Mardi Gras Inc. Spokesman Decries Riverfront Times "Hatchet Job"

On February 13 we posted a short piece by our new Editorial Fellow Nicholas Phillips, about Mardi Gras Inc. and its list of fine-able offenses by participants in the annual Soulard Mardi Gras parade.

Above is an excerpt from the Mardis Gras Inc. parade application.

After the jump is an e-mail Phillips received over the weekend from MGI spokesman Mack Bradley.

Spoiler alert!

Mr. Bradley didn't like Phillips' story. Doesn't like us, period. He points out that RFT referred to Mardi Gras Inc. as "Nazis" in a headline, and that we took the opportunity to remind readers of that sobriquet in subsequent stories, including Phillips'.
From: "Mack A. Bradley"
Date: February 14, 2009 8:24:20 AM CST
To: [email protected]
Subject: Nice story about "fines going down in the last few years"

I think I did see that line somewhere in the dozen paragraphs about all Mardi Gras' "controversial policies."  We have come to expect this kind of hatchet job from the RFT.  Do everyone a favor, and tell your buddies in the newsroom not to bother to call us anymore.  After cooperating with you guys twice and having the honor of being called Nazis (a fact that your paper never passes up an opportunity to remind everyone of, including in your story), I think we've had enough.  I am instructing everyone to simply not talk to the RFT about anything, anywhere, anytime.

I've been working with the press for 15 years and I've never worked with any organization like the RFT.  You guys are just sad.  Shame, too.  This town could use a real alternative voice in the newspaper business.

Mack A. Bradley
Apogee Public Affairs, LLC

Here's an excerpt from Chad Garrison's original story, "Party Nazis," published in December 2006:

"...[A] growing number of detractors...charge that Mardi Gras Inc. -- and several nonprofits tied to the organization -- has overstepped its bounds as a fundraiser and event coordinator. A prime example, they say, is a letter the organization sent out to bar owners a few weeks prior to the November meeting.

"The first page of the letter stressed the importance of corporate sponsors in footing the bill for St. Louis' increasingly expensive Mardi Gras celebration, which is said to be second in size only to New Orleans. Page two outlined the fee each bar will be expected to pay Mardi Gras Inc. if it chooses to cooperate in next year's 'sponsorship support program.' The third page spelled out what they'll pay should they refuse.

"The price variance is dramatic. Should saloon-keepers not adhere to the new sponsorship program this coming year, they'll pay a tenfold increase in fees to sell alcohol outdoors during the 2008 Mardi Gras festival. For the typical Soulard watering hole, that means a price hike from around $1,000 to $10,000. With bars counting on Mardi Gras for as much as 20 percent of their annual revenue, such fees might well spell the difference between a successful year and a middling one.

"'I don't know if the letter was a scare tactic or what,' says Denny Hammerstone, owner of the eponymous watering hole Hammerstones.... 'But it seemed to come out of the blue. Mardi Gras Inc. is supposed to serve as a neighborhood coalition -- not a dictatorship.'"
Also in that original story, Garrison reported that:

"...[T]he federal government's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)..., working in tandem with the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, has interviewed several Soulard bar owners as part of an investigation looking into the legality of Mardi Gras Inc.'s sponsorship deals.

"'We're looking at trade practices concerning several alcohol businesses and whether or not their actions are excluding the participation of other alcohol manufacturers,' says Pete Lobdell, supervisor of the state's Alcohol and Tobacco Control. 'Additionally, we're looking into whether the participating sponsors may be providing finances beyond the ordinary lines of credit to vendors participating in Mardi Gras.'"
In a follow-up story published six weeks later, Garrison revealed that:

"In a letter dated January 16, the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control informed Soulard tavernkeepers of their right under state law to advertise and sell all legal alcohol brands regardless of threats from Mardi Gras Inc., the nonprofit corporation that organizes St. Louis' pre-Lenten festival.

"The letter specifically states that 'Soulard retailers may sell any alcohol beverage and display any alcoholic beverage signage without reprisals....'"
For the record: It was not Garrison's decision to headline his story "Party Nazis." Writers write stories, editors write headlines. For that matter, it wasn't Nick Phillips' decision to link back from his story about "controversial policies" to a prior story about "controversial policies" that ran underneath a headline Mack Bradley doesn't like.

Also for the record: If Mardi Gras Inc. chooses not to return our phone calls, that's their prerogative. But that's not going to dissuade Riverfront Times from calling them -- and writing about them -- if and when we hear of more "controversial policies" or other newsworthy information.

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