Guest Column

In a public health crisis, we should name names

By , Guest Columnist Updated: April 01, 2020 9:13 AM CT | Published: April 01, 2020 4:00 AM CT
Leanne Kleinmann
Guest Columnist

Leanne Kleinmann

Leanne Kleinmann was a senior editor at The Commercial Appeal from 1994-2009. She founded Leanne Kleinmann Communications in 2016.

I’ve been missing Angus McEachran a lot this week.

Many of you will remember the gruff and demanding editor of The Commercial Appeal in his public life (he died in 2018), but those of us who worked for him knew another side.

What he cared about most, to the exclusion of any reporter’s excuses, was getting the truth and reporting it accurately. Off-the-record sources were trash to him, except in rare cases that only he could validate. “She said” better have a name (and age and street address) attached. No excuses.

It was so frustrating, getting a story spiked because a passing reference to someone’s thought wasn’t directly attributed. Even columnists – who are reporters with expressed opinions – weren’t exempt.

<strong>Leanne Kleinmann</strong>

Leanne Kleinmann

I know now (and knew then, really) that naming names, filling in details, however uncomfortable, makes the information being reported much more valuable.

Why? Because everyone can see the facts and make a judgment about them. Not just officials. Not just insiders, those in the know. Not just the privileged. EVERYONE.

That’s why I’m so frustrated with most of the information coming out of local officials about the coronavirus pandemic in Memphis. It feels like they think we, the public, can’t understand anything, can’t be trusted with any actual details. Many reporters I’ve talked to over the last weeks, from every part of Memphis’ journalism ecosystem, feel the same.

The first death from COVID-19 was reported in Shelby County on March 28. For a while, we didn’t even know that, because the governor of Tennessee wasn’t releasing deaths with county names attached. We still don’t know who died, or the circumstances, or where.

With coronavirus surge expected, local leaders withhold key data

Yes, I understand that a family death is usually a private tragedy, but these are not usual times. I can’t help but think that the lack of information – the squishy he-said, she-said rumor mill that is a twin to the daily COVID-19 case count, now above 400 – is part of the reason so many Memphians are ignoring officials’ pleas to stay inside, away from other people and out of the parks.

On March 30, news outlets reported an outbreak of COVID-19 in an assisted living facility. As many as six cases. And oh, it’s in East Memphis. But that’s all the Shelby County Health Department wants us to know.

Even though the first case there, according to news reports, was reported WEEKS ago. Even though an outbreak in such close quarters with old and perhaps immunocompromised people could be especially deadly. Many of us will certainly know someone with a connection to that facility, whenever the name and details finally emerge.

If you don’t know the facts, you don’t know what to believe. You have to decide for yourself what kind of action to take to keep yourself and your family, loved ones, friends and neighbors safe.

To the leaders of the Memphis pandemic fight: Please respect us enough to tell us the truth. We can handle it.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do


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