper, it might make him wonder why on earth he ever pledged to safeguard all of us, including the literary dummies.
The newspaper needs to sharpen its focus. Another front-page story chided some political candidates who haven't voted in some elections when -- in fact -- the same can be said of almost every voter in the state. What's with that? I'll tell you -- gotcha' journalism at its finest. I just wish it wasn't so disappointing or hurt so bad.