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Arkansas Business has released its annual supplemental magazine naming who it believes are the 250 most influential people in Arkansas for 2019.

I felt honored to have been included alongside so many others who care deeply for our state. Thank you (but stay tuned for some intellectual honesty).

The supplement said my inclusion in the Arkansas 250 was based on years of hammering away in who knows how many columns about the state's wrongheaded actions that allowed a large-scale hog factory with 6,500 swine to operate in our precious Buffalo National River watershed.

Many Arkansans correctly came to label this draining, seven-year fiasco as the second battle to save the Buffalo. Thanks to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's actions, the state finally did the right thing in June and bought out the factory owners. Today environmental regulators reportedly are monitoring the facility's closing, expected sometime this month.

The other reason mentioned in explaining my inclusion referred to the dozens of columns over four years that raised serious questions about the 1996 murder conviction of Belynda Goff of Green Forest.

The mother of three had been convicted (with zero physical evidence) of beating her husband Stephen to death in their apartment.

I undertook her cause after reviewing the incredible number of gaps, flaws, uncalled defense witnesses and implausible circumstances of her conviction, which included potentially exculpatory physical evidence that mysteriously vanished.

Circuit Judge Scott Jackson carefully reviewed that case and arguments from lawyers for Goff from the Innocence Project, and rightly ordered her release for the 23 years she'd served. He added that if Belynda were tried today based on what has since been learned about the gawd-awful travesty of a case, she very likely would be acquitted.

Today, Goff walks free, is continually thankful to God, and living in peace with her family well outside Arkansas.

I'm writing this to explain to valued readers that, while I was motivated to delve into both significant matters and it was my mind doing the thinking and fingers the typing, any recognition of those efforts only flows through me to the man who genuinely deserves the credit: Publisher Walter Hussman Jr.

I smiled at seeing him also justifiably listed in this year's gallery of 250 honorees. The unique person and publisher Walter always has been deserves every possible recognition for his contributions and achievements in Arkansas and beyond. This certainly includes his unflinching support of my efforts over the decades that allowed me to publish accounts of issues and subjects that outraged and motivated my spirit.

Without his approval as publisher of this paper (as well as the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record where I spent seven years as editor during the 1970s), I would never have been able to pursue any of so many stories that now flood my memories.

For instance, he stood firmly behind me when I wrote of a former sheriff who'd allegedly taken bribes to allow illegal cockfighting, despite his attorney's advice against running the story. Hussman was supportive of stories that challenged authorities and ultimately led to facts which freed a black mason named Shelby Barron from bogus rape and robbery charges.

Walter stood solidly in my corner when I wrote of the wrongful murder conviction of Ronald Carden of Bigelow who was freed based on the discovery and publishing of new evidence, and another series of stories that revealed the 25-year-old murder of a black veteran, Marvin Williams of Menifee, while in custody of the former sheriff of Faulkner County.

He was the stone wall at my back through four years and more than 200 columns examining the state's failures in investigating the 1989 death of 16-year-old Janie Ward of Marshall and two separate investigations (conducted years apart) detailing inexcusable failures within the state Crime Laboratory.

The list of such controversial stories whose facts trod on some influential Arkansas shoe leather is lengthy. And because of his courage, integrity and resolve not to cave into outside pressures and influences, the words flowed from this laptop into your hearts and minds. He is the ultimate decider of what goes into his newspaper and I consider him indisputably the most reader-focused, journalism-committed publisher in the U.S. today.

So thank you again, Arkansas Business, for the deeply appreciated inclusion on this year's list. But even more than that, for also recognizing in the same issue a man that made it possible.

Should you doubt every journalist's need for higher support in this business, look at ABC News anchor Amy Robach. She reportedly was recorded off camera claiming network superiors withheld her bombshell sex-trafficking story three years ago about the late Jeffrey Epstein.

Robach didn't deny the accuracy of the video that raised a media firestorm, adding in a statement that she was "caught in a private moment of frustration" after an interview with one of Epstein's accusers reportedly naming immensely powerful people was not aired at that time because of a purported lack of "sufficient corroborating evidence."

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 11/10/2019

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