Last week, WAGA’s I-Team produced a solid story on a Gwinnett Hindu temple leader with a taste for wealth and alleged fraud. It had almost all the classic elements of investigative TV reporting: Records indicating trouble, damning undercover video and a disgruntled finger-pointing former insider.
But it lacked one important element.
The story’s main allegation: That the temple leader, a Swami who calls himself “Doctor Commander,” routinely added thousands of dollars to credit card transactions made with his faithful followers. One complainant received a response from the Temple: the Hindu faith doesn’t allow refunds. No wonder this stuff raised an eyebrow or two.
Randy Travis reported that the Swami declined interview requests. Glaringly absent was the on-camera confrontation with the Swami, the signature element that typically shows investigative targets trying to elude the mic-wielding reporter and his/her photog.
Turns out, Randy Travis had this material with the Swami. He and his photog shot it in a parking lot following a court hearing. The Swami mutely made a beeline for his vehicle as Travis tried to pepper him with questions. But it never aired.
Shot on a P-2 card, I-Team staff uploaded the video into WAGA’s hard drive. Word is somebody hit a “delete” button, believing the file was a duplicate. It made the entire “interview” go away. Because P-2 cards are absurdly expensive (compared to videotape, which has been eliminated), the I-Team photog had already recycled his card, readying it for the next story.
WAGA went to this tape-less format in July. It has resulted in some clunky growing pains for the station, including at least one newscast that had no video whatsoever for the first fourteen minutes. The frustration has made some staffers long for a return to videotape.
Full disclosure would have compelled Travis to report on-air that the I-Team had asked the Swami questions in a parking lot after a court hearing. Full disclosure would have likewise compelled WAGA to report the embarrassing truth: Its hard drive ate the interview.
To his credit, Travis didn’t try to recoup with another confrontation in another public place. Such treatment could have turned the Swami into a media victim, a label he clearly doesn’t deserve. Ultimately, this glitch doesn’t diminish Travis’s story. It seems he’s got a genuinely greedy, craven and possibly criminal bad guy on the hook. He’ll probably have other opportunities.