Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Chris Chandler -- News & Commentary

Clear Channel's greatest apologist, WHAS' own Chris Chandler, was hard at work yesterday editorializing in his five minute "news" spot. When I first started listening, I found Chris Chandler's asides amusing. But when it became clear he had an agenda that went beyond just giving us the headlines he ripped and read off the wire, the amusement stopped.

His latest..... "You might justifiably say, 'who cares', but former Vice President Al Gore said President Bush is breaking the law." (Note, I'm quoting the second part from memory, so I may be a bit off."

So Chris Chandler thinks you'd be justified to say "who cares" about the opinion of someone who spent 8 years a heartbeat away from the President and years in Congress. Is this the same Chris Chandler who called the integrity of Bob Edwards as a newsman into question a couple of years ago for comments Edwards made at UK about Clear Channel's damage to local radio. Although I can't find the letter in its entirety, Chandler wrote comments at at Poynter.org, criticizing Edwards for his "liberal" bias and his going to work for XM radio, which he implied was part of the Clear Channel family. (Although, with 3% ownership of XM at the time, it seems unlikely you can say he was working Clear Channel anymore than he was working for a mutual fund that might have owned the stock).

I once had an exchange with Chris Chandler regarding Clear Channel's destruction of WHAS. I expressed my concern that the news department, which used to be stocked full of award winning reporters and used to be given several minutes at the top of each hour for lengthy stories, was being replaced with rip and read news and brief local reports from only a few local anchors. Chandler's reply (which, sadly, appears to be lost from my e-mail), was that the lengthy stories that WHAS used to do were boring, and that the station had better news now than it did before.

I can understand Chandler wanting to tell himself that. After all, it's his news now, not that of the talent that preceded him. But Chandler seems a bit of a hypocrite to me to decry Bob Edwards and his credentials as a newsman for "liberal" commentary when Chandler does a ton of "right wing hack" editorializing on his own during the few minutes he's given each day for his show.

Maybe it's just jealousy.

"The Press and Freedom: Some disturbing trends"

by Bob Edwards

(Adapted from the annual Joe Creason Lecture at the University of Kentucky.)

GOOD EVENING, and thank you for being here tonight. A pleasure to be embedded with you this evening.

Kentucky journalism and broadcasting have changed drastically since I left here 33 years ago. Back then, you owned it. Your major newspapers, television and radio stations were owned and operated by Kentuckians. Today home ownership is pretty much confined to small-town weeklies, KET and the public radio stations. Your major daily newspapers are now provincial outposts for absentee corporate owners who expect profit margins of 20 to 30 percent. The managers of your TV stations report to bosses far away who care less about the stations' community service and journalistic exposes than they care about how those stations are contributing to the share price of corporate stock.

Your radio stations, which once took pride in covering local news, just don't do that anymore because they don't have to.As for your friendly local radio personalities, a few of them still are -- local, that is.

A great many are not local, but they're pretending to be. It's called voice-tracking. A fellow sits in a studio in Birmingham and does the same show for dozens of stations, occasionally dropping in some weather and other tidbits about your town that he's plucked off the Internet. Half a dozen or more stations in a single town are owned by the same company. An individual or a corporation used to be limited to five stations nationally and no two in the same town. Today, a single company, Clear Channel, owns more than 1,250 stations across the country and is out buying more. One of the stations it owns is WHAS, the clear-channel, 50,000-watt boomer that I can hear in Washington when the atmospherics are right. I used to listen on my way to work at 1:30 in the morning, just to hear a little bit of home. But now the man doing the overnight program on WHAS is nowhere near Louisville, and he may never have stepped foot on Kentucky soil in his life. He's doing a program -- from somewhere -- for all the Clear Channel stations. So unless the Cards are playing late at night, there is no reason for me to ever again listen to WHAS.

It's kind of a cruel, ironic joke. The rise of cable TV and the Internet were supposed to democratize the media and give us many voices and numerous points of view. Instead, market forces and deregulation have clobbered diversity. The networks and cable channels have the same owners -- Hollywood studios, mainly -- and the most popular Web sites for news are those of news organizations firmly established before the Web was spun.

We are currently a nation at war and the free flow of information and ideas is never more important than it is at times like these. But monopolies choke that flow, allowing only the information and ideas that facilitate that other flow -- the flow of dollars into their pockets.

As exhibit A, I give you the Dixie Chicks, one of the hottest musical acts in the country -- or at least they were until one of the Chicks, in a bit of anti-war fervor, said they were ashamed that the President is from Texas. The backlash against the Chicks for making that remark is fine if it comes from ex-fans who say they won't buy any more records by the Dixie Chicks. The marketplace is a respectable forum for freedom of expression.

The Chicks have a right to their opinions. Music fans have a right to tell the chicks to go to hell and to boycott their concerts and refuse to buy their records. Free speech is never really free -- it always costs something. But here's what's wrong with this picture. The backlash against the Chicks is spearheaded not by fans, but by Clear Channel Radio, owner of 1,250 radio stations. Clear Channel is based in Texas. Clear Channel loves George W. Bush. Clear Channel would like the administration of George W. Bush to remove all remaining restrictions on the ownership of media properties. That is exactly what the Bush administration is considering.

