Amateur hour


Most politicians, and their staffs, have sense enough to avoid the hamhanded treatment Gov. Nathan Deal gave WAGA Friday.  It inevitably hurts the politician, not the news organization.  It happened to Deal Friday.

Banished! Brian Robinson, with an assist from two state troopers, overreacts to WAGA's Justin Gray

Deal’s communications director Brian Robinson ordered state troopers to banish WAGA from a high-profile news conference.  A day earlier,WAGA’s Dale Russell reported on campaign payments made to Deal’s daughter-in-law.

Russell’s story was low-impact compared to pieces done about Deal during the campaign outlining numerous issues that raised questions about the candidate.   Russell’s piece was a clean hit.  It raised reasonable questions.  Notably, Deal’s office declined comment — although the campaign’s chairman talked to Russell on camera.

The significance or fairness of Russell’s story is irrelevant here.  (In a conversation with me Friday, the only inaccuracy Robinson cited was Russell misidentifying Deal’s campaign chairman as “campaign manager.”)  Robinson felt the piece was a smear.  For the sake of argument, let’s say he’s right.  Robinson is fiery and fiercely protective of his boss.  Robinson was instrumental in helping Deal rise from the third tier of Republican gubernatorial hopefuls to capture the nomination, then beating former Governor Roy Barnes in November.  Normally, he knows what he’s doing.

He botched this one in a big way.

Russell’s story was a mere blip on Friday’s political landscape until the moment Robinson decided to seek retribution on WAGA by banishing Justin Gray and photog Eric Len from Deal’s presser.  It was the lead on WAGA’s noon newscast.  Within minutes, it was on social media.  At 2:54pm, it was on Peach Pundit.   At 3:54, it was on Rodney Ho’s AJC blog.  At 6:21, it was posted to WSB and WGCL’s sites,via a CNN writeup (partly written by ex-WAGA guy Gustavo Valdes, who’s seen in the video holding an iPhone saying “CNN coming through!”).

"Clearly, it was not a good day for the Governor's office." Brenda Wood on WXIA, talking about WAGA and Deal.

In its 7pm newscast, WXIA’s Brenda Wood delivered a commentary condemning the Governor’s reaction.  “Talk about overstepping your boundaries,” she said.

Each story made reference to Dale Russell’s original story, giving the report legs it would have probably never gotten otherwise.  Russell’s original piece is embedded below.

“What else am I supposed to do?” Robinson asked me during our phone conversation late Friday afternoon, though he wasn’t really interested in the answer.  Robinson wanted to turn the conversation toward the finer points of his dispute with Russell’s story.

If you want to hear Robinson’s side of it, click here.  He debated Russell on a WGKA radio show Friday night.  (Click on “Brian vs Dale Round 2.”)

But the rest of the media coverage never touched on that, and he knew that it wouldn’t.  Instead, the other media gave a thumbnail sketch of Russell’s reporting, and focused on the the Governor’s office’s unusual reaction to a story most other media wouldn’t have otherwise followed.

It’s worth noting that banishing WAGA from the news conference accomplished almost nothing.   WAGA aired video from the news conference shot by WXIA, given to WAGA at the direction of news director Ellen Crooke.  WGCL also offered WAGA a copy of its video.

By the way, Deal was within his rights to be selective about whom to invite to his presser.  It’s not a “public” event, like a legislative committee hearing.  Politicians play favorites with the news media, but it’s usually subtle.   Banishing a longstanding news organization from a news conference isn’t illegal.  It’s just dumb.

Here’s the answer to Robinson’s “what can I do” question:  You gripe to the news organization that you feel wronged you.   If the report was a malicious smear, hire a lawyer and sue the news organization.  Otherwise, you keep it in perspective.  You don’t get emotional.  You take your lumps, as you’ve done in the past.

If the report merely painted your guy a little unfavorably, you take extra care to not make it worse.  Deal’s office should have done that Friday.

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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.

