by James C. Sherlock. Updated Aug 3, 9:50 AM

Just another day in the neighborhood here in Virginia Beach.

The Virginian-Pilot, which used to be based in Norfolk, is a shadow of its former self.  It has combined with the peninsula-based Daily Press.

The paper announced on May 4, 2020:

The Virginian-Pilot has officially moved out of the downtown Norfolk building that it had occupied for more than 80 years.

The newspaper reported Sunday that its owners turned the keys over to a developer who plans to turn the building into apartments.

The Pilot will move to offices in Newport News that are already being used by its sister paper, the Daily Press.

Mostly these days it consists of a very thin mess of Associated Press articles, rehashes of local press releases, old sports stories, a crossword puzzle, paid obituary postings and short opinion pieces and letters.

But the Virginian-Pilot crossed the water on Sunday to headline on the front page two articles “Discussions about RACISM.”  The paper’s capitalization, not mine.  The word racism, and that word alone, was in an enormous font.

One of the articles was about a church that has been in Virginia Beach since 1637 and a church that has been in Hampton since 1610. The article usefully explained that the Hampton church had a building constructed in 1728 that was “likely built by slave labor.” Ground-breaking investigative reporting. A Pulitzer awaits.

The other article — actually it properly would have been on the opinion page, but it is too long for a page about the size of a napkin — presented itself as an expose of a local prep school in Virginia Beach.

The article quoted an African-American defense-contractor executive who had been a director of that prep school since 2018 as saying that the school had “issues of race and diversity” for which sins he and his wife pulled their three students out of that school.

To give you a taste of the journalistic ethics displayed, I share my letter to the editor concerning the story about the prep school. I don’t expect to see it in print otherwise.

Mr. Coutu built the entire article, including a half-page picture of Mr. Smith’s family, on his declaration of dissatisfaction with the school.

Did Mr. Coutu ask Mr. Smith, who stated that he withdrew his children from the school after at least four years “for reasons of race and diversity,” why that coincided with his family’s move to the D.C. region rather than years earlier?   

Was another school in Virginia Beach ever considered?

Did Mr. Coutu ask why a racist school would ask Mr. Smith to be on its Board where he was, in effect, Mr. Garran’s boss? 

I have never met Mr. Garran, but he is officially cancelled.

He is unlikely ever again get a leadership job, and perhaps any other job, in a school. 

Recruiters will check the internet for his name, see the story in the Pilot headlined “Racism” in “Japan Bombs Pearl Harbor” font, and eliminate him from consideration as not worth the potential blowback.

Mr. Coutu has his first “kill.” I hope the story was worth it.

I also hope the libeled head of the school sues for what is left of the Pilot.

In addition to selling off all assets in South Hampton Roads, the owner of the Virginian-Pilot released all of its talent.

There is nothing left on this side of the water but the stench of this story.

I suspect the alleged complainant quoted in this story is a decent man. He is certainly successful. Given the ethics of this story, we have no idea what he actually said.

It is a dark day when a “reporter” two years out of University of Wisconsin at Madison can destroy with a gross misrepresentation the career of the head of the school, a man widely respected and successful in his chosen profession.

If Mr. Coutu had an editor worthy of the title, he would not have green lighted a story centered on the claim that a former director of the school, having spent two years on the school’s Board which is its oversight authority, pulled his children out of the school for “reasons of race and diversity” after four years there when he moved his family to Washington for a new job.

I suspect Mr. Coutu and the Pilot will be showered with regional awards by their woke peers. Coutu will on the radar of the New York Times and the Washington Post. Which may have been the point of this disgraceful article.

No word on where the head of the school goes to get his reputation back.

And the once-important Virginian-Pilot will continue to wrap fewer and fewer fish until it disappears, now unlamented, from the scene.