The Federal Communications Commission, chaired by Mike Powell, the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, is reviewing the last remaining rules restricting media ownership. Before he became FCC chairman, Mike Powell was a communications lawyer, making fabulous sums of money lobbying on behalf of the broadcast industry -- the industry he's now supposed to be regulating. When he is finished regulating the broadcasting industry, Mike Powell will return to -- the broadcasting industry. Now how tenacious is Mike Powell going to be in regulating the broadcasting industry while he is on this temporary hiatus from the broadcasting industry?

But back to Clear Channel, which daily tells Bush and Powell that it loves them. Is Clear Channel's move on those Dixie Chicks an expression of patriotism or a business decision? Should Clear Channel have the right to ban the Chicks from its 1,250 stations? I think what individuals do is fine -- burn the CDs if you want. What industry does is another matter. Clear Channel can say the Dixie Chicks are tools of Saddam if it wants to, but it should not be allowed to kill the livelihood of any recording artist based on politics.

We've had ugly periods in our history having to do with blacklisting of people our politicians didn't like. I won't spend a lot of time telling you about what actors, directors, producers, journalists and others went through in the Red scares of the 1940s and '50s. Creative people went to prison, had their careers ruined, their marriages broken up, and, yes, there were suicides, all because politicians found communism, or rather the fear of communism, a fruitful political issue. Ladies and gentlemen, you do not want to return to that era.

Witchburning is an ugly chapter in our history. It should not be revived, even if it's good for business.

Here's Exhibit B, taken from a story in The Washington Post of March 28. A Cleveland company called McVay Media describes itself as the largest radio consulting firm in the world. McVay developed a memo to its client stations advising them on how to use the war to their best business advantage. Called a "War Manual," the memo says the stations should "Get the following production pieces into the studio NOW . . . patriotic music that makes you cry, salute, get cold chills! Go for the emotion. . . . Air the National Anthem at a specified time each day as long as the U.S.A. is at war." The article also quotes Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers,a journal for the radio talk business. Harrison says, "It's counterintuitive for hosts and program directors to pay too much attention to the antiwar movement right now."

Thirty-one years ago, I worked at WTOP, the all-news station in Washington. According to the Post article, WTOP's Web site featured links to the following websites: Thankthetroops.com ("Ways to Help Troops," "Sign Up to Thank Military," "National Military Family Association," "U.S. Central Command"), the home pages of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and the Department of Defense, the Stars and Stripes military newspaper, and email support to military. Another box read: "Support Our Troops. Send a greeting, a thank-you card or a donation." Balancing all that were links to two peace groups.

As for television, here's what the Post article had to say:

"The influential television news consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates recently put it in even starker terms: Covering war protests may be harmful to a station's bottom line. In a survey released . . . on the eve of war, the firm found that war protests were the topic that tested lowest among 6,400 viewers across the nation. Magid says only 14 percent of respondents said TV news wasn't paying enough attention to anti-war demonstrations and peace activities; just 13 percent thought that in the event of war, the news should pay more attention to dissent."

Here again, the lack of diversity among broadcast owners is a factor in what information gets to the American public. Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Media Access Project is quoted by the Post as saying, "with increasing concentration of ownership, if one or two big companies are using the same corporate-wide policy, or relying on the same consultants, there aren't effective competitive forces" to ensure alternative opinions.

Many Americans feel they're getting propaganda from the so-called embedded journalists in Iraq. Without question, the embedding program has been a PR bonanza for the military. And it's not just me saying that -- it's the military, which is wondering why it didn't think of this several wars ago. I was one of those complaining that the military wasn't providing access. Now they are, so I can't very well complain. I do, however, want to see the embedded reporters supplemented by independent reporters, who are unfortunately referred to by the military as "unilaterals."

Also, editors and news directors have to make sure that the stories filed by embedded reporters are given some context -- and that readers, viewers and listeners are reminded that these stories from the front are little snapshots of a given unit at a particular place and time -- they are not The War.

What we're seeing on TV is the marriage of access with advanced technology. One morning I saw Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld answer questions at the Pentagon followed by Iraq's information minister delivering a live harangue from Baghdad. There were pictures of missile launches from American ships and pictures of Iraqi anti-aircraft fire moments later. Fires in oil fields. Iraqi troops surrendering, U.S. troops in a firefight and, of course, tank-cam. A live picture taken from a camera mounted on the lead tank of the invasion force as it raced north through the desert on its way to Baghdad. You just have to marvel at what technology has meant for war reporting and note how it contrasts with our images of Pearl Harbor, Midway and Normandy.

But remember what the news looked like in the days and weeks before the war began? Television news was consumed with the fate of Elizabeth Smart and other kidnapped girls. There was a lot about that woman who accidentally ran over her husband three or four times with the family car until his cheating butt was good and dead. And then there were all those interviews with the yutzes who are on those so-called "reality" TV shows.

In other words, what passed for news was a lot of stuff that had no bearing on your life whatsoever. But it was titillating, and it might have kept you from reaching for the zapper and tuning in the ballgame -- which is the whole point of doing tabloid stories and celebrity gossip and calling it news.

It was the same before Sept. 11. We had spent an entire summer consumed with Gary Condit and Chandra Levy, a so-called story that mattered only to the Levy family and the voters in Condit's district in California. Then unimaginable tragedy hits New York City and Arlington, Va., and we all have to go back to journalism. Of course, it didn't last long. Thank God for Brittany and the Osbournes. Then we had Ben and J-Lo to relieve our distress over the break-up of Tom and Nicole.

