Softball Chavez Interview From Leader Of U.S. Editors

At left is the top of an interview with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez filed by Charlotte Hall, Editor of the Orlando Sentinel and President of the American Society Of Newspaper Editors. Other editors who recently accompanied Hall to Venezuela, like Marty Baron of the Boston Globe and Margaret Sullivan of the Buffalo News, led their stories with unflattering facts about Chavez, like recently-autheticated evidence he sought to supply missiles to Colombian rebels, his country's skyrocketing homicide rate and a rebuke in a December national referendum. Hall, in contrast, introduced her story with a series of anecdotes supplied by Chavez himself, descriptions of his clothing and a button he used to summon coffee, plus the observation that he kissed female editors on their cheeks. This fluffy treatment, and Hall's sycophantic smiling in the accompanying photo, we hear, horrified some in the Sentinel newsroom, particularly among those who already regarded the editor as a "clueless" transplant from the tabloid Newsday.

In her Chavez profile, Hall did eventually, if briefly and obliquely, reference the missile charges against Chavez. She also included two sentences, near the end of her article, about Chavez's suppression of opposition media. But the article's few skeptical notes were overshadowed by the warm overall tone and Hall's smile in the accompanying picture.

The Sentinel editor has near-complete autonomy at her newspaper, per orders from CEO Sam Zell and his insane radio henchmen, who have allowed leaders at other Tribune papers similar freedom. But some buttoned-down types in Orlando are not happy with what she's done with her power.

There were the near-topless photos she ran of Ashley Dupre, call girl to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. All well and good on, say, Gawker, but, to one disgruntled email tipster, the photos were "newsless ... but hey, digital pasties covered her nipples, so its okay, right?"

Hall also stirred local controversy by running Annie Leibovitz's semi-nude photos of Miley Cyrus alongside a front-page story about the teen star's scandalous spread in Vanity Fair.

There is, at least, a certain logic to running the Dupre and Cyrus photos. American newspapers could use more sizzle, and Hall seems intent on providing it. All well and good.

But if she's going to be the hard-charing tabloid editor, Hall should have made sure she lived up to that persona in the interveiwed she scored with Chavez, a controversial world leader especially visible to readers in South Florida. At the very least, she should not have done a complete 180 and soft-pedalled the guy.

Next time, Charlotte, consider sending your pushy photographer and cussing boss for the big sit-down. They'd undoubtedly make a feisty interview team — just the thing for a would-be controversial newspaper.