Category Archives: WXIA

Mabra: I’m amazed

Rep. Ronnie Mabra (D-Fayetteville)

Rep. Ronnie Mabra (D-Fayetteville)

Ronnie Mabra is my new poster child for botched media relations.  This is unfortunate.  Mabra, a Democratic state representative from Fayetteville, doesn’t appear to be a villain.  His backers say he is talented and genuinely public-spirited.  He has enough brainpower to have completed law school and passed the Georgia bar exam.

But good sense is a whole ‘nother thing, as exhibited in two similar encounters over the last year and a half.  We’ll start at the beginning.

In early 2013, Mabra was among many legislators I had approached to ask about gifts they’d gotten from lobbyists.  Disclosure forms showed Mabra had gotten Falcons playoff tickets from the Georgia World Congress Center.   The newly-elected freshman lawmaker had taken the freebies before he’d taken the oath of office.

In his state office across from the Capitol, Mabra told me he’d be happy to talk with me about it — but with this caveat:  You have to ask my caucus leader if it’s OK for me to do the interview. 

This was a first.  I have seen elected officials defer to other elected officials on issues, in order to preserve the leadership role of somebody with a pet piece of legislation.  But my question for Mabra was about his personal decision to accept valuable freebies from people who, at that time, were seeking state help to fund a new football stadium.

I told Mabra his caveat was absurd.  He stuck by it.  Later that day, I saw him outside the Capitol and ambushed him with a camera, asking about the tickets.  He looked surprised, defensive, evasive, sketchy.  It was not a good look for him, but it was good theater for my story.1406236966000-ronnie-mabra

Fast forward to this summer: Driving up Atlanta’s downtown connector, I noticed a billboard above 14th Street.  It featured Mabra’s smiling face, and text that said Lawyer and Lawmaker / State Rep. Ronnie Mabra.  It was advertising his law firm.

Over the next few days, while covering other stories, I’d asked politicos about the billboard, wherein Mabra was clearly using his public title as a way to market his private business.  Most asked:  Can he do that?  Is that legal?  The answer was yes, it’s legal and yes he can do that.

It was not a huge, breaking story, but it was worth a mention on the news.  So I approached it pretty casually. I called Mabra.  He answered.  He seemed to think the billboard was a great idea and expressed willingness to do an interview.  He remembered our previous encounter.

Our second awkward, unscheduled interview

Our second awkward, unscheduled interview

I told him I wanted to avoid another awkward, unscheduled interview.  I suggested a civilized, adult visit.  I gave him some leeway to put me on his schedule.  He said he’d get back to me.

In subsequent days, his tone changed.  He stalled.  Then he fell back into the old excuse:  I can’t talk to you unless you get permission from my caucus leader.

Seriously?! I said.  Do you not remember what happened last time?  

Rep. Mabra hadn’t used our previous encounter as a teachable moment.  Nonetheless — for reasons I can’t fully understand myself — I wanted to bend over backwards to avoid being a dick to this guy.  The story wasn’t that big a deal.  The billboard was even, arguably, defensible.  He wasn’t using his public office to promote his law practice, only his title / resume.  Legislators make crappy money passing laws.  If he could make a case for doing what he’d done, I’d have let him.

In my inexplicable spirit of generosity, I actually texted Rep. Stacy Abrams, the House Democratic caucus leader, to seek her blessing to chat with Rep. Mabra.  I didn’t hear back from her.  Days passed.  Other stories happened.  Vacation happened.

One day in late July, after another story blew apart, I pitched the billboard story and my bossfolk bought it. I set out to put it on TV that night.  I’d given Mabra ‘way more opportunities to comment than is typical.  We went to his office.  Photog Dan Reilly and I entered the lobby, and I asked to see him.  Reilly’s camera was powered up.

Within minutes, Mabra appeared in the lobby — explaining, yet again, that he wouldn’t talk to me without approval of his leadership.

Rep. Mabra adjusts his tie

Rep. Mabra adjusts his tie

“That’s like asking your mommy’s permission,” I said at one point.  “This isn’t about policy. This is about you.  You’re a grown man, and I know you’ve got a side to this story I want to hear.”  I even tried to coach him on how he would look on the news if he just stood there being evasive — for the second time.  His response:  “I look good all the time.”  He even mugged for the camera and adjusted his tie, taking it from bad to worse.