15 thoughts on “Amateur hour

  1. Grayson

    Robinson is a gift from the Media Goddess. We are truly blessed to have an unhinged loose cannon running our governor’s press office. Let’s hope this lasts at least a few more days! I can’t get enough.

    Reply
  2. Mitch Leff

    Robinson’s actions were a horrible overreaction, one that I’m sure he regretted quickly. Dale’s piece wasn’t as damaging as many other I-Team pieces he’s done and you’re right, the extra attention probably more than doubled the number of people who saw the piece.

    Reply
  3. CB Hackworth

    The shining star of this episode? As usual, Ellen Crooke. I’m not sure that words like “dynamic” and “smart” begin to cover it. Too bad she isn’t the governor.

    Reply
  4. Grayson

    Gov’s press office is a case study, now, in What Not To Do in media relations. Heck, an ADD-ridden third-grader could have handled this one with a far cooler head and half an ounce of thoughtfulness.

    Reply
  5. BudV

    Politicians love “free media.” Now a politician returns the favor by providing “free media” to a “free media” provider. Seems like justice to me. I don’t think FOX would ever pay for that kind of promotion for one it’s O&O’s. It’s a gift. WAGA needs to find other ways to piss off Nathan and Brian. Neither seems smart enough to learn from past mistakes.

    Reply
  6. juanita driggs

    The classy thing would’ve been for every other news organization covering the presser to have gotten up and walked out leaving Deal to sign the legislation surrounded by his “buddies” and the back wall to talk to. Either hang together or hang separately. I’m not sure Atlanta media adequately grasp this sublime concept the way some large up-east cities do. Next time the “gub’nr” decides to get ticked off, it could be you!

    Reply
  7. CB Hackworth

    You know, Juanita, you are a 100% correct. The only problem is they’d all have had to answer to their news directors, editors or whatever. It would just about have to have been something done en masse, and I don’t think there was time for everyone to compare notes. Having said that, perhaps it’s time for each media outlet in town to raise the issue internally, and have a policy and plan in place, just in case something like this occurs again. Ahem. Even though we know it won’t. Because, of course, they can’t be that stupid. You know?

    Reply
    1. live apt fire Post author

      When I worked in TV in Omaha — all union shops, with a collective esprit de corps — this wouldn’t have been tolerated. The crews would all walk if one had been barred for tough reporting. (Omaha also had a very active Press Club, in which news folk actually participated.) I’ve seen a few situations in Atlanta where one news organization has been “punished” in public by a newsmaker, and the rest of the media mostly lets their colleague bounce under the proverbial bus. I don’t see that changing either, though it should,

      Reply
  8. Grayson

    The thought of any of the Atlanta press corps bottom feeders *looking out* for one another is just cracking me up! Hell, they wouldn’t even call 9-1-1 for you once the bus ran you over.

    Reply
  9. juanita driggs

    Grayson, I hear you loud and clear. Trust me…I was chuckling to myself while I was writing my post of May 16th.

    Reply
  10. Dale Russell

    I am glad Brian Robinson has moved from we reported “lies” to noting one “inaccuracy” that we identified Philip Wilheit as the campaign manager not campaign chairman.

    Although you can Google Phil’s name and find a number of articles from AJC and Gainesville Times describing Phil as “campaign manager” I felt the best thing to do was ask Philip.

    And, I did.

    His first answer to my first question in the interview was: “I was the general campaign manager and it was my decision to hire Denise Deal.”

    I figured he knew what his title was.

    And once again, a big thanks to WXIA and WGCL for their classy move to share the bill signing video with us.

    How about as a press corps, we make a pact. If it happens again to anyone of us, find out what that outlet wanted to ask, and ask the question for them.

    I’ll be glad to do it for anyone in the market.

    Reply
  11. Beth Cope

    Well said Doug. The story would have for sure died in the weekend shuffle and would have probably dissolved while the immigration bill took center stage. If it was going to come out, the end of the week is the best time for it. A media 101 of exactly what NOT to do…

    Reply

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