SHOCKED, SHOCKED. You know who Claude Rains was, don’t you? Played Captain Renault in the 1942 classic “Casablanca”?
Sure you do.
You remember what the corrupt Captain said when he closed the casino – where he gambled every night – in Rick’s Café Américain, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”
Sure you do, because that scene is showing right now across Tennessee. Different movies, same scene.
One movie, set in Knoxville, has the owner of a zillion gas stations shocked, shocked to find out his company has been welshing on agreements. So he asks a Memphis friend to look into it – a friend, by the way, whose company was investigated for the same thing. That friend is also a board member and part owner of all those gas stations. And the former employer of the owner’s brother, who is now the governor.
You already know how this one ends.
Another movie, set in Memphis, stars that same friend – Brad Martin – in another role. In this one, he’s been asked to serve as interim president of a state university and is shocked, shocked that people are asking what qualifications he has to lead a major educational institution. Didn’t he give them a graduate level pile of money? Doesn’t he hang with everybody who has high degrees of money? Haven’t we already established that he’s tight with the guv and his family?
Speaking of the guv, in a movie just opening, we find him shocked, shocked to learn that he may be investigated for awarding – without troubling with bids – tens of millions of our dollars to a Chicago-based firm – in which he has an interest – to manage our real estate across Tennessee.
All three movies are now playing in a newspaper near you.
As for the Haslam epic, if Jimmy Haslam didn’t know what was going on at Pilot Flying J, he’s incompetent. If he did, he’s not telling the truth. Either way, he should step out of the driver’s seat. Nothing crony and co-pilot, Brad, says will change that. And common sense dictates, and even Stevie Wonder can see, that no matter how blind the trust is, little brother Bill Haslam has more than passing knowledge of the family business in which he has, literally, large and untold interests, not to mention his untold interest in the Chicago firm of Jones Lang LaSalle.
As for Martin’s saga, in his letter to The Commercial Appeal concerning the Saks scandal and his subsequent departure as CEO, he asks us which we would rather believe for a factual representation of that situation – The Cleveland Plain Dealer or his press releases? That’s a much clearer choice than choosing him as president of the University of Memphis. That one should go back to the store. It doesn’t fit.
Have we become so cynical that these kind of incestuous, well-heeled and ethically challenged machinations simply don’t shock us anymore, or are we the idiots they take us for?
I’m a Memphian, and I’ve seen this movie.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.