By the way, coaching an interview subject is a taboo taught in Journalism 101.  If an interviewee insists on saying or doing something unsuitable to the story, it’s not cool to direct him to say something else.  I came very close to doing this by urging him to answer my questions, recalling his previous explanation by phone, and appealing to his sense of self-image.  It didn’t work.

We argued for seven minutes.  Reilly rolled the whole time.  Had Mabra told us to leave the property, we would have been obliged to do so.  But he never did.

Instead he wore me out.  We exited the lobby, a bit exhausted, with Mabra still talking about why he couldn’t talk.  With Reilly’s camera recording his evasions, we’d gotten sufficient material to produce a watchable story.  Once again, Rep. Mabra was not at his best– despite my best efforts.

It didn’t have to be that way.

 

 

 

 

Holsteins and the helipad

Wednesday was a classic, a humbling day in the life of your friendly neighborhood TV reporter.  It was humbling for two reasons:  I spent part of it awkwardly stalking the governor of Georgia; and was doing so in pursuit of a story broken two days earlier by another TV station.TV-ad-4001

Monday, WAGA ballyhooed a big interview with Holly LaBerge, the embattled director of Georgia’s ethics commission.  Mrs. LAF and I actually cranked up the TV set and sat on the couch, 1950s style, to watch the report on their 10pm news.  I actually gasped when I saw the revelation of the memo LaBerge wrote documenting what she described as an intimidating phone call from the governor’s staff.  Good story, Dale Russell, I thought.  Damn your eyes.

Tuesday, the AJC appeared in my driveway with an “AJC exclusive” that had the same info as Russell’s story.  The “exclusive” also cited Russell’s exclusive interview with LaBerge, thus broadening the already-overused word to include exclusive coverage of your competitor’s exclusive material.

Tuesday, I followed Russell’s story with no pretense to exclusivity.  An Open Records Act request for the LaBerge memo was fruitful, as was my request to interview her attorney. (“I said my piece to Dale Russell” LaBerge answered when I phoned her, politely referring me to the lawyer.  Damn your eyes, Russell.)

By Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal still hadn’t talked at any length about the memo and the allegation his office had intimidated his hand-picked ethics director.  His spokesman gave me a vague “maybe, maybe not” response to my request for an interview.

So photog Steven Boissy and I wandered to the Capitol Wednesday morning.  I’ve never really staked out the Capitol with the hope of having an unscheduled encounter with the Governor.

Swiped from Atlantatimemachine.com

Swiped from Atlantatimemachine.com

But that’s how Wednesday began.  I believed that Gov. Deal was at an event but returning to the Capitol.  I didn’t know whether he was traveling by car or helicopter.  His SUV was absent from its usual parking space, leading me to believe he was probably in it.

Boissy and I hung around outside the Capitol, a building whose grounds have surprisingly little space for comfortable and inconspicuous loitering.  We found a spot that might have allowed us to see Gov. Deal arrive by car, and waited.

There was no place to sit.  The sun was shining and getting hotter.  Our stakeout spot was out of eyeshot of windows to the Governor’s office, and away from Capitol police perches.  One security guard walked past us but said nothing except “good morning.” We waited, maybe, thirty minutes.  I felt ridiculous and conspicuous and spent much of the time figuring out a) what to say when somebody questioned why we were hanging around there, and b) what to do after this gambit failed.

Boissy and I read obscure historic inscriptions, noted the surrounding flora and observed the increasing intensity of the sunshine. We discussed varying breeds of cattle, a subject in which we both share a surprising interest.

Our smalltalk dwindled rapidly.

And then we heard a helicopter.

It bore down on the new helipad built atop the new parking garage across from the Capitol’s southeast corner.  Boissy and I scurried over, and saw the governor’s SUV parked outside the garage at a door.  His usual driver was behind the wheel.

The stakeout concludes

The stakeout concludes

The Governor exited the building.  I didn’t bum-rush him, but called from a respectful distance and asked if he would stop to chat.  “What about?” he asked, as if he didn’t already know.

“Our office has already issued a statement about that,” he said.  I said I’d like to clarify some of what the statement said.  “OK, sure,” he answered.

What followed was a four minute chat wherein he challenged the accuracy of my first question, then proceeded to interlace his answers with questions for me that seemed to challenge the veracity of LaBerge’s memo.  He was lively and a bit more contentious than we usually see him.  He obviously wanted to talk.  The unedited interview is here.