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30 responses to “Cancel One More Good Man”

  1. It aint just Coutu. I hit up 7/12 at the last time, Eric Hartley, Margaret Matray (her opinion on Tim Anderson), Gordon Rago, Ana Le and Ryan Murphy.
    Hartley’s response to my telling them about corruption:

    If you have specific information about government abuses, please tell us and we will look into it. We need specifics, not the kind of generalities that one of your previous emails included:

    I told him: I have in the past, nothing.

    I proceeded to go after some abuses, a council member who hadn’t paid taxes, told them they needed to watch the council meetings.

    Eric later on said:
    “You can’t simply make broad, unsupported accusations and expect stories to result and then criticize us for not writing them. Give us details so we know where to start to look.”

    He got a # of issues that they’ve never followed up on.

    Peter used to follow the Chesapeake city council, none of them show up now. They wouldn’t know anything about the issues going on there or any other place in Chesapeake. If it isn’t a specific narrative they won’t print it.

  2. Publisher’s note: Readers should feel free to “cancel” the Virginian-Pilot by refusing to renew their subscriptions. — JAB

    1. Cancelled my sub about an hour ago with a note why.

  3. Whew! How can anyone say it isn’t “fake news”?

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      Did you read it?

      “Acknowledged”, “need to focus”, “subject matter and authors need to become more diverse”, “we need to dig deeper”, “fell short” — these are statements by the school’s leadership in DIRECT support of Mr.Coutu’s article. These are NOT denials.

      “Chris Garran, the head of schools at Cape Henry, acknowledged that the school has had issues but said he and the rest of the leadership have been engaged and are committed to making improvements.

      “I want every student who comes through our doors, I want them to be welcomed, included and valued,” he said in an interview. “And to be honest, if a student leaves here not feeling that way, then that reflects on me.”

      Garran stressed that the school has made improvements in recent years, and that they need to focus more on their curriculum moving forward. He pointed to history and English courses in particular, where he said the subject matter and authors that students are reading need to become more diverse.

      “I think that’s really important, that this work moves more into the actual classroom,” he said. “Some teachers are doing great work on that, and I just think we need to dig deeper on that.”

      Zelda Patrick, who is Black and on the board of trustees, said her family had a “great experience” at Cape Henry, calling it an outstanding school to prepare children for the future. She said she would “recommend it to anyone.”

      But like Garran, she said the school had its problems, like other schools throughout the country. She said she thinks Cape Henry’s leadership has been genuine in its efforts to improve the school over the last several years and will continue to do so moving forward.

      In June, nearly 200 Cape Henry alumni signed onto a letter calling on the school to express support for Black Lives Matter and to commit to teaching the merits of diversity and inclusivity.

      The effort from alumni came in the middle of the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd. Protests continued in Hampton Roads for weeks after his death, which sparked a reckoning over race in America.

      Garran had already offered an initial statement addressing the matter, but the alumni viewed it as lackluster. Garran acknowledged in a later address it “fell short and has upset people.”

      Just my opinion, but Jim, call the VP and pull your LTE.

      1. Why? I’ve heard the same blanket response everywhere. Besides that, corruption and unethical issues are all over in the govt. and this is what they print? Not saying it isn’t news, but as I pointed out, they’re not printing anything that would appeal to the vast majority of print readers: govt. issues that affect homeowners, business people.

        Loads of places may or may not improve depending on the accusations made. If the VP wants specifics for a story they need to give specifics of the issues alleged here.

        Btw, not all private schools do that or tolerate it if they get it. I can think of several that do not. Attacking private schools is a left/progressive thing because it now goes after the families who decided to use them instead of the public school system.

        Or did everyone miss that one?

        1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

          So, no. A remarkably honest statement of willful ignorance. Refreshing.

          1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            Nancy_Naive says: “In June, nearly 200 Cape Henry alumni signed onto a letter calling on the school to express support for Black Lives Matter and to commit to teaching the merits of diversity and inclusivity.”

            That is all you need to know. Too much learning. Not enough indoctrination.

