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Will new editorial page editor end Palter and Chatter hypocrisy?
Lee Walton

With all the national campaign hype about the need for change in the Executive Branch of our national government, it’s easy to become desensitized to the various meanings of change. Webster defines change as an alteration, transformation, substitution, or exchange. For the remaining readers of the Palter and Chatter’s editorial page, one can only hope that the retirement of Barbara Williams as editor of editorials brings either of the former definitions but neither of the latter. For nearly four decades the editorial page of the Palter and Chatter has been little more than a convenient political broadside in defense of the never-ending Riley Administration. Seldom, if ever, have local editorials seriously questioned the covert nature, politically ruthless, single-handed tactics, or misguided visionary choices of Charleston’s unique career mayor. To the contrary, countless favorable editorials, blatant platitudes, and journalistic influence upon the composition of Charleston’s City Council has underpinned, defended, supported, and colluded with the Riley Administration to forge a symbiotic relationship that has benefited the Palter and Chatter and sustained Riley in a position of unchallengeable local power and influence for nearly four decades.

Citizens of the Lowcountry need look no further for an example of the special relationship between Mayor Riley and the Palter and Chatter’s editorial staff than this past Saturday’s lead editorial to judge the journalistic hypocrisy that has permeated the editorial page of this newspaper in the months following the tragic Sofa Super Store fire. Granted, Al Parish is now a convicted swindler of the highest order who “…conned 600 people out of more than $66 million…” but none of his victims sacrificed their lives as a direct consequence of his unscrupulous activities. Nonetheless, Al Parish has been justly held accountable to his victims and society. Al Parish will likely spend the remainder of his life incarcerated, as he should. Conversely, where is the editorial demand for accountability and justice for the two men, still freely and audaciously walking the streets of Charleston, who had direct, personal control over the unpardonable actions that culminated in the horrible, untimely deaths of nine brave CFD firefighters?

The findings of the city’s own Phase II Routely Report provided proof enough to convict both Mayor Joseph P. Riley and Rusty Thomas, his hand-picked former fire chief, in the court of public opinion, if not more. Given the voluminous Routely findings detailing decades of incompetent leadership and administrative mismanagement, where is the journalistic demand for accountability once “The fallacy of that exalted standing has been thoroughly exposed.” The indefensible actions and failings of both Riley and Thomas still remain immune from the kind of venomous editorial in Saturday’s Palter and Chatter that verbally skinned Al Parish and nailed his hide to their trophy wall. Given the findings of the Routely Report, why couldn’t this editor now publicly condemn the “…hard reality that wide-scale…” mismanagement and incompetence that “…inflicts wide-scale harm – and those who commit it must pay a high price for their actions”?

An editorial in the Saturday, September 22, 2007 Palter and Chatter defended Riley’s self-serving attack on the initial S.C. OSHA findings on the Sofa Super Store and proclaimed “There is a process for sorting out whom has the best case. Let it take its course.” This editorial also made specific reference to other ongoing investigations and the future ‘…conclusions of an independent six-member panel of outside experts appointed by the city…” It concluded by boldly stating, “Until then, the accused – the city – deserves the benefit of the doubt.” Then is now! There is little doubt of the in-depth, expert findings of the Routely investigation that clearly connects the dots from the fire ground of the Sofa Super Store tragedy to the Mayor’s administration by way of his former fire chief’s office. Where are the Al Parish like editorials demanding accountability? Why is the Palter and Chatter editorial staff now buying into Riley’s demand to put nine deaths behind, to collectively forget about it, and move on?

It seems strange that the editor of the editorial page now takes the same timely retirement option as Riley’s former fire chief rather than face the reality of the Routely Report’s clear and unambiguous findings. For reasons that can only be speculated, this editor either couldn’t or wouldn’t hold the Riley Administration or the former fire chief complicit in the tragic, unnecessary deaths of nine firefighters.

From all reports, Editor Charles Rowe is a worthy replacement, who will hopefully bring long overdue change and enhanced credibility to the Palter and Chatter’s editorial page. His vow to provide fair-minded opinion and to maintain emphasis on governmental accountability, among other things, could be the harbinger of much needed journalistic restructuring to Charleston’s only remaining daily newspaper. Time will tell if Charles Rowe has the integrity and courage to become a much-needed instrument of journalistic transformation in Charleston. Until then, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.