Pub­lic­ity we don’t need

The Covington News - - OPINION -

We had two un­pleas­ant char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of our com­mu­nity this past week. The first in­volved a tourism video, paid for by our lo­cal cham­ber, that fea­tures a spoof on Cov­ing­ton’s vam­pire con­nec­tion, which is the fact that the wildly pop­u­lar TV se­ries “The Vam­pire Di­aries’’ is filmed here.

The video is fea­tured promi­nently on the gocov­ing­ton.com tourism web­site that was in­tro­duced in late April. It was also used as an ad to pro­mote Cov­ing­ton dur­ing a Dixie Boys world se­ries that was be­ing played in Alabama.

Kyle Mooty, the edi­tor/colum­nist at an Alabama news­pa­per, was of­fended by the blood and in­nu­endo de­picted in the video, and es­pe­cially the fact that it was aired dur­ing a sports event for young teens and their par­ents.

Mooty wrote a scathing col­umn that ques­tioned the wis­dom of our town lead­ers, most of whom prob­a­bly didn’t even know the video was run­ning in En­ter­prise, Ala.

We don’t blame Mr. Mooty for ex­press­ing his per­sonal feel­ings, as we our­selves have writ­ten many “homer-type” ar­ti­cles de­fend­ing our com­mu­nity when needed.

Hunter Hall, our lo­cal cham­ber leader, de­fended the video, say­ing it was a spoof.

We en­joy spoofs, so we got the mes­sage. We are not so sure, how­ever, that young­sters and their par­ents will al­ways get such spoofs. It might be wise to de­velop an­other, less-graphic ad pro­mot­ing our vam­pire con­nec­tion, to use in small com­mu­ni­ties like En­ter­prise, Ala.

Also this week, a lo­cal mother was ap­par­ently told by her daugh­ter, who at­tends Al­covy High School, that the school was al­low­ing mes­sages of hate in­volv­ing God to be posted in a school class­room.

Ac­cord­ing to the mother, she made an at­tempt to talk to school of­fi­cials about her con­cerns. School of­fi­cials deny this.

The mother or some­one else con­tacted an At­lanta TV sta­tion, which im­me­di­ately sensed blood in the wa­ter and tried to make a big is­sue out of it.

As it turns out, the im­ages were part of a work as­sign­ment in­volv­ing Arthur Miller’s play “The Cru­cible,’’ which is based on the Salem witch tri­als. Stu­dents have been read­ing the play for decades. And NCSS of­fi­cials said the im­ages won’t be re­moved.

Once again, Al­covy High School re­ceived un­wanted at­ten­tion, for no other rea­son than it was do­ing what a high school is sup­posed to do, teach­ing.

We commend the school ad­min­is­tra­tion for not back­ing down.

If you ever had one of Bill Shipp’s finely honed pens lodged be­tween your shoul­der blades, you would never for­get it. I write from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence and from hav­ing worked for a gover­nor who reg­u­larly suf­fered pub­lic ex­co­ri­a­tion at the hands of ar­guably the most pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal re­porter and com­men­ta­tor in the state’s his­tory. In fact, the New Ge­or­gia En­cy­clo­pe­dia calls him “one of the coun­try’s pre­mier po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors.”

Joe Frank Har­ris cer­tainly wasn’t the first or last Ge­or­gia gover­nor to come un­der Shipp’s scru­tiny and crit­i­cism. Shipp started tak­ing on the state’s lead­er­ship as far back as 1953 when, as edi­tor of The Red & Black stu­dent news­pa­per at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia, he chal­lenged the de­ci­sion by then-Gov. Her­man Tal­madge and the Gen­eral Assem­bly to deny en­roll­ment at the UGA law school to a black stu­dent, Ho­race Ward.

There­after, Shipp was in­vited to leave the univer­sity and went into the U.S. Army, af­ter which he was hired by the At­lanta Con­sti­tu­tion. In an oral his­tory in­ter­view at the Richard Rus­sell Li­brary ear­lier this year, he re­vealed that early in life, his fa­ther took him to a Gene Tal­madge rally on a packed town square, where Tal­madge fired up the crowd and ex­changed in lively ban­ter with those in at­ten­dance.

“I thought it was the great­est show I’d ever seen, and I wanted to be part of it,” he re­called.

On Tues­day, Har­ris joined all liv­ing for­mer gov­er­nors but Jimmy Carter, the widow of one, and other for­mer and cur­rent state of­fi­cials to cel­e­brate Bill Shipp’s 80th birth­day. The crowd in­cluded Carl San­ders, Zell Miller and Roy Barnes, as well as Har­ris Hines, Ge­or­gia chief jus­tice, and for­mer Sen. Max Cle­land, among oth­ers.

In his 50 years of re­port­ing and po­lit­i­cal anal­y­sis, he won their grudg­ing re­spect. How­ever, one gover­nor, the late Ge­orge Bus­bee, got re­venge one evening at the Gover­nor’s Man­sion when he sneaked up be­hind Shipp and pushed him into the pool. I was there. Zell Miller once threat­ened to whip his you-know-what. Leg­endary seg­re­ga­tion­ist and king­maker Roy Har­ris of Au­gusta once called Shipp (and his type) “a hand­ful of sissies, mis­guided squirts and Com­mu­nists,” as re­called in the UGA oral his­tory in­ter­view.

“I was never a Com­mu­nist,” Shipp laughed to the Rus­sell Li­brary in­ter­viewer.

My old boss, Gov. Har­ris, de­lighted in shar­ing the de­tails of Shipp’s birth­day event when I spoke with him. His wife El­iz­a­beth couldn’t at­tend, hav­ing just un­der­gone knee re­place­ment surgery, but Har­ris shared with the group that early in his ad­min­is­tra­tion (1983-90), he had asked El­iz­a­beth to pray for Shipp. She wrote his name on a Post-it note on her bath­room mir­ror and never stopped pray­ing, even to this day. (We al­ways be­lieved El­iz­a­beth had higher con­nec­tions than most.)

“I told them Bill Shipp could dis­tort num­bers bet­ter than any­body I’d ever seen,” Har­ris said. “We’d have a press con­fer­ence and pass out bud­get fig­ures, and the next day, when I read what he wrote, I’d won­der if he’d re­ally been there.” The crowd cracked up.

An­other speaker was for­mer Ge­or­gia Supreme Court Jus­tice Con­ley In­gram, ac­cord­ing to Har­ris.

“When he got up, he said he wanted to start a move­ment to raise a gift for Shipp. He wanted ev­ery­body to put in $10 to send Bill to the New Perry Mo­tel, where he’d be close enough to look into Go Fish Ge­or­gia and the $30 mil­lion that’s been spent on it.”

Go Fish Ge­or­gia was the much-lam­pooned brain­child of for­mer Gov. Sonny Per­due, who fa­mously for­bade his staff from ever speak­ing to Shipp.

Shipp wasn’t just a news­pa­per­man. In 1987, he re­tired from the At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion to start a po­lit­i­cal news­let­ter that be­came an on­line ser­vice in 1994. In a 2006 in­ter­view with the AJC’s cur­rent po­lit­i­cal colum­nist, Jim Gal­loway, he said, “That’s what I’m proud­est of.”

In 2009, Shipp sold the busi­ness and hung up his spurs.

Gone, yes, but def­i­nitely not for­got­ten.

Bar­bara Mor­gan is a Cov­ing­ton res­i­dent with a back­ground in news­pa­per jour­nal­ism, state govern­ment and pol­i­tics. She can be reached at barbm2158@ gmail.com.

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