NewsChannel 5: Exposed Part 2

When It Comes to Sources, WTVF-TV Has a Vetting Problem

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Nashville Voice has reported on the saga involving Dr. Shawn Joseph, the first African-American Director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, over the past six months. Our attention to this matter is driven by one simple fact: “What you do or fail to do as a City, tells the world who and what you are more than any marketing or branding scheme, strategy or gimmick.”

Our City has been divided and our true colors have bled from these tumultuous months. But, the Joseph saga is bigger than MNPS. Our City allowed the systemic, intentional professional and personal defamation of the highest profiled African-American leader in our City because he dared to actually bring equity to our schools and uplift Nashville students who have been historically left behind.

Now that he has reached an amicable separation from MNPS, it is important that we look at the circumstances surrounding his departure and separate the facts from the fallacies. To this end, Nashville Voice has investigated the allegations and sources of these allegations against Shawn Joseph and the true intentions behind them because Nashville deserves the truth!

In this latest installment of “NewsChannel 5: Exposed,” the Nashville Voice takes a closer look at WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams’ go-to sources: Teacher Mary Holden and blogger Thomas “TC” Weber.

During Williams’ MNPS investigation in February, he staged a ‘Teacher Town Hall’— giving 14 handpicked employees the opportunity to publicly air their grievances about low pay and morale problems. To the untrained eye, Williams’ town hall representatives appear to speak with honest transparency about their MNPS-related qualms. In reality, our sources have discovered that Williams’ town hall can’t be lauded for speaking for the district as a whole: His sample size totaled a mere 0.1% of the school system’s 10,900 employees.  

On top of that, Williams either failed to vet his sources, or declined to come clean about the potential for conflicts of interests. The Nashville Voice discovered that one of the most outspoken and disgruntled members of his TV town hall was a teacher who had a personal reason to be dissatisfied with MNPS. H.G. Hill Middle School teacher Mary Holden’s household income took a hit as a direct result of  MNPS decisions.

Our sources have confirmed that Holden’s husband David Holden is CEO of the American Alliance for Innovative Systems (AAIS), an education consulting company. Going back to 2009 under former superintendent Jesse Register, AAIS inked procured several contracts with MNPS — including one that went as high as nearly $1.3 million.

Over time, AAIS’s contractual engagement dwindled to $300,000 — and in 2018 MNPS officials under Joseph declined to increase the current contract’s value. Coincidentally, around the same time, Mary Holden began complaining about Joseph on social media.

Although organized employee groups have consistently refuted Holden’s claims of a widespread morale crisis, NewsChannel 5 and Williams refused to give these groups a voice in his TV town hall.

For example, SEIU Local 205 — representing MNPS support employees, many of whom are women and minorities — routinely praised Joseph for inviting them back to the negotiating table after Register disenfranchised them and outsourced hundreds of custodial jobs. Support employees represent nearly one-third of the MNPS workforce– a far cry from Williams’ town hall cast totaling a fraction of a percent of the district’s workforce.

Similarly, leaders of the Metro Nashville Education Association spoke at school board meetings to confirm that employee morale problems were not worse than in previous years — and they were also not invited to Williams’ handpicked TV town hall crew.

The Nashville Voice has also discovered that one of Williams’ other sources is equally biased and unreliable.

Thomas “TC” Weber, a local blogger who lost to Rachael Anne Elrod in last year’s District 2 school board race after The Tennessean reported on his extensive criminal record. 

Even though Weber’s rap sheet includes past charges of felony indecent exposure as well as disorderly conduct and trespassing, NewsChannel 5 and Williams routinely relied on him for testimonies against Dr. Joseph and MNPS.  

The Nashville Voice discovered that Weber has displayed harassing behavior toward school board members and employees so much that MNPS’s security division opened a file to document his behavior.  

After peeling back the layers, we’re beginning to notice a trend. NewsChannel 5 and Phil Williams have a moral responsibility to the City of Nashville to report accurate and ethically sound information. Failing to thoroughly vet sources deprives Nashvillians of their right to honest, unbiased journalism.

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