Sunday, May 22, 2011

22 MAY 11: The Day the Earth Stood Still

"I don't see the earthquake happening! Ha! Ha!" How would you like to wake up to that on a Saturday morning? That's what I heard outside the bedroom window - as if someone had moved me to Los Angeles overnight.

"I don't feel the ground trembling," my next-door neighbor said in a loud voice minutes later. "I don't see any smoke rising!" Things might have been different if we lived close to Fort Benning.

Of course, my neighbor was spouting off about "Judgment Day" - the supposed return of Jesus, which Family Radio's Harold Camping warned would occur Saturday. But Columbus had no "great earthquake" Saturday evening at 6:00. Not even a small earthquake. And rock bands didn't start shaking downtown clubs until around 10:00.

In a way, Harold Camping hijacked my usual Sabbath routine. I was drawn to a Twitter feed which provides constant updates on earthquakes around the world. The biggest quake during the Sabbath was a 5.6 Friday night in the Sandwich Islands. The wrong sandwich at the wrong time of day could give anyone at least a 3.2.

WFRC-FM 89.5 was my radio setting most of Friday and Saturday. But when the time came for Harold Camping's live talk show "Open Forum" Friday night, Family Radio aired a rerun from the previous Friday. Camping apparently took advantage of that "paid holiday" he approved for everyone else -- only now we know who will sign the next set of checks.

(Wire service reports indicated Camping was NOT at his northern California home Saturday morning. I sincerely hope he hasn't done anything rash - such as climb his 89-year-old body onto a trampoline to jump toward the heavens.)

Harold Camping expanded his "Open Forum" to seven nights a week in the weeks before "Judgment Day." But that didn't happen this weekend - and Family Radio brought out one of his old sermons on divorce in its place Saturday night. I knew it was really old, because his voice sounded almost young....

As I expected, WFRC-FM and Family Radio did NOT provide any special coverage of "Judgment Day" Saturday. If Harold Camping lived in Columbus, things could have been very different. We might have seen Mark Cantrell on WTVM, urging Muscogee County teachers to repent of teaching evolution.

(Come to think of it, consider all the TV newscasts of recent days. If the return of Jesus and "the end of the world" wasn't the top story, shouldn't we conclude the news staff was a little skeptical?)

But amazingly, at 11:45 Saturday night Family Radio played a recorded "Something to Think About" feature in which Harold Camping declared the rapture date was locked down "tight, tight, tight! So there is no question, it is going to happen!" Apparently the network computers were locked down TOO tight during the day....

As Saturday came and Saturday went, I stepped outside for a twilight run - and realized I missed out on a golden business opportunity. Imagine how many T-shirts I could have sold on Broadway proclaiming, "I survived Judgment Day."

While some people scoffed to the point of holding "end of the world" parties Saturday, I actually feel sorry for the people who believed Harold Camping's bogus timeline. Hopefully they won't turn away from God and the Bible completely. After all, Republicans didn't flee the country after President Obama took office -- not even when he signed health care reform into law.

But a big question remains: where do Harold Camping and his ministry go from here? Family Radio has stations in Columbus and Americus, along with five translators from LaGrange to Albany. A failed "guarantee" could cause donations to dry up, and force those stations to be sold. So if the church you attend makes a special appeal for a "Camping trip fund" today, this could be why.

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SUNDAY SOAPBOX: Some things are more reliable than Harold Camping's predictions - such as an e-mail from the Columbus Mayor when we touch a nerve. On Thursday we tried to get to the bottom of a message Tollie Strode sent Teresa Pike Tomlinson. Strode told us he sent it, but Tomlinson didn't recall receiving it. So Thursday morning, the mayor followed up....

Gentleman - Frankly, enough is enough already. I appreciate you all fairly displaying the facts of the false blog Richard Hyatt posted. I am happy to make the email Mr. Strode did send to me at 1:39 p.m. Saturday available for your viewing, at which time you will see that what Hyatt posted is not an "excerpt" it has been completely re-written to be another document entirely - the point of which I do not know. I don't publish private correspondence, but you will note in a glance the two documents are completely different. For some reason there is a whole lot of tap dancing around what should have been a straight out admission that what was printed was not sent to me, was completely rewritten to be another document entirely, and was falsely passed off as something which was sent to me. Again, I can only speculate as to the motives, but it is mischief indeed and should be far above the bar of respected journalism.

This was sent not only to me, but Michael Owen of the Ledger-Enquirer. The issue came up in "Chattahoochee Chatter" this past week -- only it seemed more concerned about Hyatt's spelling than his content.

So now Mayor Tomlinson agrees former campaign manager Tollie Strode DID send her an e-mail last weekend. But Strode told me Richard Hyatt DID post an "excerpt" from that e-mail. So to be fair, we passed along the mayor's words to Strode and offered him a chance to comment:


I will affirm, again, that the excerpts posted by Richard Hyatt are from an e-mail I sent to Mayor Tomlinson. She is correct in stating what Richard posted is not the complete e-mail that I sent her. However, the contents ARE from the e-mail that I sent her. Some names are removed and some very pointed recommendations made in the original correspondence are removed. This type of content is redacted.

While I'm surprised that the Mayor is still entertaining a discussion of this issue in the public domain, if I may, I would like to express my complete agreement with Mayor Tomlinson. We should not share our private correspondence, but since she has offered an opportunity for you to review the e-mail sent at 1:39PM on Saturday, I guess this and the full range of e-mail correspondence between the Mayor and me on this issue is in play. Unfortunate.

However Richard, I believe we (our community) are best served by returning to the fundamental discussion which prompted my e-mails to the Mayor. The intent of my correspondence with her was to assist her assist the Marshal with becoming more factual and less defensive in his budget presentation and advocacy for the needs of his department.

There were many signals sent by several City Councilors about the Marshal's budget and, since then, other budgets proposed by department that tinkering around the fringes was unacceptable. I understood why, completed my analysis, and provided it to Mayor Tomlinson with additional information about the basis for the public perceptions referenced by the Councilors. The intent was to help, not hinder or hurt.

Herein rests the basis of my request for your support in helping turn our community's attention to our budget challenges and the Mayor's guidance that serious cuts will need to be made. I will appear before Council next week and attempt to do what I'm asking you to do. I hope you can join me in this mission ... for the betterment of our city and government in emerging tough financial times. In this regard, Mayor Tomlinson and I are in TOTAL agreement.

I look forward to your personal reply.


So at the surface, what we have here is a matter of definition. What qualifies as an "excerpt?" The Ledger-Enquirer undoubtedly has attorneys, who will provide the proper definition for a reasonable fee.

Yet there's a deeper question here that's potentially more troubling. Who is taking e-mails to the mayor, trimming them down and passing them on to Richard Hyatt? Tollie Strode assured me his e-mail accounts were NOT hacked. Hmmmm -- whatever happened to that writer of "The Truth About Teresa," anyway?

Richard Hyatt seems ready to drop this e-mail mess completely, without reviewing the complete message from Tollie Strode to the mayor. Unless blog readers demand it, I'll do the same. I only wanted to settle the issue of whether Strode sent the message -- and now it's turned into a word game along the lines of "climate change" versus "global warming."

But asking me to support a "mission" - well, I have to be careful there. Even before I turned to blogging, I was a reporter more than a crusader. That meant not taking sides, and following the leads wherever they might go. Besides, one potential city budget issue remains a mystery - where in the world the Ice Rink's mascot went.

SCHEDULED MONDAY: An update on the firing of Kurt Schmitz.... and e-mails ranging from local high schools to Bullock County....

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