WSB led its 6 o’clock news Wednesday with a story that would have been laughable, were it not so destructive and shameful. Tom Jones was live at the Clayton Co. Courthouse with “exclusive” coverage of a trial of a former FBI agent. He was charged with a misdemeanor, accused of making googly-eyes at men in a restroom at Hartsfield-Jackson. Problem was: The accused was found not guilty.
So WSB showed the defendant’s name. Showed his face. Showed absurdly long slow-motion footage of urinals in the restroom. Essentially, the station smeared this guy needlessly so that it could lead its newscast with an “exclusive.”
Yes, the defendant was on public trial. Yes, the judge allowed the camera in the courtroom (as the judge must unless the circumstances are deemed truly extraordinary). And yes, one can say, as Jones did, that such behavior in restrooms is a “major problem.”
But because WSB had this story to itself, its managers were in an extraordinary position. They had no competitive pressure. The verdict of Not Guilty gave WSB the opportunity to let this man off the hook, just as the judicial system had done.
The news biz routinely covers the sagas of accused persons, prior to ajudication. But this one-day case (apparently) had little if any pre-trial coverage. This was a horse that never got out of the barn. There was no compelling need to tell the story of a man found Not Guilty of some very embarrassing stuff.
Tom Jones had a perplexed look on his face as he delivered the story (though Jones often looks that way). Perhaps the argument was made to make the story simply go away. One can almost hear the 6 o’clock producer: “But I don’t have another lead!” So WSB couldn’t resist ballyhooing an “exclusive” that the other stations overlooked. This is one of those instances where people of conscience in the TV news biz– and there are such people– ought to have trouble sleeping at night.