Midway into our  Q&A, I saw a WSB mic flag pop into view alongside mine.  Richard Elliott had popped up, seemingly out of nowhere.

Elliott got what he needed without the indignity of the awkward stakeout. 

Damn your eyes.

Here and away

This is a transitional time in Atlanta TV news.  Here are some notes. 

Paul Crawley with an admirer

Paul Crawley with an admirer

Paul Crawley.  The WXIA reporter is retiring at the end of this month.  I’ve been a fan of this guy since I first started competing with him in 1986.  As a coworker since 2009, I’ve seen Crawley consistently be the most prepared reporter in the morning editorial meeting, with the best array of story ideas.  His anecdotes from our industry, told during slow moments at trials, stakeouts, legislative hearings and in the newsroom, nearly always came with wry insight or a belly laugh or both.  His execution and professionalism are top-drawer.  Plus, Crawley is the king of screwball comedy.  I will be very sorry to see him leave.

Angel Eyes

Angel Eyes

Cook with Ken Rodriguez

Cook with Ken Rodriguez

Ken Cook.  WAGA’s chief meteorologist was arguably the best in town — level headed and charismatic, with the ever-present mustache that evoked Lee Van Cleef’s “Angel Eyes” character in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  Cook’s career in Atlanta TV weather set a durability record that may never be eclipsed.  Cook was always fun to be around, a guy who welcomed the intrusions of reporters seeking personal forecasts.  He was also very good at deflating the weather-coverage ambitions of excitable news managers who overanalyzed the gravity of upcoming storms.  But when Cook looked at the charts and said “yeah, it’s gonna be bad,” you knew the threat was credible.  WXIA’s Chesley McNeil is cut from Cook’s mold.  So is…

Chris Holcomb

Chris Holcomb

Chris Holcomb.  The WXIA meteorologist emerged from the fringe schedule to become the station’s chief meteorologist last week.  Among the staff’s chattering classes, it was a no-brainer.  When the decision was announced, the raucous cheering exceeded any I’ve ever heard in a newsroom.  He’s that good, and that good a guy.

Blayne Alexander

Blayne Alexander

Blayne Alexander.  The one-woman-band reporter has quietly elevated to WXIA’s fill-in anchor rotation.  If there had been a big announcement a la Holcomb, it might have gotten a similar cheer.  Our industry is a brighter place with Bleezey in it.

The daily grovel

Tough crowd: Lisa, Marcita and Molly.

Tough crowd: Lisa, Marcita and Molly.

“You look very nice today, Molly.”

“Pft” was her response, followed by a sharp look that let me know I was wasting my breath.  Molly Baker, WXIA’s 7pm producer, always looks nice. It was no secret I needed a decision that would seal my fate for the day.  My initial approach was hamhanded and pathetic.

“What about me?”  Marcita’s desk adjoins Molly’s.  She saw an opportunity to exploit my growing embarrassment, and took it.  “Don’t I look nice too?”  Marcita Thomas produces the 6pm newscast.

Rarely does a day pass when I don’t end up at the cubicle pod dominated, during daylight hours, by Molly and Marcita.  I am nearly always there with hat in hand, hoping to sweet talk a few extra seconds out of them for whatever awesome TV story I’m producing for that night’s newscast.

The grovel begins:  Doug at Marcita's desk

The grovel begins: Doug at Marcita’s desk

Although I will typically approach a specific producer about a specific newscast, all ears in the pod will perk up.  Judgments are made, not only about the outrageousness of my request for fifteen extra seconds of time, but also for the logic offered.  Style points are added and subtracted, depending on my level of humility and / or humor. But the response to any request for additional time is almost always a cold calculation, regardless of how charming I try to be and how flawless my logic is.

Lisa Turner, who produces weekend newscasts and often steps in for nightly newscasts as needed, is the most Type A of the three.  When I approach her for extra time, the initial answer is often an incredulous outburst, high in volume and pitch.  I’ve learned to wait for the eruption to subside as she starts to do the math in her head.

Like Molly and Marcita, Lisa strives to be agreeable.  Problem is that every knucklehead assigned to a 1:20 slot in a newscast seems to want / need more time within the finite confines of the thirty-minute broadcast.