      2. sherlockj Avatar

        I tried to avoid using the names of the protagonists or the school to avoid again sliming the school or its headmaster. I forgot you were on the job.

        1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

          They slimed themselves cap’n. And if you think, after reading all of the people quoted in the article, that the school is lily white — poor choice of defense wording — you need to box your racism compass.

      3. sherlockj Avatar

        Since you published above what I was trying to avoid, I have replaced the “no-names” version of my letter to the editor in my post with the actual one above.

        The story was based on a clear disconnect in the story of its main character that was left unexamined because any clarification would not have fit the narrative. That is a hit piece.

        1. That is what I said below: regarding private schools.

  4. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    “The African American hero of Mr. Coutu’s story withdrew his children from the school after at least four years, not as the article first states “for reasons of race and diversity,” but, as the article later informs, because “he had earlier accepted a new job and they moved back to the D.C. region.”

    Hmm, now see, I didn’t know that there were no public schools in the D.C. region.

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      I will say this about a private academy in nearby city. My neighbor’s son attended this other academy. Upon graduation, he had a party attended by students and parents, at least 10 to 20 graduates, their family, friends and the neighbors — a lot of people. A lot of all white people.

      The discussion in the house turned to the valedictorian speech.

      Well, not the speech, the n-word (used multiple times) who delivered it, his scholarship that allowed him to attend the academy, and the accusations of the faculty fudging the numbers to “give” him the class position.

      Yeah, race is an issue at some of these paragons of white flight.

    2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      Later? “… but, as the article LATER informs, …”

      “Eventually, he said, he and his wife, Annie, pulled their three students out of Cape Henry because of issues of race and diversity. He had earlier accepted a new job and they then moved back to the D.C. region. They were paying roughly $60,000 a year in tuition for the three.”

      Your use of the word “later” seems just a tad deceptively disingenuous on your part, there, Jimbo. (Deliberately redundant).

      One generally doesn’t associate the very next sentence with an expression “later in the story”. I believe a better word might be “contemporaneously”.

      Moreover, clearly our protagonist has no heartburn with private schooling, spending 60K/yr now in D.C., just the one in question.

      But more to the point, Mr. Coutu states that our protagonist stated the reason was race and diversity.

      Do you have a statement from the family that this is untrue? Or, do you just want to believe it is not? Mighty white of you.

      1. sherlockj Avatar

        Our local TV news outlets can’t interview the gentleman. He is gone.

        1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

          Did he die? Everyone is someplace. Plus, the article included two other named sources as well as citing other unnamed.

          The hit piece is yours. Mr. Coutu reported on a suicide.

    3. sherlockj Avatar

      Virginia Beach has excellent public high schools – one immediately next door to the private school that was the subject of the piece and another about two miles away. And the bill is not $20k per year per child. Mr. Coutu could have asked that obvious question, but if he did, it was not reported.

  5. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    What’s horrible about this story, nothing by you Jim, is the intimations that somehow the Virginian-Pileup is still a “local” paper by moving to the offices of the Daily Mess, just a hop, skip, and a 8-hour drive away on the other side of the HRBT in Newport News.

  6. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Can’t read the story past the firewall…will not comment on that. But, gee Nancy, its maybe 45 minutes from the old Pilot building over to the DP (if the tunnel is moving). Granted, the area has long enjoyed thinking of itself as divided and competitive, but from the outside it’s one mass “Greater Hampton Roads” and has always reminded me of a junior league LA, where you never actually know which municipality you are in and they all look the same…

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      45 minutes? That’s 2AM on January 15th.

      Oh, don’t get me wrong, the Daily Mess is the same paper, printed in Richmond, and owned in Chigago(?). You should be on your knees to the RTD since it still covers the protests in Richmond using recognizable Richmond places in its photos.

      Nah, the HR papers are … well, not local.

  7. djrippert Avatar

    If a paper is going to allege RACISM it should clearly demonstrate (prove?) that allegation. Including the school in an article about RACISM certainly infers that the school is racist. Is that inference clearly correct?

