City Desk

Former City Paper Editor Howard Witt Still Casting an Idolmaking Spell

There he goes again.

For all intents, former City Paper editor Howard Witt put Ty'sheoma Bethea in the presidential box next to Michelle Obama for last night's unauthorized State of the Union address.

Witt met Bethea while reporting on the schools in Dillon, S.C. His discussions with the youngster, who attends a rundown middle school that Barack Obama had visited twice before taking over as president, resulted in the kid writing a letter to federal lawmakers.

The school's principal asked Witt how to get the missive to the right folks up here in Power Town, and Witt helped out and wrote about Bethea's letter in the Tribune.

Via e-mail, Witt, who left City Paper for the Tribune in 2001, says that he's not sure if the White House found out about Bethea from her letter or from his piece on the letter.

"But either way, the letter would not have existed if I hadn't visited that classroom," Witt tells me.

Boastful? For sure. But Witt's got an amazing track record in these matters.

Whatever the guy writes about becomes a national cause celebre.

Whoever he writes about becomes a star.

He's the Walter Winchell of race reporting.

So if you see Witt coming at you with his notebook, chances are you need a lawyer or an agent—or both.

You can look it up:

  • In May 2007, Witt broke the Jena 6 story in the Chicago Tribune, where he's head of the paper's Southwestern bureau. Next thing you know, busloads of college kids are flocking to the Louisiana town crying injustice.
  • Two months earlier, Witt broke the story of Shaquanda Cotton, a black Paris, Texas, 14-year-old who was sentenced to up to seven years in a juvenile detention center for allegedly shoving a white school employee. Witt’s report drew national attention to the case, and, not coincidentally, Cotton was released by from the state facility shortly thereafter.
  • And a month after his Jena 6 tales caught fire, Witt's race copy went viral all over again with a report on Channon Christianand Christopher Newsom, a white Knoxville couple allegedly kidnapped and murdered by four blacks.

Who's next?

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