Molly is the towering upper Midwesterner who betrays an occasional Fargo-type accent.  Marcita has deeper Atlanta roots and is the only producer in the room who predates my 2009 arrival at WXIA.  Both retain an admirable, evenhanded Zen quality about them even as some of their excitable co-workers are pronouncing stories to be “huge” while the details are only beginning to dribble out.

Eighty percent of the time, they say “yes” when I’ve offered a proper grovel.  When they say “no,” they mean business.

Producers have only a measure of control over the time slots allotted in their newscasts.  Loquacious anchors and weathercasters will ramble on sometimes, buoyed by the certainty of their own cleverness; reporters doing live shots will go long out of a sense of if you’re gonna make me stand out here, then by gosh, you’ll get an earful. 

Bottom line is, if a producer wants me to stay within an allotted time, I’ll try to bust my hump (and even gut my story) to do it.  Because she’ll remember if I don’t.  And next time, I want her to say “yes” when I come groveling.

 

News that’s not news

Something awful happened to my industry on September 11, 2001.  On that date, we stopped using our news judgment.  Not all of it, of course.  But in many important ways, we allowed pranksters to start running our lives, deciding how we would use our resources and what we would cover.

July 2011, outside an Atlanta bank branch. AJC photo

July 2011, outside an Atlanta bank branch. AJC photo

In the first twenty years of what passes for my career in the news biz, we would mostly ignore bomb threats and suspicious package calls.

Sure, a bomb threat would mean evacuating hundreds of people from a courthouse or school.  It would mean the presence of lights-flashing cop cars and “bomb disposal unit” trucks, accompanied by cops with bomb gear and trained dogs and maybe a remote-controlled robot on wheels.  The visuals were compelling.  The false drama of will there or won’t there be a mushroom cloud at any moment would be somewhat compelling.

But we all but ignored it.  And it was the right thing to do.

We ignored it — Lord help us, did we really do this? — because we felt a sense of responsibility to discourage copycats.  (Certainly, part of our motivation to discourage copycats was rooted in our desire to minimize devotion of news resources to such stuff.)

And there was never a debate.   It was a given.  TV shops might send a photog to a bomb threat, just to be there in the unlikely event of an actual mushroom cloud; if they had a photog available.

June 2013, outside Georgia capitol.  AJC photo

June 2013, outside Georgia capitol. AJC photo

But a live truck?  Not likely.  A reporter?  They were, hopefully, too busy covering actual news generated by non-pranksters.  Covering events that were, 9999 times out of 10,000 likely to be hoaxes was considered a waste of resources and a breach of our responsibility to the community.  It sounds so quaint now.

Then starting in September 2001, all bomb threats instantly had the whiff of Al Qaeda behind them.  Never mind that real terrorists probably had bigger fish to fry than local courthouses and schools in Georgia. At that point, defending “the homeland” became a national fixation.  Cable news began running bottom-of-the-screen crawls to lend greater urgency to everything.  Local news struggled to contribute something relevant to the national story.

Jefferson Middle School in Jackson Co. 11Alive image

Jefferson Middle School in Jackson Co. 11Alive image

So we bowed to the pranksters who called in bogus bomb threats.  Add to that the kids who drop notes threatening to do harm inside school buildings.  During one two-day period last week, at least seven public schools in Georgia went on lockdown.  In one of them, a kid brought a gun to school but harmed nobody.  The others were hoaxes.

Now, off we go.  We send helicopters.  We dispatch crews in live trucks, interviewing evacuees or worried parents, reporting the inevitable hoax yet still passing it off as news.  More than a dozen years after 9/11, we still do it.

Our newsrooms are now staffed with people whose careers didn’t blossom until after 9/11.  They don’t even realize that there was a time when newsrooms exercised actual discretion in such matters.

These same folks are also plugged into social media, which is a tremendous resource for raw intel.  If it’s getting tweeted, then the word is getting out.  If “the word” is confirmed by news professionals, shouldn’t we report it too?   Can we let Twitter beat us on stories of bomb threats and such?

Hell yes we can.

Let social media have the scoop on bomb threats.  The word will still get out.  Y’all don’t need us for that.

Meantime, let the pros devote their resources to the stories that the social media amateurs don’t learn until they see it in the commercial news media.

We get our resources and our credibility back.  We regain some of the sense of responsibility we willingly gave up more than twelve years ago.

