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Tainted town.

Tainted Town

What's Happening in Jacksonville?!? Read all about it in this issue of Family Circle."

Supermarkets hand printed these words on signs to announce Arkansas' latest scandal. Jacksonville is the subject of a special report, "Toxic Nightmare on Main Street," by Stephanie Abarbanel, published in Family Circle Aug. 14, 1990.

The publisher prints 5.2 million copies of each issue of the magazine. Approximately 25 million readers will have access to this story, which will damage Arkansas' image.

Now, Primetime Live, an ABC television news magazine, plans to do a story about Jacksonville's dioxin dilemma. According to a local ABC executive, Primetime Live is viewed in about nine million American homes. Imagine the excitement when Sam Donaldson starts knocking on Jacksonville office doors.

Some folks think the story will do as much damage to Arkansas as the Central High Crisis in '57. Why? In addition to receiving national media coverage, the story focused major environmental protection groups, such as Greenpeace, on Arkansas.

The "Toxic Nightmare" in Jacksonville will become a "Business Nightmare" for the city.

Shifting The Blame

Unfortunately, the problem started with Jacksonville business people who denied a problem existed. This won't work. According to Abarbanel, State Representative Mike Wilson of Jacksonville said, "I'm a lot more concerned about toxic journalism than I am about toxic waste in this community." Blaming reporters is an old trick designed to focus attention away from the real issue. I don't think playing humuliate the media accomplishes anything, especially when the story receives coverage in over 5 million copies of a national publication.

Officials waste their energy attacking the messenger. They need to present data to refute Family Circle or Primetime Live.

Unfortunately, from the beginning, those in charge have incorrectly handled the publicity. Family Circle first published an article about the dioxin problem in Jacksonville in the April 24, 1990, issue. The article, titled "Cluster Diseases," generated a backlash of resentment from Jacksonville business leaders.

The Jacksonville News reported the first Family Circle story on the front page. The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce discussed a boycott "designed to bleed the newspaper to death," according to an editorial published in Arkansas Business. Three weeks later one of the owners of the newspaper wrote and published a letter apologizing for printing a story about the Family Circle article.

The Jacksonville City Council voted to censure Family Circle.

Garrick Feldman of The Sunday Leader suggested in a column that reporters from Family Circle should go back to writing recipes.

Jacksonville's sloppy retaliation provoked a new article by Family Circle.

Why didn't the business folks admit the city has a problem and set about to solve that problem?

Jacksonville's leadership could have won the respect of everyone by saying, "Yes, we have a problem and we're going to clean it up." They could, then, set about to solve the problem.

Honesty is the best and most ethical policy. Aristotle wrote about 300 B.C. that you should first present any negative factors and preempt the opposition's attack on you. A lot closer to home, any child knows to tell his side of a neighborhood fight to Mom or Dad before the mother of the neigborhood bully calls to report on the scuffle.

When embroiled in a scuffle with a neighborhood bully, the media or the political opposition, you have few options. "No comment" often is interpreted to mean you're guilty as hell and want a little time to collect your thoughts.

Lying never works. Without fail, the liar gets caught in the web of deceit and has to face Sam Donaldson with a TV camera.

The truth hurts. But, the truth undercuts the opposition and provides a foundation for solving problems.

What story could Family Circle reporters have written if Jacksonville leaders had told the truth: "Some sources believe we have a problem. We're investigating. In areas where we do have a toxic waste problem, we're cleaning up the mess."

Buried Facts

In published materials about the dioxin problem in Jacksonville, writers have repeatedly used the word coverup. According to Abarbanel, "Rumors persist that homes were built over a former toxic waste dump. EPA authorities will neither confirm nor deny that this is true."

Why haven't those powers who wanted to boycott the newspaper demanded publicly that the EPA release any information it has about Jacksonville? The community leaders can't solve a problem they can't define. They can't define the problem until they have all of the evidence.

The problem doesn't belong just to Jacksonville. Central Arkansas shares the problem. Why haven't the state senators and representatives from central Arkansas met to consider this problem? Yes, it's a political hot potato. But, to paraphrase Harry Truman, "If you can't take the dioxin heat get out of politics."

Something is wrong.

The wrong lies much deeper than dioxin or the chemical soup that seeps from the ground in Jacksonville. Has the human spirit become so polluted and toxic that we cannot attempt to solve a problem without looking at our wallet or resorting to name calling?

The toxic nightmare has become a business nightmare. It's time to wake up, turn on the lights and clean out the chemical mess and get on with building a strong economy.

PHOTO : SPECIAL ISSUE: A sign at a Harvest Foods Extra store entices customers to read about Jacksonville's "Toxic Nightmare."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Jacksonville, Arkansas, has no solution yet to toxic problem
Author:Ritchey, David
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 13, 1990
Previous Article:Taxing situation.
Next Article:Circled wagons.

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