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Firing Lines

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After last week's ouster of Jesse Washington, editor-in-chief of Vibe spin-off Blaze, fax machines in music-industry offices across town were all churning out the same thing: Washington's defiantly self-pitying farewell to his Vibe and Blaze colleagues. Accompanying the swan-song missive was one of the reasons for Washington's dismissal: a killed column in which he championed Montoun Hart, the controversially acquitted defendant in the murder trial of Jonathan Levin. Levin, of course, was the son of Gerald Levin, the chair of Time Warner, whose company was originally a partner in Vibe, and who has close associations to top brass at Blaze parent company Miller Publishing. (Washington's other mistake was putting Hart on the Blaze payroll as an $8-an-hour intern.) For those whose fax machines were out of paper last week, some selections from Washington's self-titled "manifesto" (a photo of a laughing Hart with the caption free at last accompanied the ill-fated text):

Montoun told a few different stories about what had happened that night. But one aspect of his story, the part I believed, remained consistent: The dead teacher was the son of one of the world's most powerful men. The police were under tremendous pressure to solve such a high-profile case -- and they forced Montoun to sign a confession of their own invention.

Montoun went on trial as we prepared this issue. . . . A plethora of overlapping concerns soon emerged. How can Blaze discuss crime and punishment without glorifying criminals? How can I support someone with such a checkered history? Does the injustice of the criminal justice system make us forget that some people need to be there? There are no easy answers.


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