Pranksters will continue to try to manipulate police and government by creating hoaxes.  Sadly, they lack the discretion to ignore their pranks.

But the news media has that discretion.  We used to call it “news judgment.”  We ought to start using it again.

Guns everywhere

Brant Sanderlin, AJC

Brant Sanderlin, AJC

You’ll find lots of self-congratulation — but rarely much news — when a Governor signs a bill into law.  But Gov. Nathan Deal’s signing of HB60 — the “guns everywhere” bill — had some entertaining twists.  Some observations:

There were perhaps two hundred supporters at the outdoor pavilion along the Coosawattee River in Ellijay to watch.  I didn’t see a single person of color.

There were guns everywhere.  The holstered handgun was the accessory of choice among supporters.

Chattanooga Times Free Press / AP photo

Chattanooga Times Free Press / AP photo

One supporter held a full-sized old school Georgia flag with the confederate battle emblem.  It probably got in every TV story.

House Speaker David Ralston’s statement to the roaring crowd that “it is a community where we cling to religion and guns” was the rhetorical highlight.

When Rep. John Meadows (R-Calhoun) gave a welcoming statement saying he’d “even welcome the news media.  (Pause) I’m not sure why,” it was tempting to answer out loud “because you love the first amendment as much as you love the second amendment.”  But that would have just started an argument.

Gov. Deal seemed stumped when I asked him three times, in various ways, why guns continue to be banished from the state capitol.  Deal is usually pretty nimble on his feet, but he never answered the question.  My story on WXIA featured the exchange.

The issue about guns in the capitol was a rare opportunity to ask a challenging question that expressed viewpoints  by those for and against broader gun rights.  I suspect it will be asked again in the fall debates.  Presumably, Gov. Deal (and Sen. Jason Carter, who supported the measure) will have formulated a coherent answer by then.

On the other hand, Greg Bluestein of the AJC and Jonathan Shapiro of WABE radio asked questions that were more relevant to issues raised by the new law.  It’s always fun to see a WABE reporter gathering news outside the perimeter.

Riley, left, gets into position

Riley, left, gets into position

As he walked to his car, I asked Deal if he was “afraid” to have guns in the capitol.  He didn’t answer, and we chose to edit out that question because it sounded disrespectful.

That night, the AJC reported that Carter also dodged a reporter trying to question him about the gun law.

Our video of Gov. Deal walking to his car prominently featured the shoulder of Chris Riley, Deal’s chief of staff.  When Riley saw us by the Governor’s black SUV, he positioned himself in front of the camera lens, and leaned into the lens as WXIA photog Luke Carter tried to move to get a clear shot.  It was the discreet version of the hand-in-the-lens shot.  Riley apologized to Carter afterward.  Well played, Riley.

After the event, I ran into two lawmakers at a restaurant who drove from metro Atlanta to support the event.  In a poorly phrased question, I asked them if they thought I was “a dick” for raising the issue about guns at the capitol.  “Not at all,” one of them said.  “That’s what it’s all about.”

The cheap suit

My favorite suit right now is one I purchased for $150 on eBay.  Its label says “Kenneth Cole / Reaction.”  It was listed as $300 retail.  It’s the proverbial cheap suit.

El cheapo

El cheapo

Yet the wife actually went “ooh!” last time I put it on, and without irony.  The label says it’s composed of 85 percent polyester and 15 percent rayon.  It has proven water resistant qualities.  Presumably, it’s durable and fireproof. And it looks OK on my lumpy frame.

I know many adult male professionals who never wear suits.  But lawyers, politicians and TV reporters are saddled with the burden of purchasing and wearing suits.  Lawyers and TV anchors can be frequently seen in thousand dollar-plus tailored suits.

The rest of us with more modest paychecks have to dress accordingly.  I know plenty of TV reporters who sing the praises of their cheap suits.  Their go-to typically is K&G Men’s Warehouse.  It’s also the go-to for police detectives, a profession whose couture and salaries are more mismatched than most.

Less cheap

Less cheap

My go-to is eBay, first suggested by my sister who is a public defender.  I’ve bought at least five suits off eBay.  All of them were new (verified by the fact that the pants were unhemmed).  Three of them were Hickey-Freeman brand, and had tags sewn in that indicated retail prices that were substantially higher than the two to three hundred dollars I paid for them.  They are my “expensive” suits.