This war will pass and journalism will return to the trivial, the sensational and that which we really need not know to get through a day. Did Robert Blake think there were blanks in that gun? Does Winona Ryder have a receipt for that outfit? A Father's Day frolic with Michael Jackson. Do trick-or-treaters ring the bell at Phil Spector's house?

No one can be blamed these days for not knowing what passes for a news program or who might be a legitimate journalist. The old rules have been tossed out the window. The definitions have no meaning anymore. There used to be lines no serious journalist ever crossed. Those lines are pretty blurry these days. Television hires political operatives and makes them anchors. CNN got one of its anchors from the cast of "NYPD Blue."

If the "Larry King Show" is the program of choice for politicians, then aren't Larry and I in the same business? Young people don't know that there were once people who were strictly entertainers and others who were strictly reporters. I read a comment by a radio consultant who said young people believe Howard Stern does a public affairs program because he sometimes talks about stories in the news. It was nearly a career-ending moment for me when I read that. What's the use of getting up at 1 o'clock in the morning to do news for that generation? Maybe I should become Master-Flash Bob E and rap the news.

But I really do want to work for that generation. After all, they're the ones who are going to have to decide what to do about all of us boomers when we retire. I'm afraid they're going to conclude that there's just so many of us clogging up the golf courses that maybe euthanasia deserves another look.

I want them to be informed. They bring to mind a quote from Sydney Biddle Barrows. Do you remember Sydney? She was the Mayflower Madam, so-called because she was the product of several high society families and her hookers catered to a high class clientele. Or as Sydney put it, "I was in the wrong business, but I did it with dignity." Sydney had a lot of great quotes. She told her employees, "Never say anything on the phone that you wouldn't want your mother to hear at your trial." Sydney had this notion that the international bankers and other big spenders she cultivated wanted a young woman who would not just service them in the traditional way, but would also engage them in a conversation that would be up to their standards. . . .

Young people don't have to know all the particulars of the Iran/contra scandal, but they should know that there is an International Monetary Fund, and they should know what it does. Apparently, many do -- because the IMF can't have a meeting these days without hordes of U-2 fans storming the building demanding Third World debt forgiveness.

If the young are getting their news only from MTV, who can blame them? Where are the role models for something better? Well, apparently not among the White House press corps.

Did you see that news conference last month? First of all you should never miss a George W. Bush news conference because they are as rare as comet sightings. This President has been in office for more than two years and he's held exactly eight news conferences. At the same point in his presidency, George Bush the elder had held 58 news conferences. Of the current President's eight news conferences, only two have been in prime time.

But last month's news conference was remarkable for more than the fact that it happened at all. Reporters were ushered into the East Room in pairs -- summoned two-by-two, like the animals boarding Noah's Ark. Once the news conference got underway, the President did not recognize reporters who raised their hands. Instead, he called their names from a list prepared by news secretary Ari Fleischer, the man who told reporters after Sept. 11 that they should watch what they say. When CNN's John King attempted to ask a question, the President told him to wait because, the President said, "This is scripted." Then he called the next name on his list: John King. Then he taunted King for daring to ask a multi-part question.

Among the names not called -- and perhaps not on Ari's Fleischer's list of approved questioners -- were the reporters from Time, The Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek and Kentucky's own Helen Thomas, who for decades has had the distinction of asking the first question and then closing the news conference by saying, "Thank you, Mr. President," which became the title of her autobiography. But Helen is no longer a reporter. She's now a columnist, paid to give opinions, and one of her recent opinions is that George W. Bush "is the worst President ever." Clearly, she did not watch what she said. Another White House tradition, the follow-up question, also appears to be history.

We can fault the President and Fleischer for all that -- and I certainly do -- but they are only part of the dynamic. You can't hold a press conference without the press, yet President Bush nearly did. Where were they that night?

Some of those whose names were called might have bothered to ask a decent question. With the nation about to enter a war that's decidedly unpopular everywhere but here, no one asked the hard questions. Instead, the President was asked if America should pray. He was asked if he worried in the wee small hours of the night. The first black reporter to get a chance to question the President since his decision to support a rollback of affirmative action asked him, "How is your faith guiding you?" One critic said this was the journalistic equivalent of, "Mr. President, you look great today. What's your secret?"

So, Bob, think you can do better? Well, yes, I do. So here's what I would ask the President of the United States if he were here tonight.

"Mr. President, you're asking for $76 billion to pay for this war, and you'll probably go back to Congress to ask for more. Given the fact that there'll be severe deficits for as long as you are President, why not let your tax cut slide?"

"You offered an attractive bribe to Turkey in exchange for permission to use Turkey as a base from which to invade Northern Iraq. Was the vote of the Turkish parliament to refuse the offer an example of the democracy you're trying to establish in the Middle East?"

"How did you expect to win international approval for your plan to invade Iraq when you have repeatedly told the rest of the world that the United States is ready to act alone in virtually every field, as witnessed by your withdrawal from international treaties and agreements having to do with the environment, war crimes and other matters that the rest of the world considers important?"