  8. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Mr. Sherlock,
    If anyone needs an editor, it is you. It is the right of a parent or a board member to speak out about what they consider to be problems at a school. Also, your story was so badly put together that I didn’t know what the school was (Cape Henry) or what was really going on. Then we have to go through a pile of tortured hyperbole about hit jobs, the age of a reporter, how they are going to get a Pulitzer. How there are no ethics and so on. In other word, these are things that you really don’t know much about. I am not sure why you included the old Pilot building at 150 W. Brambelton Ave. I worked there as a college intern in the summer of 1973 but I’d guess you’d discount my articles because I was 20 years old at the time.
    If you had some your homework, you would have seen that WTKR aired its own story that a number of recent alumni from Cape Henry said they experienced racism and offensive statements such as one from a white boy that he’d make a great slave because he was so strong. In the Pilot version, on Black student was taken aback when shown a history film of the KKK and then hearing snickers. A couple hundred members of Cape Henry’s community signed a letter stating their support of BLM.

    1. sherlockj Avatar

      Thanks, Peter. It was awkward to write about this without mentioning the names of the school or the two primary protagonists, but I did so to avoid another searchable story repeating the libel that occurred in the Virginian-Pilot. I’m sure you would have done the same.

  9. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    In My Humble Opinion, you do not have libel problems here. For one thing, the head of school said there were problems.

    1. sherlockj Avatar

      The reporter Mr. Coutu did not pursue the obvious contradictions in Mr. Smith’s story relative to both the timing of his withdrawal of his kids from the school or the fact that he served on the Board of Trustees of the school, effectively serving as Mr. Garran’s boss for two years.

      I do not know why the author avoided the rest of the story. I do know that such follow through would have potentially killed the narrative. His editor should have sent him back to get that part of the story. The local television press would like to interview Mr. Smith after that story, but he is gone.

      The resulting RACISM narrative can thus be considered libelous in my view. The definition of libel is “a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation”.

      The story certainly damaged Mr. Garran and the school.

      The fact that the author and his editor avoided pursuing the obvious contradictions in the core accusation against Mr. Garran and the school might reasonably be considered evidence of malicious intent.

      Neither of us is an attorney. You don’t agree that this is libel. That is fine. We will find out how this plays out.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Jim, excellent post. I would add that it’s apparent that we all live in an age of mass intimidation by smear backed by a mass cancel culture machine and mob violence. Most of us surely act that way. This story is yet another example of an organized smear to intimidate to bring radical change by coercion, often aided by a corrupt or intimidated press. Here the target is a private school, and all headmasters of private schools everywhere so as to intimidate those heads of schools, and their boards.

  10. NotARobot Avatar

    I appear to be late to the game but did the reporter ask the board member what he did as a board member to address this supposedly rampant racism that he and his family endured for years? Surely he raised this life changing issue to the board, right? Or were his allegations invented out of whole clothe after he decided to take a new position out of the area and wanted to settle some personal grievances that had nothing to do with racism?
    Seems relevant, yes?

  11. sherlockj Avatar

    We don’t know what the reporter is asked, just what he printed. His sons played on sports teams, and were well liked. I will go to my grave not understand why the father did this.

    1. NotARobot Avatar

      Well, I do know and the father did not raise any issue while on the board. Ever. He and his wife had a personal grievance with individuals at that school over politics, not race. When that didn’t work out for them, they tossed out the race card two years later, creating issues that did not exist at the time. I can guarantee that if that family has been subjected to any racism, real or imagined, both Mr and Mrs would have shouted it out with bullhorns on the front lawn. They didn’t. Not once. Because it didn’t exist. But the administration under Garran’s leadership were looking for an entry into incorporating CRT into the curriculum and the Smith’s provided it. That’s why Garran didn’t defend the school. That’s why they targeted the Amet kid. So is he a coward, as you stated on another article, or an opportunist?

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