Salacious but not scandalous

We’ll start by saying the obvious:  Richard Belcher is a better newsman in his sleep than we’ve ever been awake and fully caffeinated.  He’s the mac daddy of Atlanta investigative reporters.  He rarely missteps, but he did this week.  He should have left the Gena Abraham Evans story alone.

Evans is the DOT commissioner, known as Gena Abraham before marrying board member Mike Evans.  As a single woman, Abraham apparently had a rather normal personal life, which included a relationship with another DOT employee prior to Evans.  Abraham and that employee corresponded by e-mail, and some of their personal e-mails transacted through the state e-mail system.  This subjected them to exposure via the Open Records Act, apparently making them reason enough for an investigative report.

Belcher probably could have found personal e-mails sent by almost 100% of Georgia’s state employees.  Abraham had the misfortune of including some R-rated language in hers.  Mind you, nobody is saying that it’s scandalous to use earthy language in state e-mails.  But its inclusion certainly spices up a TV news story in the run-up to the November sweeps.  “This is the Bible belt,” Belcher reminds Abraham in their interview.  Abraham comes off more like the victim of a voyeur than a wrongdoing government employee.

The voyeur who pulled the e-mails is George Anderson.  Anderson has an almost obsessive interest in government ethics.  It makes him a bit of a gadfly.  But Anderson also plays a useful citizen role as a government watchdog.  In Belcher’s story, Anderson sniffs that it’s Abraham’s use of her on-the-clock time and state resources that troubles him about the e-mails.  Anderson sees the world of government in very black-and-white terms.   Often, he nitpicks out of a strict adherence to by-the-book principle that fails to account for the human element.  That’s what’s happening here.

Belcher bolsters the story somewhat by asking Abraham about the propriety of her relationships with other DOT employees.  But she answers credibly that there was nothing improper, and Belcher doesn’t challenge her response.

Nobody is seriously contending that government employees cannot use their state computers to send personal e-mails.  Aside from George Anderson’s complaint, why is this an issue?  It shouldn’t be.  Yes, maybe another news organization would have taken the same bait.  We wish Belcher would have been the one to say “thanks, but no thanks” to this.

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Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

9 thoughts on “Salacious but not scandalous

  1. jimmyjohn

    All of the stations in the market got the emails. The attorney passed them along. Many of us looked at them and said what’s the story? Is it really a story, especially so many years after it happened.

    These are in public documents at the courts.

    snooooorrrrreeeee

    Reply
  2. newzfinland

    I read through the e-mails and actually thought it was worth a story. I’m not critical of her personal life or even attitude toward men. The language is somewhat crude, but who among us hasn’t said or thought those things from time to time. That said, I believe it highlights a pattern of behaviour of a powerful woman with her co-workers and/or people who deal with the DOT on a routine basis. I know the e-mails are a few years old, but they appear to show what is truly on the minds of our high-ranking officials while more important issues like unfathomable multi-million dollar budget overruns are left unaccounted for.

    Reply
  3. TravisBickle

    Oh boy, where do we start.
    This is getting silly and a true misstep on your part.
    Your analysis of Belcher having some reluctance to do this story is very close…thats bc WSB originally passed on the story

    From what I am told, another station did NOT pass on it and from what I understand, had been working on it for months, perhaps set to air in a little thing called the November book

    Can you guess the station???? That’s right WAGA.
    and just maybe, just maybe the reason they aired a bizarre pitbull story to lead their book was bc of Belcher’s trump.

    Which leads us to the competitive nature of todays local television stations…
    It gets a little ridiculous when one station catches wind of what another station is working on and to bust their chops will put it on the air first.

    So, I hope that you will pick apart their version IF it ever airs now

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Fox5 investigates DOT chief’s e-mails tonight | Fresh Loaf

  5. GDOT_Retired

    With the follow-ups this week by Fox 5 News, it’s much more now than just lewd emails. This is beginning to smell like huge conflict-of-interest and cover-up by Gena Evans. It’s time for her to go!

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Ratf#cked « live apartment fire

  7. BillyBobSixPack

    Gena Abraham Evans was and is the Purr-(meow)-fect person for the position of Ga. Dept. of Transportation chief. Why? Because this woman has a lot of mileage on her……….

    Reply

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