"Mr. President, at your news conference last month, you mentioned the Sept. 11 attacks no fewer than eight times, even though no one asked you about Sept. 11 -- they were asking you about the invasion of Iraq. The Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. Will you please elaborate on the connection, if any, between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, who, if his videotapes are to be believed, has about as much affinity for Saddam Hussein as you do?"

"Mr. President, you have spent billions of dollars on homeland security to see the nation's capital paralyzed by a North Carolina tobacco farmer driving his tractor onto the Mall. Did [Homeland Security] Secretary [Tom] Ridge miss a memo or two?"

"Does pre-emptive military action without provocation set a bad example for other countries who can claim actual provocation? India and Pakistan over Kashmir, for example. Greece and Turkey over Cyprus. South Korea, provoked almost daily by North Korea."

"And speaking of North Korea, Mr. President, who is the worse dictator -- Saddam Hussein or Kim Il Jong?"

"Kim is weeks away from turning North Korea into a nuclear power if he hasn't already done so. Saddam only dreams of becoming a nuclear power, so why is he a bigger priority than Kim? And why don't you send your so-called precision bombers to take out the one plant in North Korea that you know to be a potential source of nuclear weapons?"

"When I interviewed your wife, Mr. President, she said the best byproduct of ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan was the liberation of Afghan women. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told me the same thing when I asked him what the U.S. achieved in its war in Afghanistan. If the liberation of Arab women is so important to your administration, then why is the United States not invading Saudi Arabia?"

"Sir, would you say your policy of non-involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is working out? If so, for whom?"

"Is it possible that the war in Iraq will result in regime change in Great Britain?"

Well that's just a sampling of the questions I'd ask, though in more peaceful times I'd be likely to ask about labor laws, media ownership concentration, freedom of information, government secrecy, suspension of civil liberties, the environment, energy, corporate corruption and most assuredly health care reform.

Now why are the tough questions not being asked? Do journalists wearing their flag lapel pins on TV not want to appear unpatriotic in time of war? The answer is yes. Av Westin said it very well last month. Av Westin goes back to the glory days of network television news. He was a producer at CBS for 20 years and a producer at ABC for 21 more years.

He said, "Since 9/11, the press has been watching the opinion polls almost as much as the administration, which explains why it has taken quite a while to assume the kind of normal adversarial relationship, much less the kind that was rampant during the Clinton years and the Nixon years." He added, "There is a considerable amount of self-censorship going on in terms of pushing government officials on certain topics. But I've always believed our job was to ask questions that need to be asked, regardless of official reaction or public opinion."

He's absolutely right. Being popular might be good for business at a time when newspapers are losing readers and TV networks are losing viewers. And the owners of today's media, who are business tycoons, not journalists, would like us to be good representatives of the corporate brands. But that is not our job. We are supposed to be surrogates for the public -- the eyes and ears of citizens who don't have the access we have. We are to hold public officials to account, and if that makes them angry at us -- well, that just goes with our job, and we have to take it. If pointed questions make public officials squirm -- well, that just goes with their job, and they're supposed to take it. That's the price that comes with the privilege of serving the people.

The press didn't wait until the intern scandal to ask tough questions of Bill Clinton, so why is the incumbent getting a pass? The country deliberately decided not to have a king. We show the President some deference because of the office he holds. We call him "Mr. President." It is NPR policy never to refer to an incumbent President by last name only. He is "President Bush" or "Mr. Bush" -- but never just "Bush." Yet he is not a king. He is a citizen temporarily serving us, living in our house, drawing our pay, spending our money and acting in our name. We have the right and, yes, the duty, to expect him to perform at a high standard. If we don't do this, we're performing below the standard that should be expected of us.

When we were little, we thought it would be really cool to be a newspaper reporter or a TV or radio correspondent. Well, sometimes it really is cool.

But we don't deserve to enjoy the cool part of the job if we're not willing to do the heavy lifting that sometimes comes with it. Public officials are measured by how well they perform in times of crisis. If they can't take the heat, they should be in another line of work. It should be the same way with journalists. We cannot take a dive just because the country is at war. Indeed, our responsibility grows in times like these. It is not unpatriotic to expect the best from our leaders. Likewise, the public should expect no less than the best from us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Today, I consider myself the lyingest man in the whole world!!!

ALS. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Lou Gehrig's disease. A horrible disease that robs your ability to function while leaving your mind intact to contemplate your fate.

Enter Todd "Kelly" Smith, the 35 year old (now former) program director for WDJX-FM here in Louisville. In 2002, Todd Kelly revealed to the world that he had ALS. His touching story was told in a Courier Journal article reprinted below:
There are no rumpled angels or absent-minded uncles in this bittersweet story of a wonderful life all but doomed to a premature end.

Yet there is a Capra-esque quality to Todd Kelly's tale. Like bread cast on the waters, the good words and deeds that Kelly has spread since childhood are returning in his hours of need.

"I really do feel like George Bailey sometimes," said Kelly, program director at WDJX-FM (99.7).

After a lifetime of giving to others, Kelly, 32, has for the past 2-1/2 years been busy receiving aid and encouragement in his fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

In addition to the bedrock support of family, church and friends, Radio One, Kelly's employer since 1993, assured him that his job was safe, provided him with extra help and whipped up support for Louisville's first ALS benefit walk.

