What the heck is the Tennessee Holler?
At first, all we knew was that it was a website that posted a video of a guy snookering newly chosen House Speaker Glen Casada into making a fool of himself.
In fairness to the interviewer, a former congressional candidate named Justin Kanew, he didn’t have to resort to trickery to make Casada look bad. The Republican speaker voluntarily stuck his foot into his pie hole while defending his decision to make Rep. David Byrd the chair of a powerful education subcommittee – even though Byrd had been caught on tape last year apologizing to a young woman who accused him of having sexually assaulted her when she was a high school basketball player and he was her coach. Two other former students have also accused Byrd of sexual assault.
Kanew just let him talk.
The allegations against Byrd aren’t new news. The taped apology went public last year and was enough to sway both former House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally to publicly suggest that Byrd should retire from office.
Instead, he ran for re-election and won. Casada has taken the position that Byrd’s constituents put the matter to rest by sending him back to Nashville. Kanew’s interview, which he posted on The Tennessee Holler, lured CNN’s Victor Blackwell to Nashville to look into the matter, and he reported back on the whole mess on Jake Tapper’s show.
So naturally, the Holler was on the minds of lots of people. Used to be, every town of any size had a daily newspaper, and many of them sent reporters to Nashville to cover the General Assembly. The bigger cities sent two or three of them. Smaller towns depended on the wire services, and there were TV and radio reporters scrapping for stories, too. The environment was sharply competitive, and citizens were informed.
This isn’t the case nowadays. Except for Chattanooga Times Free Press stalwart Andy Sher, print media has shrunk to almost NBG (Nothing But Gannett), and broadcast and TV have cut back, too. The Holler proposes to help fill the void.
The Holler energized Byrd’s accusers, who started showing up for meetings and promptly got thrown out by Casada, generating even more coverage. Reporters – past, present and wannabe – started discussing the Holler’s methods, which pretty much consist of posting videos.
Who’s helping him? Is he a journalist, or what?
Kanew says he and his wife, Nicole, moved to Tennessee a couple of years ago because they wanted to raise their daughter, Kaia, in a more family-friendly environment than Southern California, where he worked in TV as a writer and producer and as a contestant on “The Amazing Race.” (His father, Jeff Kanew, directed “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Tough Guys,” among other films.) He lives in College Grove in Williamson County and was itching to run against Marsha Blackburn, who represented the 7th Congressional District.
He stayed in the race when Blackburn decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Bob Corker. He got beat by former state Sen. Mark Green, who took Blackburn’s place as the GOP frontrunner.
But Kanew didn’t go away. He’s in the Legislative Plaza a couple of times a week and says the Holler is pretty much himself and Holly McCall, a former head of the Williamson County Democratic Party, who has also run for office. They don’t use bylines and don’t put their names on stuff, which seems kind of a moot point, since the website’s content is almost exclusively video and everybody knows who they are anyhow. He is happy that word is getting out about them.
“Everybody is a part of the Holler,” he said. “And if they see something they want to holler about, they send it in. We want this to be an outlet for everybody across the state, and that’s what it has become.”
He doesn’t have much patience with those who complain about the lack of bylines.
“Look: We’re covering politicians, and until these people … start walking around with ‘Koch Brothers’ stamped on their foreheads, I’m not too worried about stamping our names on everything. I’m not hiding. I think it’s pretty clear that I’m involved, but I don’t feel the need to have my name all over everything. This is not about me, and it’s not about Holly. It’s about the truth. We hyperlink to evidence and we show videos. And you can’t argue with video, even though they try. All we’re doing is showing what these guys are saying.”