Portia Bruner: Clearance rack dress, thrift store belt.

Portia Bruner: Clearance rack dress, thrift store belt.

But lately I’m more sold on the cheap suits, and I’m not alone.

My friend Portia Bruner has created a thread on Facebook that shows her (looking great) in garments she has purchased at thrift stores.  Portia is a reporter and substitute anchor at WAGA, and a mom with two adorable boys in private school.  In other words, she is understandably budget-minded.

Valerie Hoff, WXIA

Valerie Hoff, WXIA

My coworker Valerie Hoff is a walking bargain-bin promotion, as detailed on her Ways to Save site and in random anecdotes I frequently overhear from her desk.  The WXIA anchor/reporter views bargain hunting as a sport.  Like Portia, she wears the cheap stuff with style.

I purchased the “Kenneth Cole / Reaction” suit by accident.  I needed a suit for a costume.  The suit that arrived in the mail had a subtle color that surprised me.  When I put it on, I was horrified that it not only lacked the costumey quality I’d expected, but also looked better than some of my pricier suits.

This points to one of the pitfalls of ordering a suit from eBay:  You may get surprised.  But it may be a pleasant surprise.

Last word:  Cheap neckties.

 

Our fan base

His eyes were lidded.  His speech was slurred.  He identified me as “Drag Ringus.”  I had told him my real name, but that was how it came out of his mouth.

Reilly uses his Ninja powers to control a spectator

Reilly uses his Ninja powers to control a spectator

Although he hung around our live truck for a solid 90 minutes Friday, I didn’t catch his name.  There’s a line one walks when encountering persistent lingerers out in the field.  Your instinct is to discourage them.  But you don’t want to make them hostile, either.

Plus, we were more-or-less stuck in our location.  Dan Reilly and I were in a live truck.  Our microwave shot had been set.  We were producing a piece for the 6.

Our encounters with people out in the world — the expected and the unexpected — are part of what make the job interesting.  But sometimes they corner you when you’re trying to make a deadline.  Friday, my new friend had nothing better to do for 90 minutes but hang around our live truck.

He wasn’t an unpleasant man.  He was well groomed.  There was, as cops say, an “odor of alcoholic beverage on his breath.”  But it wasn’t overpowering.

Sometimes, he would make conversation that was more-or-less coherent.  He brought up the missing airliner.  He mentioned the Falcons.  My responses were brief but respectful.

He surprised me when he asked me if WXIA anchor Karyn Greer would “cheat on her husband.”  You mean, with you?  I asked.  “Well, yeah!”

I told him there was no chance whatsoever.

Yet he still hung around.  We were busy, and I tried to look it.

Sometimes, writing for the web is an afterthought.  On this day, I did it with great urgency.  As he persisted in engaging me, I pointed out that I was trying to make a deadline.  He backed off for a few minutes.  A woman walked past our truck and he hoofed after her.  She outpaced him and lost him.  He returned to our truck within minutes.

When air time came, Dan and I went to the sidewalk and our friend got kind of excited.  I told him I needed his help:  I need for you to help with crowd control.  Keep the crazy people away.    There was no crowd — he was it.  But he nodded his head agreeably.  At one point, he fumbled around in his pants pocket.  A small baggie appeared.  “What’s in the baggie?” I asked him.  I got no answer.

I was actually secretly rooting for him to disrupt my live shot.  It was Friday and my story was kind of dull.  Although he was a bit of a pest, he seemed to be a gentle soul.  I figured he would quietly photobomb me.

But whenever he moved toward camera range, Reilly would give him the stink eye and point to a spot behind him.  The man obediently stayed put.

As we concluded, we parted agreeably.  He never panhandled us, typically a pro forma part of our encounters with our lingering fans.  I choose to believe he was so dazzled by his encounter with a Real TV News Crew, he may have forgotten to do that.

Trust me, I’m a reporter

The good news: My family owns a 2004 Scion Xb, one of those ridiculous cube-shaped cars.  It has abundant passenger space.

The bad news: While parked at a grocery store, somebody slammed it and tore up the right front bumper, then drove off.2004 Scion xB

The good news:  Somebody saw it, got the license number and left a note with the description of the errant car.

The bad news:  The person who left the note did not identify him/herself.

The good news:  In its police report, DeKalb PD apparently ran the tag and verified the make / model of the vehicle, which matched the description of the note.