The staff and management of Phoenix Hill Tavern, Kelly's favorite nightspot for 13 years, worked without pay and recruited top local bands for a surprise benefit that raised $1,600 last fall. At Christmas, general manager Frankie Gray and crew gave Kelly a special electric massager to soothe his severe and nearly constant lower-back pain.

At Harvest Baptist Church in Fairdale, a fellow parishioner Kelly barely knew gave him a $4,500 wheelchair that belonged to her son, who died of ALS around the time Kelly was diagnosed.

Kelly also received a warm call and a handwritten letter from notoriously crusty comedian Jerry Lewis, namesake of the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon, for which Kelly has worked as a volunteer since he was 7 years old.

Kelly talked with customer service manager Linda Suratt at WDJX.

Kelly, 32, who mixed a tape at the radio station, said he plans to outlive his doctor's predictions. "It can be done," he said. But Kelly's favorite gift was a $1 donation personally delivered to Radio One's Fourth Street headquarters by a preschool boy. His favorite salutation came from Patrick LeRoy, a 7-year-old muscular dystrophy patient who mailed a hand-drawn Christmas card that read, "You're going to get better!"

Even after 2-1/2 years, Kelly is as amazed as he is grateful: "So many people have done so much for me that it's truly unbelievable. Sometimes I even sit back and wonder, 'Are these people for real?' "

They are as real as Kelly's disease, a slow and certain killer with no cure and only one drug, Rilutek, approved by the Food and Drug Administration to impede its progress.

The concern and affection shown by friends and near-strangers alike are as authentic as the stabbing pains in Kelly's back and the dreadful fears that accompany every new twitch or twinge. ALS is a progressive and incurable neuromuscular disease that eventually paralyzes those it afflicts, leaving them unable to eat or breathe.

The people of Kelly's acquaintance, his personal Beaver Falls, are as real as the generous works he has done in a life well-spent, friends say. So well-spent that being struck two years ago with ALS seems like a bitter confirmation of the old saw that says no good deed goes unpunished.

"When we got the news," Kelly said, "I asked my mom, 'Did I do something wrong? Did I not help enough people? Why is this happening to me?' "

It's a question no one can answer, not his pastor nor his family nor even a close friend who also suffers from chronic disease.

When Kelly was diagnosed in June 2000, he was told he had three to five years to live. The shattering prognosis was delivered just weeks before Kelly's 30th birthday, 25 years before the average onset of ALS, which afflicts about one in 50,000 people in the United States.

"Of course I asked, 'Why me?' " said Kelly, a 1988 graduate of Pleasure Ridge Park High School. "I still ask that question - every day, in fact, even though I know there is no answer. I just have to accept it. I didn't ask for this. I can't change it. I'm getting better and better with it, but I'm not going to lie. It's pretty rough."

No one deserves a fatal affliction, but perhaps some are less deserving than others.

"This young man is a true angel among us," said Kelly's brother, Mark Kelly. "He has been a Big Brother for over five years, has been volunteering his time for (the MDA) for 25 years, and was the first person to take a chance and start" a local benefit walk for ALS.

Louisville's first "Walk to D'Feet ALS" in October owed its rousing success to Kelly's hard work and huge network of friends, co-workers and connections.

"I took it personally," said Kelly's boss, Dale Schaefer, general manager and vice president of marketing for Radio One Louisville. "I told Todd that we would go above and beyond just promoting the walk on radio.

"I sent out a personal letter to several hundred advertisers and said, 'I've got something affecting me and a member of my Radio One family, and I'm going to ask you to help out.' "

Schaefer's call and others were answered. The walk vastly exceeded expectations by raising more than $40,000.

It shouldn't have been a surprise. Kelly, in addition to being a legendary workhorse, is an old hand at raising money for charity. For 25 years, he has reported each Labor Day weekend to WAVE-TV as a volunteer for Lewis' annual muscular dystrophy telethon.

Twenty-three years after Kelly first lent a hand to MDA, he went to his doctor's office complaining of searing pain in his right hamstring. Kelly thought he'd simply overextended himself in workouts. He got severe cramps sometimes playing basketball.

These weren't cramps. They were the onset of a muscle-ravaging disease hauntingly similar to MD.

"It was a huge blow," he said. "It still is. I have dreams about it sometimes, about what might happen. I see myself in a wheelchair trying to go in somewhere and no matter what I do, I can't get in. It bothers me."

The diagnosis knocked Kelly, who is single, into a deep depression but also into the arms of a broad support network. His good friend, WAVE-TV broadcaster Dawne Gee, and his parents, Warren and Sybil Smith, were well-prepared to empathize.

Warren Smith has suffered since 1990 from Guillian-Barré Syndrome, an inflammatory nerve disorder that causes muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. Gee was diagnosed seven years ago with lupus, a chronic but seldom fatal disease in which the immune system attacks the body's organs.

"My heart was really, really heavy for him," Gee said, "because when you're diagnosed with a chronic illness, I don't care how wise you are or how old you are, it's a smack in the face because you suddenly have to face your own mortality.

"I reminded Todd that you are not your disease, and that nobody can tell you how long you're going to live. That's left up to you, God and whatever technology might be out there."

One of Kelly's next calls was to Jack Alumbaugh, pastor at Harvest Baptist Church, Kelly's congregation for eight years. He asked Alumbaugh a sadly common question: Why did God let this to happen to me?

