There were a couple of good things about Joanna Massee’s lead story on WGCL Tuesday at 11. The story, billed as a “CBS-46 investigation,” was a worthwhile bit of enterprise: Check the records of complaints against Atlanta’s 911 center, and see if the center has badly botched any calls. It’s newsworthy in light of the recent firing of a Fulton Co. 911 operator whose dispatch miscue resulted in a woman’s death.
The problem was, Massee’s case-in-point was pretty weak. She found a woman who’d called 911 from I-285, hysterical because she thought the driver of a tanker truck was stalking her. Ultimately, both vehicles pulled over (why’d the victim pull over on the interstate?) and the tanker truck driver drove off. The operator, who repeatedly said she couldn’t understand the caller, never dispatched a cop to the scene. The woman filed a complaint and griped on camera to Massee. Massee reported the operator was “disciplined.”
In other words, it was pretty thin gruel. If this was the worst case Massee could find, one could conclude that Atlanta’s 911 center is doing a pretty good job.
But there was good stuff here. The best part of Massee’s piece came during her closing live shot. She showed the records on camera, and told viewers that it took the City of Atlanta one month to produce the documents she’d requested under the Open Records Act. That kind of foot-dragging is borderline illegal, though Massee didn’t say it. It’s the reaction of a government agency that’s trying to hide something. The public ought to be outraged.
But the news media has done an excellent job of making itself completely unsympathetic in the eyes of the public. As a result, the public gets cynical when reporters demand answers and records from public agencies. That’s unfortunate, and it plays into the hands of those who drag their feet (or cover up) when the press seeks to uncover wrongdoing.