Monthly Archives: August 2008

From TV to VP

In 1988, Sarah Palin was Sarah Heath.  Heath was a sportscaster at a TV station in Anchorage.  Now the ex-sportscaster is John McCain’s VP-to-be.  Chuckle, only if you are without embarrassing video of yourself from this particular time period:

Can an ex-local TV goon make the leap to the vice presidency?  The only other national figure with a local TV background (that we can think of) is Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.  (The late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC was commentator at WRAL, Raleigh.)  It’s interesting that all three made the leap from the “liberal” media to Republican party activism.

Maybe that was Dale Cardwell’s problem– wrong party.  Or the fact that he’s not married to a snowmobiling champ.

The low road

LAF gets awfully weary of its pious, know-it-all trips along the high road every single day. As a respite, we cheerfully gas up and head down the low road. What we’re about to show you has the whiff of baloney-with-cheese to it. But since we’re traveling the low road, we’re duty-bound to expel this. Authentic?  You decide:

At the risk of overanal yzing, the fact is this: Our subject, Mr. Mark Winne of WSB, would have had to deliver a resounding, high decibel blast from his nether region in order for the audio to reach his chest-borne lavalier microphone with such splendid clarity. And while we’re confident Winne has such capabilities, this smells of high mischief to us. Or, some audio glitch that reverberated from the control room when Winne’s package abruptly dumped. So to speak.

An LAF reader alerted us to this a couple of weeks ago, claiming this is how it sounded on TV. The same reader directed us to the video this week— motivated, no doubt, to clear the air.

By the way, youtube is filled with such stuff, with noises obviously dubbed into the delivery of live TV. But this one appears irrefutably to be the real deal. The host’s recovery is as splendid as her couture. Happy Labör Day. Viva Sweden.

Politics at six

The producer of WAGA’s 6pm news yesterday must have entered the control room uneasily. Instinct must have said: Lead with weather. But the luck of the draw gave Deidra Dukes a live window from Denver at the top of the broadcast. WAGA apparently had little choice– lead with the Democrats.

(Dukes is likely among a cluster of local Fox reporters covering the convention. They all typically appear on the same satellite feed, and must take turns doing live shots in front of the same camera. When Atlanta’s reporter draws the top slot, then Dallas’s reporter [for example] has to wait for the second window at, say, 6:04pm.)

Dukes’ lead live shot was perilous. It appeared she got last-minute instructions to toss to a vo/sot on Hillary Clinton releasing her delegates. Dukes couldn’t hear the tape and apparently had trouble hearing the cues from the control room. It was a raw moment. But Dukes recovered and tossed to an interesting package about Jimmy Carter, who recalled the disunity of the 1980 Democratic convention.

Then WAGA got lucky. As Dukes concluded her live shot, Shirley Franklin answered the roll call for Georgia, and the station took it live.

Note to reporters in Denver: Calling it “the DNC convention” is akin to referring to an “ATM Machine.” Yes, DNC actually stands for “Democratic National Committee.” But so many news folk are using DNC to abbreviate “Democratic National Convention” that it makes sense to steer clear of this appearance-of-a-redundancy. Call it “the Democratic Convention.” Or the “Democrat Convention” if you want to show your Republican leanings.

Then WAGA launched into weather coverage. Charles Molineaux covered the tornado damage in Commerce without a wireless microphone. Molineaux’s mic wire draped awkwardly through some of the video. It doubtless hindered his ability to talk to newsmakers and communicate with his photog. If a wireless mic is in the shop, there ought to be spares. No big-market crew should be covering a big story with that handicap.

The I-Team’s Randy Travis had a killer follow-up story on another craven, money-grubbing religious figure, a Gwinnett Hindu Swami who hilariously calls himself “Doctor Commander.” Yet it appears the slippery target of Travis’s report has eluded an on-camera confrontation, an I-Team signature. How’d that happen?

There wasn’t room for much else at 6. Mo Diggs covered a downtown shootin‘. Portia Bruner did a tornado sidebar. Doug Evans delivered a too-long report on the capture of a fugitive. A nine-year-old took Amanda Davis’s vital signs (with the help of an EMT) during a too-long Wednesday’s Child segment.

Then the show returned to Denver, just in time to hear Hillary Clinton ask for Barack Obama’s nomination by acclimation. Unfortunately, viewers had to sit through the New York chairman’s windy introduction of too-many NY elected officials before introducing Clinton. It added to the drama. But we can picture the 6pm producer yelling at the monitor to hurry it the f*%# up, while killing story after story from the rundown.