"It's an especially tough question to answer for someone Todd's age," Alumbaugh said. "At that age, there is a lot of bitterness and blaming. You just have to assure them that God is not against them or singling them out.

"People like Todd who have a good spiritual base, they just need somebody to listen to them. I've found that after you listen to them and encourage them, they become the folks who manage to get through all right. And they're usually the ones who live longer."

About half of all ALS sufferers die within 18 months of diagnosis, according to the ALS Survival Guide at www.lougehrigsdisease.net. Kelly's more generous prognosis reflected his relative youth and excellent fitness at the time.

He plans to outlive doctors' predictions.

"It can be done," Kelly said. "I know one woman who has made it for nine years. Then again, I've known some people who were diagnosed and passed away within a year."

Kelly can't help but wonder which fate lies in store for him. He recently suffered a scary headache that lasted for five days.

"Usually I take one Advil and it's gone," he said, "but I just can't seem to lick this one and it bothers me. I wonder."

Mostly, however, Kelly works and prays. And hopes, with the help of some encouraging words from Lewis.

"I'll never forget the way he ended the conversation," Kelly said. "He said, 'Todd, you keep your head up. You're going to be the one who wins the battle.'

"Maybe he'll be right."

Todd Kelly fought on bravely, as seen in the next story from the LEO.

It’s not easy being radio personality Todd Kelly. Three years after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, the man his friends call Bear learned he has cancer. More specifically, secondary bone cancer, in both legs, which will more than likely lead to amputation.

That’s where the pity party ends — what Kelly wants is your money. And it is for a good cause.

This week, two benefits are set to raise money for Kelly’s ALS Foundation: Thanksgiving Eve at Fourth Street Live, and Thanksgiving night at Phoenix Hill Tavern. Proceeds go directly to his foundation, which funds research and supplies, including wheelchairs, walkers and canes for local people with ALS.

Kelly, 34, is promotions director at WDJX/WEGK and has worked for the Radio One channels for 13 years. Being on the radio and also out in the public gives him a bully pulpit for talking about ALS, a disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and leads to the loss of muscle control throughout the body, eventually causing total paralysis.

“I’m very fortunate to be in the business I’m in,” he told me during a casual interview at Highland Coffee on Fourth Street last week. Kelly detailed his health history as if I was a familiar friend. He spoke matter-of-factly and never lost his composure, his desire to get his story out and help others trumping any self-pity. “As soon as people found out (about the ALS), they started coming out of the woodwork to help out.”

Kelly started his ALS Foundation in 2002, a year after his initial diagnosis. “I didn’t want to make a spectacle out of it,” he says. “But about four to six months after I was diagnosed, people just found out. I didn’t want to be the poster child for ALS, but I wanted to do something to raise money.”

So far, Kelly says his Foundation has raised more than $150,000.

The cancer diagnosis came only a few months ago — after he went to the doctor complaining of difficulty breathing. The doctors found a malignant polyp behind his lungs, and a few days later, the polyp burst and the cancer spread directly to his right leg. A few weeks later, it was detected in his left leg. The cancer is so severe that his doctors issued an ultimatum: “They gave me from a Friday to a Monday to decide whether I wanted to be treated for cancer or ALS,” he explains. “And they also said I might lose my right leg in 10 months. In fact, they want to do the surgery as soon as possible, but I’m not ready for that yet.”

Kelly says finding new ways to raise money helps keep his spirits up. He still works out every day and enjoys spending time with his friends and family.

“I’ve got a long road ahead, but I have lots of support,” he says. “I want to do everything I can. Could I rest more? Probably. But who couldn’t? But if it’s going to defeat me, I want to leave a legacy for someone to continue on.”

The Gobble Trot on Thanksgiving Eve at Fourth Street Live is sort of like a pub crawl — featuring drink specials, T-shirts and a $500 raffle. Troy Thomas, marketing manager at Fourth Street Live, says the pairing of the event with Kelly’s Foundation was a natural.

“We’re always looking for ways to give back to the community,” he says. “Todd’s a great guy and a community leader. His foundation does amazing things for this community, and this was a great opportunity for us to give back to Todd.”

The “Togas, Turkeys, and Tunes for Todd” benefit at Phoenix Hill Tavern on Thanksgiving night features live music by Simon and Dave, The Funky Bluesters, Eclectic and the Trypp Band. Don your best toga and you could win a prize fit for Caesar.

Ben Rogers, who owns the Phoenix Hill Tavern, explained why he partnered with Kelly and his foundation. “It’s a wonderful show of love, affection and respect for Todd,” Rogers said in a press release. “Most people have a difficult time with one of these illnesses, let alone two. Todd has remained positive and optimistic, and continues to do what he can to help others.”

To contact Kelly or to learn more about his foundation, go to www.tkfoundation.org.

From the Todd's website (which is no longer running, but is archived here), we find the following about Todd's mission in life:

The mission of the Todd Kelly Foundation is to raise funds for ALS patients and research, providing financial resources to scientists, ALS centers and hospitals that are committed to finding cures or controls for each type of ALS.

In fulfilling its mission, The Todd Kelly Foundation:

Contributes financial support toward innovative research into the cause, diagnosis, control and cure for ALS.

