Low-hanging fruit

"You're a deadbeat!  Any comment?"  John Bachman, WSB with Hal Ross of Auto Loan Finders

'You're a deadbeat! Any comment?' John Bachman, WSB with Hal Ross of Auto Loan Finders

Some investigation.

WSB goes to a state web site listing delinquent taxpayers.  WSB cherry-picks a few names.  It sends John Bachman to a few addresses.  Bachman and a camera-rolling photog demand to know why the taxpayer is delinquent.  The taxpayer stammers on camera.  The Revenue commissioner clucks on-camera that these folks ought to know better.

The reporter wraps it into a by-the-numbers TV package (culled from the Restaurant Report Card handbook of investigative journalism), then directs the viewer to the station website, and calls it a news story.

It must be a great idea, because Bachman tells the viewer that WSB has done this story before.  “Last year, we looked at individuals owing taxes.  This year, we’re taking on businesses,” Bachman says in his intro.  The list of delinquent taxpayers has 50,000 entries.  The story cries out for the “shooting fish in a barrel” cliche.

Meantime at WXIA, the website’s home page asks:  “Did your lawmaker pay taxes?  Click here to find out.”  It appears WXIA’s furlough-diminished news staff has spent many hours making phone calls to some 94 state representatives and state senators, simply asking:  Are your taxes paid up?  The vast majority of the lawmakers on the site answer “yes,” and WXIA is publishing the answers with no follow-up.  (The station appears to be waiting for additional lawmakers’ names to turn up on a state list of deadbeat taxpayers.  The idea seems to be:  If you’re lying, we’ll expose you eventually.)

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-None of your business

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-None of your damned business

One state senator refused to answer, citing the Georgia Code that keeps tax matters private. Sen. Valencia Seay wrote in a news release that WXIA libeled her by using her photo in a story about tax deadbeats.  Seay demanded a retraction.  (WXIA says it merely reported that Seay declined to answer.)

“Undaunted by their ignorance of the facts, 11 Alive News showed their willingness to take a refusal to disclose personal information as license to imply the worst. For the record, I have NO tax delinquencies – federal, state or local.  11 Alive should go back to doing what they do best – empty reporting on celebrity drug addiction and car crashes,” the freshman Democrat from Riverdale wrote.

“11 Alive is taking action for you,” the station writes, justifying its devotion to this story.  It’s staggering to imagine all the manpower being used to gather zero independent, verifiable  information.

The story does provide something tangible for WXIA’s website, always one of the best TV websites in town.  It gives the site an ongoing “story” to which the TV version can repeatedly refer.  As the web supplants traditional media, the strategy is understandable.  It’s regrettable the story is so hollow.

“We here at 11Alive feel that you have a right to know which lawmakers are breaking the law…. We’re taking them at their word for now,” the station writes on its web site, with no apparent irony.

At least WXIA isn’t calling it an “investigation.”  That’s an admirable show of restraint.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form, zero, zilch, nada. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

2 thoughts on “Low-hanging fruit

  1. Fence Sitter

    Isn’t the real story here the question of why the amount of back taxes owed was allowed to grow so large? Shouldn’t the report have concentrated on the inability so far of the state revenue department to effectively collect 1.4 billion in back taxes from 50K taxpayers?

    The head of the Ga. Dept. of Revenue said his department is “cracking down” on delinquent taxpayers, but shouldn’t he have been asked why the crackdown is only happening now? And what measures exactly the “crack down” consists of? He must have heaved a big sigh of relief that he got through the interview without those questions being asked. Bachman had a chance to really grill someone who seems to be presiding over a mess which is costing the state big money and he completely blew it.

    As for WXIA, couldn’t they just check and see whether any lawmakers are on the list of 50K delinquent taxpayers?

    Reply
  2. ruckus

    knew that was coming…you can’t negatively critique your boy Russell (for what I believe is the first time ever) and not return asap to pick on the other guys.

    Let’s take a look: if CH 2 had not done the tax delinquents story somebody would have…
    and , you know what? it worked…viewers got to see a couple of dirtbags with a camera in their face. always good stuff. and the ratings? well, another success.
    Should they just turn a blind eye to the fact Revenue gathered this list and it just sits there for the picking? Grab it and make a relatively quick-turn out of it. Most of the works done for you. Viewers love that stuff

    thin “investigation”? ok, it is. but let’s live in the real world. the days of 6 minute “investigations” that’s premise is beat over your head over and over again are done. Managers demand content and story count more than ever. In the same week this story aired, I’m sure the station did at least a few other investigative stories (and more than the other stations). They might have been minor or questionable or one may have even been a homerun. at least they are pumping out the stuff, preserving their jobs and, if ratings are any indication; delivering what viewers want

    Reply

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