Denver nuggets

The good news: WSB is staffing the Democratic convention in Denver. The station sent anchor Monica Pearson and political reporter Lori Geary. More good news: Pearson apparently team-covered a meeting of the Georgia delegation with Geary in what appeared to be a hotel ballroom. It’s always refreshing to see Atlanta’s premier anchor/diva in the trenches slinging a stick mic.

Pearson’s soundbite with Rep. David Scott appeared in Geary’s piece about the delegation’s desire for unity surrounding nominee-to-be Barack Obama. Unfortunately, Geary’s piece was predictable and leaned heavily on video of a hotel ballroom meeting. She redeemed it somewhat by disclosing that Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond and House Minority Leader Dubose Porter are considering runs for Governor.

Meantime, Pearson delivered a piece on Rev. Cynthia Hale, the Decatur pastor who gave the invocation Tuesday. Shot in Decatur prior to the convention, Pearson’s piece was also predictable. Hale, like Pearson, is a smartly-coiffed middle-aged African American woman. Their dueling hairstyles gave the piece a “whoa!” factor otherwise lacking.

Give WSB’s management credit for recognizing that this year’s DNC is a high-interest story and a welcome respite from the drumbeat of weather coverage. Give its staff in Denver a little encouragement to actually come up with some high-interest material.

Sympathy

It’s a bad week to be Denis O’Hayer. WXIA’s political reporter is a smart guy. He’s a good reporter. He’s got good connections. He’s one of the best reasons to watch WXIA.

O’Hayer ought to be in Denver, giving WXIA some local color from the Democratic convention. Instead, he’s home. And adding insult to injury, this talented reporter spent today’s noon news producing a live report on a tree that fell on a house. The tree injured nobody, though a college-age woman who “could have” been in the damaged bedroom wasn’t.

O’Hayer did it gamely. In his report, he spoke at some length about the root structure of the old tree, which had been compromised by excess rain. He sold the story as a Big Deal, even though it could have been adequately covered by anchor v/o. Selling such tripe is a TV reporter’s job. There’s no quicker way to get a phone call from the boss than by downplaying an a-section story as no big deal.

Meantime, while he’s at the latest weather mini-event, O’Hayer is encountering his colleagues and competitors. At each turn, O’Hayer is doubtless hearing the same question repeatedly: Why aren’t you in Denver? It is probably driving the TV and radio news veteran batshit crazy inside.

Sure, the national political conventions are hackneyed and stage-managed. Sure, local coverage doesn’t add that much. But we’d much, much rather watch O’Hayer face that challenge than see him take on a downed tree.

Adding to his misfortune is the fact that WXIA has extensive coverage from Denver on its website. It is touting blogs from TV reporters based at Gannett stations in Buffalo and Denver, who are covering the convention. Too bad O’Hayer isn’t one of them, though he’s still blogging about politics. It shows where his heart is while he’s standing outside talking about a downed tree.

Next time you see O’Hayer, our suggestion: Don’t ask him why he isn’t in Denver. A word of sympathy would sting much less.

WSB’s film archive

It seems that the University of Georgia has uploaded much of WSB’s vintage news film library onto the web, and anybody can watch. Talk about a eureka moment. Some of it is spine tingling. All of it is raw, especially compared to the HD world of the 21st century. But if you’re a news buff, a film buff, a history buff and / or an Atlantaphile, you can kill hours on this site. However, it’s a little convoluted to navigate. Start here:

http://www.youtube.com/profile_videos?p=r&user=ugawsbarchive&page=1

When you get there, you’ll find 89 thumbnails– clips of film no longer than 15 seconds or so, with no written explanation. Click on the thumbnail showing Lester Maddox in 1961, for example, and you’ll see this eleven second clip:

When the clip finishes, you’ll go to the Youtube site. (To get there from LAF, double click the window above.)

In the grey box to the right, you’ll see “Please see full film @ …” and it’ll send you to a UGA website. Go there, and a full four and a half minute clip will play– excerpts of a debate between mayoral candidates Maddox and Ivan Allen, with Maddox sarcastically beating the drum for segregation.

The clip plays as it aired in the film chain at the TV station. You hear sound, then the film goes silent as the reporter or anchor read narration (you don’t hear the narration). Then you hear sound again. In the Allen-Maddox clip, the best sound is at the end. In it, Maddox says, if elected, he would “say Ralph, go on back to Forsyth St. with all deliberate speed, boy.” Presumably, he’s talking about Ralph Abernathy.

One can somewhat browse the UGA site here. It’s not terribly user-friendly, though.

