On July 4, 1981, Appalachian Observer publisher Ernest F. Phillips and Editor Ed Slavin (that would be me) distributed copies of our four page Prospectus for the new tabloid, the AO.
On June 22, 1981, I had flown from D.C. to Tennessee, with nine huge Banker's boxes full of books, and an open mind, ready to report and write on the most corrupt county in the State of Tennessee,
Ernie and I left the Prospectus for fireworks viewers by leaving them under the windshields on their automobiles at the school athletic field in Lake City (formerly "Coal Creek," since renamed Rocky Top, at the request of a developer).
In our Prospectus, we outlined the dysfunctional problems of government and corruption Anderson County, where Mr. Phillips' Appalachian family had lived since circa 1790s.
We wrote our own declaration of independence, one declaring our newspaper and County residents would not be a part of what we charitably called "Chain Gang Journalism," covering up for powerful interests.
We informed our readers what we were going to do.
And we did it.
Ernie was a former deep coal mine operator who hated strip-mining and its devastating effects on people in his county. Ernie was a confidential informant about Tennessee coal operator price-fixing practices, which informed my work investigating TVA and its purchase of coal from local coal operators who were part of the keiretsu of Senator Howard Henry Baker, Jr.
Ernie was a former criminal investigator for the District Attorney General, James Nelson Ramsey, and he hated corruption.
Ernie was the former elected Mayor of Oliver Springs, who once visited Senator Howard Baker about strip-mining caused flooding, and Baker (who was conceived in Oliver Springs); told about flooding, Baker said, "you folks down there have a problem."
Ernie was a Democrat and an elected Anderson County Commissioner, one of five reformers on a monochromatic thirteen-member County Commission.
Ernie and his wife, Anne, both reckoned that they could afford to start a newspaper.
After a TVA reform conference in 1981, I called Ernie, whom I had not spoken. with since circa 1978-79. We met at the restaurant at the Hyatt Regency in Knoxville, the building that looks like a TVA dam that missed the river.
Ernie offered me a job as editor of his new newspaper, trusting a rookie who'd never taken a journalism course, bur investigated coal companies and other oligopolists with a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant.
So that's how at age 24, a Yankee from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, I found myself affixing "Celebrate Independence" flyers under hundreds of cars at Lake City athletic field in Northeast Tennessee. The rockets red glare of the fireworks show accompanied the distribution of our Prospectus.
We were truly in "the land of the free and the home of the brave," my friends.
Patriotic East Tennesseans like County Commissioner and AO Publisher Ernie Phillips were heard and heeded.
The power of the press, even a tabloid newspaper established ex nihilo, is a joy to behold.
We kept our promises.
The Appalachian Observer exposed the corrupt Anderson County, Tennessee Sheriff, Democrat DENNIS OWEN TROTTER, who went to federal prison 1984-1988 for drug dealing and bribery conspiracy. Some fifteen deputies and other witnesses told the truth about TROTTER, twice the Tennessee Sheriff of the Year. TROTTER took payoffs from bail bondsman and drug dealers. My reporting on his works and pomps led TROTTER to threaten me with a lawsuit, calling me "the most dangerous reporter [he] ever met." (Fun fact: libel suit by TROTTER's co-felons resolved in my favor; TROTTER, INTERSTATE BAIL BONDING CO. ERVIN DUNCAN, ROBERT WAGNER, JR. and GAIL DUNCAN WAGNER all paid me for damages caused by their bad faith retaliatory libel suit, which was a civil rights violation, malicious prosecution of a civil lawsuit and abuse of civil process.)
We exposed the thirteen-year snooty sinister snollygoster Anderson County School Superintendent, Democrat PAUL EUGENE BOSTIC, JR., who resigned in 1982, after Anderson County voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum providing for elected School Superintendent (later reversed by another referendum.)
We helped re-elect Ernie and his four reformer colleagues, Q.V. Leinart, Kenneth M. "Reece" Wallace, Darrell Copeland, and James Hackworth.
We helped re-elect reform DA James Nelson Ramsey, Ernie's former boss when he was Criminal Investigator.
We elected reform County Attorney David Alexander Stuart, at age 26, a brilliant ethical lawyer, son of a beloved Presbyterian minister and a schoolteacher, who was re-elected three (3) times without opposition, a bulwark of democracy and legality in a good-ole-boy Courthouse swathed in corruption.
With the help of Messrs. Stuart and Ramsey, we helped expose the Oak Ridge nuclear weapons plants, the Oak Ridge Oligarchy of Atomic Blunderers, whose contempt for the people, land and future of East Tennessee was "classified," with pollution kept secret, including the world's largest mercury pollution event, which we got declassified.
Like "The Little Engine That Could," the AO persisted.