The bad news:  Nothing else happened.  PD didn’t visit the culprit, nor did they ID the vehicle owner in the police report.

The good news:  I have auto insurance.  They sent me to Gerber Collision, a well-known auto body shop with numerous facilities in metro Atlanta.  Gerber gave me an estimate of the damage.  My insurance company sent me a check.

The bad news:  My insurance company apparently didn’t investigate it either, leaving me to pay the $500 deductible on the repair.

The good news:  I knew a place, American Auto Body, 4095 Lawrenceville Hwy in Tucker, that does good auto body work pretty inexpensively.  They gave me an estimate $230 lower than Gerber, cutting my out-of-pocket payment almost in half.  They did the repair.

The bad news:  When I went to pick up my vehicle, I was reminded that my friends at American Auto Body don’t routinely take debit or credit cards for payment.  And I hadn’t brought my checkbook, because who takes the checkbook anywhere anymore?

The good news:  When I suggested that I take the car and subsequently mail the proprietor a check, he didn’t completely laugh in my face.

The bad news:  He was disinclined to allow me to take the car without paying for it on the spot.

The good news:  I was dressed in a suit.  I actually had some 11Alive business cards in my pocket.  I pulled a business card and dropped it on his desk.  “You’ll get your check.  I’m easy to find.”IMG_3387[1]

The bad news:  I was playing the “trust me, I’m a reporter” card.  Over the years, I’ve heard too many stories about TV reporters who had scammed trusting businesses under similar  circumstances.  I did not make that disclosure to him.

The good news:  He hadn’t heard those stories.  Instead, his eyes kinda lit up.  “I didn’t know you were on the news!” he answered.  Of course I’ll let you drive your vehicle off my lot with the promise of a check.  “I’ll put it in the mail tonight,” I assured him.

And of course, I did.

Hecklers

Last week, a crowd heckled me at a press event.  It was a crowd of 40-50 people, in tow with Michelle Nunn.  The Democrat was at the state Capitol, filing to make her run for US Senate official.

Michelle Nunn

Michelle Nunn

Nunn is a political newcomer who has rarely appeared at press events around Atlanta.  She also appears to be very disciplined with her rhetoric, sticking to the talking points that drive her message.

I approached the story about her appearance at the Capitol last week with a series of questions that I thought anybody might want asked of a candidate who presumes to step from relative obscurity to one of America’s most prestigious political offices.  The questions were mostly about her experience.  They were challenging.  They were also quite predictable.  (I asked many of the same questions of Jason Carter during his first sit-down with us after announcing his run for Governor.)

But the wild card was the crowd.  They were there to cheer their candidate, not hear some blow-dried dimwit with a microphone.

When I prefaced a question with the supposition that she hadn’t “paid (her) dues” as a politician, some voices piped up in the background challenging the question.  It was an uncomfortable moment.  It was also, in many ways, a fabulous free-speech moment.  Just as I was free to raise questions in public setting, they were just as free to weigh in.

But the crowd had no idea how close they were to breaking me.  A look at the video reveals an unmistakable moment (at about 1:14) where my poker face kind of unravels in light of the heckling.  I nearly didn’t get the question out.

Sen. Jason Carter

Sen. Jason Carter

To her credit, Nunn (like Carter) handled my predictable yet not-necessarily “friendly” questions with skill and mostly without evasion.

On this site, Steve Schwaid once observed that the Atlanta press corps is sometimes too “laid back” and “reserved.”  Schwaid, the former News Director at WGCL, is accustomed to the press in Philadelphia.  Like him, I’m kind of amazed at how deferential the press frequently is around Atlanta.  One notable exception was during some recent snow “events,” when the press asked pointed questions of Governor Nathan Deal and Mayor Kasim Reed.

After some of those pressers — which the TV stations typically carried live — I got a lot of positive feedback from viewers, expressing thanks for making them answer questions that the audience wanted answered.  One stranger notably stopped his car in the middle of a street in Grant Park, jumped out and made me shake his hand.

Meantime, last week one of the my coworkers greeted me with a you were mean to Michelle Nunn.

“Did you think the questions were unfair?”  I asked her.

Not at all, she answered.  She just cheerfully admitted that asking those questions, in that setting, would have scared her shitless.

And she said her husband, who watched the piece on TV with her, was cheering me on from the safety of their living room.