But it’s a rich find. Click here, and you’ll see a 1966 protest at the Capitol after the House refused to seat Julian Bond. Martin Luther King Jr. gives a stirring speech near the Tom Watson statue, with dozens of jacked-up state troopers standing in the wings.

For camp value, click here. A reporter named Joel Abrams delivers a 1968 report on a UGA protest encampment called “persecution city.” Abrams appears to be a little embarrassed by the whole thing. It seems WSB covered numerous protests back in the day, when an assignment editor would hand 100 feet of film to a news crew and tell them to return in time for film processing and hot-splice editing.

WSB was the only Atlanta TV station to save its film stock, handing it over to UGA for archiving and safekeeping. UGA makes copies of the film readily available, including to WSB’s Atlanta competitors.

The web site says the WSB archive covers material from 1949 to 1981. Eureka.

The one that got away

Reporters waste a lot of time. It drives them crazy. It’s also part of the job. You get a hot tip. You start asking questions. A story emerges. You start committing time and resources.

This is especially true for investigative reporters. Their stories require more digging. Their sources probably have axes to grind, requiring extra caution. Sometimes, the stories crash and burn in the end. In one case, the crash is rather amusing. Dale Russell writes about it in his blog.

The WAGA investigative reporter thought he’d found a story: The VA provided a widow a flag for the casket of her military-veteran husband. But upon receiving the flag, the family saw a “Made in China” tag. This riled the family, who contacted Russell.

This resulted in several days worth of phone calls, FOIA requests, footage and interviews. Russell was about to fly to Ohio to shoot pictures of the flag and the “Made in China” tag. Then this:

She says “you didn’t get my message.” Feel the bottom of my stomach open up; heartburn soon to follow.

“No.” Widow informs me that the night before, she unfolded the flag for her family, and couldn’t find the tag. But, she did find a “Made in America” tag. In fact, made in Alabama by disabled workers.

Stomach unleashes torrent; TUMS soon to follow.

Oops. Russell had found a law that says the VA must provide American-made flags for deceased veterans. No doubt, many flag-waving Americans would have been horrified to learn our government had provided a Chinese-made copy of Old Glory for a dead veteran.

To us, the whole premise sounded a little weak to begin with. But we can’t deny it may have been a crowd-pleaser.

But it’s instructive. It helps explain why WAGA’s I-Team reporters make such infrequent appearances on TV. The stories they produce take a bunch of legwork. And they chase occasional phantoms like this one.

Dear Dick pt 2

This post is a continuation from the previous one entitled “Dear Dick.” It’s the second half of a resignation letter written but never sent by a former Atlanta TV reporter after leaving a station in another market.

by Tom Corvin

But we had our lighter moments, too, didn’t we? The student who deliberately vomited thirteen personal pan sized pizzas on his Spanish teacher. The hate crime “victim” who attacked himself with a red hot butter knife by burning “G A F” on his forehead. The hillbilly vigilante who tracked down the hillbilly who stole his hillbilly van. The cheeseburger eating chimpanzee left “unattended” in the semi-tractor trailer and the man who cried, “Coco’s a human being just like you and me.” The hotel clerk who cooperated with the robber because he didn’t want to end up “in the mortgage.” The “Dishonest Abe” bank robber who looked more Amish than Reconstructionist. The schizophrenic slave labor victims forced to wash dishes and vacuum in the nude. The mayor too drunk to talk about his drunk driving arrest. Funny stuff, Dick, if not a little condescending. But if we can’t laugh at the victims who can we laugh at, right? At least they’re still alive and kicking. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a little public humiliation in the ass.

That’s why I appreciate the rapes and perverts, the 24 stories of relief, the two dozen donuts of scum. Granted, folks need to know when a flasher is flashing and a rapist is raping. That is a community service. Especially when the safety of school children’s involved. But we both know it’s the freak factor that draws them in. “Tonight at ten, a senior citizen’s caught holding something in the check-out line. And it’s not a discount coupon!” It’s genius marketing, Dick, turning the sick into a punchline. Like the dancing man in the gold lamee thong, the 45-year-old pushing his package at the “jazzercising” middle-class mothers in their leotards. “He was a little man,” one mom said, “if you know what I mean.” Or the heavy set man in the lacy lingerie, lurking for a looker, snapping his panty strap and cupping his black brassiere when he finds one. “The victim describes the man as having man breasts,” the officer said. We all laughed at that one, all of them. I’m laughing right now. Considering the deathly alternatives, it was a joy reporting on jack-offs. At least the jack-offs who didn’t hurt anybody. It’s like safe sex, right? We all get off but no one gets hurt. Unless you’re that sick sucker brooding at home, stewing on how you’ll do it again and again until your sin isn’t so funny anymore. Which cycles back to the fear and loathing we love so much, the pedophiles and pud pullers, the secret sex offenders “on the run,” “on the loose,” “out there somewhere tonight.” And that’s almost as good, pitching that palpable danger of someone in silhouette, of some boogieman out to snatch a child, a coed, a wife. It’s not funny. But it sells. And packaged sex may not beat a good baseball bat attack, but it delivers. And it’s on those nights I feel most proud, Dick. Not unlike a ten dollar whore with an empty bottle of mouthwash. The customer’s satisfied AND I got paid in single bills, no change.

