The emailed press release came Tuesday with an attention-grabbing subject line: “HAPPENING TOMORROW: Billboard Campaign Exposes Memphis Prosecutor Amy Weirich’s Serial Misconduct.”
Behind the campaign against Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich, who is up for re-election this year, was a group I’ve never heard of: Memphis Watch.
Local advocates for criminal justice reform couldn’t tell me who the group was or who its funders might be. Memphis Watch has no website and doesn’t show up in a Google search. The LinkedIn page of the organization’s senior advisor Alex Bassos, who was quoted in the press release, didn’t mention Memphis Watch. All of this set off my spidey senses.
We’ve written about how Tennessee has the nation’s longest terms for elected DAs (eight years!), the unchecked power prosecutors wield, Weirich’s decidedly unprogressive response to the state’s controversial and transphobic bathroom law, her opposition to DNA testing in the case of death row inmate Pervis Payne, and local attention focused on next year’s race.
I say that to say this: No one would ever accuse us of giving Weirich a pass. We’re committed to holding her – and all elected officials and policymakers accountable – but that doesn’t mean lowering our editorial standards of fairness.
I replied to the Memphis Watch email and asked, in short: Who the heck are y’all? When no one replied, my editors and I debated whether we should even cover the campaign. As the saying goes: Don’t throw a rock and hide your hand. Memphis Watch was hiding.
In the end, and after some wrangling, I was able to persuade Bassos to talk and give a fresh quote. I left our conversation with more clarity and confidence that the organization was legit, even if he wouldn’t share the level of granular detail I wanted. But our story still made clear that Memphis Watch’s origins were still opaque. Read the story, from me and Carrington J. Tatum, here.
(Worth noting: I was not able to persuade Weirich’s office to talk. An email to her campaign went unanswered.)
Wendi C. Thomas is the founding editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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