Daily Archives: October 11, 2008

Donnybrook in Perry

It’s a big election year, and the biggest statewide event of the election season took place in Perry Thursday.  And Atlanta TV’s coverage of it was breathtakingly poor.

The event was the first debate featuring Democrat Jim Martin and incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss.  With polls showing the race tightening —  and with 2008 being a year where folks are keenly tuned to politics — you’d think this debate would have been a priority.

Nice of you to show upl, but...  Keith Whitney, WXIA

Nice of you to show up, but... Keith Whitney, WXIA

But if you turned to Atlanta TV for your coverage, you’d have been highly disappointed.  And we’re not sure which station was worse– the one that actually covered it, or the three that apparently ignored it.

WXIA reporter Keith Whitney was a panelist for the debate.  During his live shot, he described the debate as having “an old timey, kind of donnybrook kind of feel.”

But Whitney’s coverage of the story at 11 gave zero sense of the “donnybook.”  Whitney didn’t even cover the debate.  He gathered interviews with Martin, Chambliss and Libertarian Alan Buckley after the debate ended. Not once in Whitney’s extended vo/sot at 11 did we see any actual interaction from the debate.  And Whitney was one of the questioners! Were the questions and answers during the debate so unworthy of inclusion in WXIA’s coverage?  Judge for yourself.  The entire debate is on WMAZ’s web site.  Gannett owns WMAZ and WXIA.

Whitney’s been around here for many years.  Normally, he knows what he’s doing.  But he could have done standup interviews with those three candidates in Atlanta at any time.

WXIA’s non-coverage was slightly less inexcusable than that of WSB, WAGA and WGCL, which apparently blew off the debate entirely.  “Oh, but Perry’s a hundred miles away.”  Boo hoo.

Statewide debates at the fairgrounds in Perry are traditionally high-drama affairs, with plenty of racket from the audience.  In other words, great political theatre (unlike the studio debates that will inevitably take place at WSB, GPTV etc. later in the election season).  WXIA’s website describes the event has having a “rowdy crowd of 300 (that) often drowned out the candidates.” (See below.)  Whitney’s coverage at 11 gave no sense of that.

Whitney may have been hamstrung by his presence as a panelist, limiting his ability to note time-codes and produce the story afterward. It wouldn’t be much of an excuse.  Likewise, he may have put some debate material in a piece on WXIA’s sparsely-watched 10pm show on WATL (we didn’t see, and it’s not on WXIA’s website).  But it makes sense to use the better stuff on the show with the most eyeballs.

Thank goodness the AJC had the good sense to send Jim Tharpe.  His piece in Friday’s paper gave a fine account of the theatre at this event.  Tharpe described the supporters bused in to cheer on Jim Martin, and the South Georgia natives who were there to support Chambliss.  Tharpe’s piece was peppered with quotes from audience members, who rudely heckled the candidates.

Likewise, the blogger known as Griftdrift produced a flavorful piece describing Buckley’s unease, the unruliness of the audience, and the moderator dancing to KC and the Sunshine Band.

Sounds like it would have been a great TV story.

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