Provides the highest standard of informative support and emotional encouragement to ALS patients and their families during their treatment and recovery process.

Provides services such as wheelchairs, walkers, etc. to ALS patients.

Makes ALS patients aware of success stories from ALS survivors, thus instilling hope and a belief that they can overcome their current condition.

For several years now, Todd has defied all odds, appearing to stay healthy despite cancer, ALS, and though he's too brave to admit it, the heartbreak of psoriasis.

What miracle cure has he found????? Money!!!!!! See the following story, courtesy of WAVE's own Ross Geller look alike, Eric Flack:

Ex-Radio Personality Under Scrutiny For Allegedly Faking ALS

By Eric Flack

(LOUISVILLE, Jan. 7th, 2005) -- In a stunning turn of events, radio personality Todd Kelly is accused of faking an illness, then using it to raise more than $100,000. So far, he has failed to produce medical proof that he actually suffers from ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease or accounted for the money he has raised. WAVE 3 Investigator Eric Flack has the details.

In 2001, Kelly said he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ALS, a rare disease of the nervous system that causes rapid and irreversible degeneration of the nerves that send signals to muscles.

Now, more than four years later, he has not shown any signs of the illness.

But in the past, he has described his suffering. "The pain I have now is like -- it's like someone is stabbing me."

And that, coupled with his inability to account for the thousands of dollars he's raised, has raised serious questions as to whether it's all been an elaborate hoax.

When we asked Kelly point blank if he could prove he has the disease, he told us, "Yes, if I need to, yes."

It now appears that things have progressed to the point where Kelly does indeed need to provide proof.

As we mentioned, Kelly, who, up until a few days ago, was an on-air personality at WDJX, first announced he had ALS, in 2001. There was an outpouring of support from the community.

But that was five years ago, but Kelly has yet to outwardly exhibit any of the symptoms of the devastating illness that took down one of the baseball's greatest legends.

Todd Adams with the Louisville MDA chapter, says that's unusual. He says ALS is "extremely progressive, and within five years, normally people are showing signs -- in wheelchairs, unable to speak, that sort of thing; possibly even death."

But more than four years later, Kelly has no trouble standing, walking or talking.

As for treatment, the MDA office in Louisville says Kelly has never registered.

Adams says that "normally, a diagnosis of ALS would set into motion a doctor referring that person to come to MDA to find out what sort of services that we do provide."

Kelly may have been a stranger to the MDA center, but he certainly was well-known in the community. Since his announcement, he has tirelessly raised money for his own foundation, and gotten plenty of help.

From places like the Phoenix Hill Tavern on Baxter Avenue, which held three benefits to raise money for Kelly. Frankie Rogers with the Tavern says everyone "just wanted to help him out. To make what time he had left, you know, the best that it could be."

Kelly also sends out emails and letters of his own, telling people he is dying, and asking for their financial support.

By Kelly's own estimate, he has raised between $100,000 to $150,000. With that much money raised, it's surprising that he had trouble paying the bill for his last fundraiser at the Olmstead on Frankfort Avenue in March 2005.

Brenda Bush with the Olmstead recalls "being told to meet him places to pick up the check. We'd get there, and he wasn't there, or would call right as we were getting there and say he got detained, or that he had gotten nervous and had forgotten the check."

Officials from the Olmstead say it took seven months and the involvement of the county attorney's office to get the $9,000 it was owed.

In response, Kelly says "that was due to sponsor problems. That was a sponsor, they was supposed to be helping pay for that, and didn't."

Never afraid of a camera before now, Kelly refused to meet us face to face, preferring instead to talk by phone. Part of the conversation went like this:

Because if you don't have what you say you have, you're the lowest of the low, you understand that?

Oh I understand.

That call took place Friday afternoon, and Kelly promised to call back in two hours with proof of his ALS, as well as an accounting of where the money went.

But Kelly never called back, and didn't answer our calls.

And that has given many of the people who have helped him a sick feeling of their own.

As Bush puts it, "life-threatening diseases and people suffering from them are tragic enough, but for somebody to use it for their own personal gain is just unforgivable."

Kelly started the Todd Kelly Foundation to raise money and awareness a couple months after he publicly announced having the disease. In the past, he's said the money raised has gone to fund other fundraisers, as well as buying beds and wheelchairs for other people who suffer from ALS.

But Kelly has yet to produce any names of people or groups he's donated to.

Three years after his ALS announcement, Kelly said he had cancer as well -- another unsubstantiated claim.

So we have made Kelly an offer to arrange and pay for tests that will prove once and for all if he has any of the illnesses he claims to have.

We'll let you know whether or not he takes us up on our offer.

Kelly resigned his position at WDJX earlier this week, but he says it was not because of these accusations but for personal reasons.

What kind of a sick weasel not only fakes a disease, but then uses it for financial gain? And why ALS, a fatal disease that robs people of their lives in the most horrible way possible. All of the people who have rallied around him, raised money for him, and prayed and cared about him have been robbed, both financially and spiritually.

Perhaps a few hundred thousand hours of community service cleaning dirty bedpans at hospitals? Or perhaps garnishing his wages from now until he gets the fatal disease he deserves?

I've only known one person with ALS, a young mother who found out she had the disease shortly after giving birth to her second child. She spent her remaing time on earth legitimately raising funds for the disease, even as her physical capabilities disappeared. Did her family offer support to Mr. Kelly? How about the others in the area with ALS or other Muscular Dystrophy? And didn't this idiot know he'd be caught?

