In the Sunday editions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press the editors will often include a feature on “fake news,” or “News That’s Not” but I don’t suspect them to include themselves in the junk report this weekend. The Chattanooga newspaper once again stumbled Thursday when they had an embarrassing lead story on the front page. The headline read, “DA accused of marrying employee, hiring wife’s brother.”
Well, yes, that’s very accurate … but so what? Even President Biden would yelp, “C’mon, Man!”
Everybody in Hamilton County/Chattanooga government circles knows that Attorney General Neal Pinkston and his current Chief of Staff, Melydia Clewell, have been married for several years.
And most know that Neal, after he got to know the combat-wounded Kerry Clewell – who fought in Iraq and suffered a serious head injury during heavy action in Afghanistan – has become an integral part of Pinkston’s award-winning department. Kerry was involved in military law enforcement and intelligence after he volunteered for the Army the week after the 9-1-1 attack. Today he is a top investigator for the Hamilton County District Attorney General’s office.
To even hint that Neal Pinkston has done one thing that isn’t totally above board or cast aspersions in the slightest way of any impropriety or misjudgment is downright wrong. To publicly humiliate Melydia, who I have known since she came here as a TV anchor about 30 years ago, is especially distasteful after she spent about 20 years as a news director for Channel 3 and Channel 9. My longtime pal was classy then and is classy now.
Further, to ridicule her brother for what? being her brother? is garbage. When I first glanced at the story, I figured it was the start of pre-election slime, that a contender for the DA’s office had triggered such poppycock. Pinkston will run for re-election this time next year in a primary if need be. The main election will be in November of ’22 but that makes little to no sense to challenge Neal. Pinkston is the same crowd of “untouchables” like County Court Clerk Bill Knowles, Mayor Jim Coppinger, Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw, and darn near every sitting judge we’ve been as blessed with in this community.
Sure, there needs to be some clean up on the County Commission (i.e., Joe Graham has been sorely missed) and there is excitement over Sheriff Jim Hammond’s pick of Chief Austin Garrett to run that office. Hammond is retiring after a sensational run and hiring Garrett will assure a brilliant transition. Good things beget good things.
Just you wait until I tell Uncle Nonya about this. Ole Nonya is the best friend of every person who works in the public realm because when a sensationalist newshound gets too close in one’s vigor over a spouse, the families, or dogs, the accused needs only to put the idiocy of innocuous questions in his hands, “That’s Nonya business!” More often than not, ‘Nonya’ is an after statement in a plea the reporter behaves to industry, and humanitarian, standards.
The newspaper reported Thursday that Pinkston – divorced two years prior -- hired Melydia six years ago and that after about two years the two-coworkers developed a love interest. For the record, that is hardly a new coincidence for mankind. A statement from the DA’s office read that Pinkston said, "After working for years together, Melydia Clewell and I discovered we had more than simply our shared interest in our jobs," the statement read, "As many other people have discovered, a mature love can develop over time between friends, and that is what happened in our lives. Marriage is a private matter, but as I plan to seek re-election as district attorney, I'm happy to tell you that Melydia and I have committed our lives in marriage. We are blessed."
While the marriage is quite clearly “Nonya” business, the newspaper stooped to a further low by admitting its reporters had prepared a 30-question form they demanded the district attorney fill out and return. “The newspaper has sent a list of more than 30 questions that remain unanswered to Pinkston's office, including when the romantic relationship began and whether the supervisory relationships comply with state law. The newspaper has also asked a number of questions about the recruitment process for both of the Clewells' jobs.”
What is the purpose of such tripe? If Pinkston has committed some egregious violation of state law I feel certain that is a matter between Pinkston and State Attorney General Herbert Slatery and one that can easily be resolved.
But to taunt the newspaper’s readership with the page one headline, “DA accused of marrying employee, hiring wife’s brother,” runs in total counter to founder Mr. Ochs’ vow, “To Give The News Impartially, Without Fear or Favor.”
Put me down as a longtime subscriber who is ashamed of the newspaper. You owe Chattanooga and Neal Pinkston’s family an apology.