I always enjoyed underestimating the viewers, too, Dick. Especially when it came to weather and what folks should do when it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. I did that 31 times, 31 stories, 31 live-shots in the black ice of night, the water ban of day. Like the rapist, the community needs to know what’s coming, the big snow storm, the big twister. It’s no joke. It can save lives. But we sure had fun when it didn’t, roaming the ruins of a trailer park, laying out the lost lives of those who didn’t listen. Which always gave us the upper hand when it came to forecasts. We had something to hype, something to threaten their lives with. “It’s coming. We’re not sure how big. But it’s coming! And it could be another killer!” Which set the stage for the warnings. “If you don’t have to drive, don’t!” “Make sure you wear lots of warm clothing.” “Drink a lot of water.” “Wear light clothing.” “Cover your plants.” “Bring in the dogs.” “Buy batteries.” “Don’t water your lawn.” “Don’t get out of your car in high water.” “Take cover if you hear the sound of a train.” And if they couldn’t see how cold or hot it was, if they didn’t have the sense God gave them to look out the window, if they lived under a rock, I’d stand in the sub-zero elements to show them how to shiver and shake, picture proof, live, of what lurked on the other side of life’s looking glass: simple doom if they dared step away from the power points of our instructions, our meteorological salvation, our dumbed down lessons of survival. Milk sales never had it so good. And though I never got a cut from grocery store hysteria, it was always satisfying to see the havoc we wreaked at the check-out line, the gas pump. Pure Pavlov, baby. And we rang that bell for all it was worth, namely, the big numbers and the big advertising bucks they bring with them. There’s nothing like the wrath of inclement weather to wrap around the necks of our viewers, Dick, to choke them like retarded dogs, to make them understand their lives are in danger if they don’t swallow our vomit and follow. Fortunately, enough do. Or we think they do. And that’s why I was out there 31 times, laying down the obvious, but assuming, like you do, these people are idiots, so let’s treat them like idiots. And we did. We do.

Which is why I understand the lack of “features,” the feather soft stories on someone who isn’t a criminal, a victim, a laughingstock. Who cares otherwise? That’s a rhetorical question, Dick, because I know the answer. No one. Not you, anyway. Not according to the six I did. And I’m including the “investigative” pieces, the fluff we pawned as “important,” like illegal downloading, like uninsured drivers. I’ll even throw in the little boy beaned by the foul ball at the ball park because it had a happy ending. He survived his partial paralysis. But the sale of Charlie Parker’s Super King 20 sax? That’s about it. And that was “filler” on a slow night. But I understand. I really do. Especially now that I look at the numbers.

And the numbers don’t lie. 437 stories. 215 bodies. Sixty survivors. I’m not sure, Dick, but I think death and dying accounts for more than half of what I’ve done in the last two years here. Throw in the 24 perverts and that’s just too much fun for one reporter to handle. At least that’s what my psychoanalyst is telling me. And my wife. She tells the kids, “daddy’s just quiet because he’s tired.” But I always snap out of it after a little cry in the closet. Or the next homicide. And even though the city’s on a record pace for most murders in a year, even though we’re reporting every drug dealer’s retaliatory hit like a Labor Day telethon, and even though the state of local news is incurably diseased with the ease of death, I’m reluctantly stepping aside to let someone else enjoy the fruits of society’s failures (not to mention the darlings of Darwin). Thank you, though. Thank you for the feast of blood and guts, the meals of mayhem. And I hope you get your just desserts in return. I really do, Dick. Because if anyone deserves the rewards of running a 24-year veteran reporter out of the business, it is you, my friend. I only hope I live long enough to witness it. And now that I’m getting out, I have a good feeling that I will.

As I used to say before blacking out at the bar, “Click!”

Insincerely,

Tom Corvin

Corvin is no longer in the TV news business.  He lives in San Francisco.