Words cannot express how disgusting I find this. Since he's not been forthcoming with supporting documentation, and his stories are all very short on supporting facts, I have to believe it was all a lie. If it is, there is a special place in hell for this sicko.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Gator Bowl Part 3 -- Elvis' foe has left the prison

The Marcus Vick story just gets better and better. How long before he winds up in prison?

Former Tech quarterback Vick arrested on firearms charges

By KRISTEN GELINEAU, Associated Press Writer
January 9, 2006

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Former Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick, booted from the team last week for his behavior on and off the field, was charged Monday with pulling a gun on three teenagers during an altercation in a restaurant parking lot.

Vick surrendered at the Suffolk magistrate's office after three warrants were issued for his arrest Sunday, Magistrate Lisa Noel said.

The 21-year-old Vick was charged with three misdemeanor counts of brandishing a firearm, and was released on $10,000 bond.

Police said the parents of a 17-year-old boy reported that Vick pointed a weapon at their son and two others during an altercation at a McDonald's in Suffolk, a southeastern Virginia city where Vick's mother lives, Sunday night.

If convicted of all three counts, Vick could be sentenced to up to three years in jail and a $7,500 fine, police spokeswoman Lt. Debbie George said in a statement.

On Friday, Virginia Tech kicked Vick off the team, citing the cumulative effects of numerous legal problems and his unsportsmanlike conduct in the Gator Bowl, where he was caught on tape stomping on the left calf of Louisville All-American Elvis Dumervil.

He also received a speeding ticket and a ticket for driving on a suspended license in Hampton on Dec. 17 while under a "zero tolerance" policy from Virginia Tech.

The policy was implemented when Vick was suspended in 2004 because of several legal problems. He later came under further scrutiny because of replays of his actions against Dumervil.

Vick claimed it was accidental, but hurt his cause by claiming to have apologized to Dumervil, the NCAA sacks leader. Dumervil said he received no such apology.

Saturday, Vick announced he had decided to turn pro.

A Virginia Tech spokesman said university officials would have no comment on Vick's arrest.

"At this point, I think the actions speak for themselves," the spokesman, Larry Hincker, said.

Vick is the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. He was the runner-up to Wake Forest's Chris Barclay, by one vote, as the Atlantic Coast Conference's offensive player of the year, and was the league's first-team quarterback.

In 24 career games, the 6-foot, 212-pound Vick threw for 2,868 yards, 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He also ran 184 times for 492 yards and six TDs.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Gator Bowl -- Part 2 -- Fans show class

I found this article on the web. It's nice to see fans that don't make excuses where none can be made.

VT QB Vick "stomps" into another controversy
Jay Warren
WSLS NewsChannel 10
Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Marcus Vick steps? literally into another controversy. AT the end of the second quarter of the Gator Bowl, Vick is tackled by Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Vick gets back up and stomps on Dumervil's knee.

After the game Vick said, "It was an accidental play. Football is football."

The officials didn't catch it and neither did Head Coach Frank Beamer. After the game, he said, "Marcus said he didn't mean to do that. But, whatever happened is unfortunate and Marcus apologized for it."

Actually, sources told Newschannel 10's Justin Ditmore that Beamer and Vick went to the Louisville locker room after the game to apologize but were turned away. Beamer asked that their apologies be passed on to the team and Dumervil.

Still, many Tech fans are outraged by Vick's behavior. We showed several of them the video of it at Buffalo Wild Wings, a sports bar in Roanoke County. Included in that group is Sam Lionberger who said, "To me I don't see any excuse for that at all."

You won't find a big tech fan or supporter than Lionberger. When asked if Vick's actions represent the university fairly, he said, "No. This is not the integrity of Virginia Tech. I think the coaches need to come down pretty hard on him for that."

And Lionberger isn't alone.

Tech fan Jason Andrews of Roanoke said, "I think it was really classless." Sheila Bankert, a UVA fan from Botetourt County, said, "Yeah, that was on purpose. It was very unprofessional. Very unsportsmanlike." But, Bankert said she wasn't surprised. "Vick always gets by with everything," she said.

Bill Richardson, a University of West Virginia fan from Roanoke City agrees with Bankert. After seeing the video, he sarcastically said, "He's looking right down at his leg and he stepped right down. He has no control of his feet. Of course it's an accident."

Richardson remembers the Tech - West Virginia game where Vick turned to the crowd and flipped them off. Monday's antics are no surprise to him. "He gets a pass in Blacksburg because he's Marcus Vick related to Michael Vick."

Gator Bowl -- What a Croc!

Having watched U of L lose a hard fought game, I had the following thoughts.

  • Hunter Cantwell played a hell of a game for a guy with a broken nose who'd had a single college start.

  • University of Louisville fans who bashed him after the game weren't watching the same game I was.

  • U of L may have had their Christian Laettner moment with Marcus Vick's stomping of Elvis Dumervil

  • The ultimate justice would be Elvis going to the NFL and sacking Michael Vick so hard his brother feels it, while Marcus is out becoming another college has been reject wanted by the cops.

  • How is it the words "Bobby Petrino" and "Coaching Opportunity" still get mentioned together?