Daily Archives: November 4, 2008

Ratf#cked

Gena Evans

Gena Evans

Maybe Gena Abraham Evans, now Georgia’s DOT commissioner, did something wrong while head of the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission.  Maybe she allowed her personal relationship with a contractor in a state construction project to cloud her judgment.  Maybe she erred by failing to disclose that relationship.  Maybe Dale Russell’s I-Team investigation into those issues hit a bulls-eye.

But we predict it won’t matter, because a) those issues are several years old and b) Gena Evans is coming off like a victim of a sanctimonious media probe into her personal life.

Dale Russell, WAGA

Dale Russell, WAGA

It’s complicated by the intriguing bi-play between WAGA’s Russell, and his ex-colleague, WSB’s Richard Belcher.  Belcher produced a story last week that touched the surface of the issues raised in Russell’s report.  Though Belcher’s story lacked the depth of Russell’s, WSB’s piece aired a full week ahead of Russell’s.  It seems fair to say now that Belcher produced that story as a classic bit of ratf#cking, a pre-emptive strike to dampen the fire of a competitor’s exclusive.

An interesting theory, floated by a commenter at the Peach Pundit is this:  That Gena Evans was behind the ratf#cking.  The commenter suggests that Evans was so annoyed with Russell’s questioning that she called Belcher, a presumably friendlier reporter.  Belcher produced a story that focused on some R-rated e-mails sent between Evans and the ex-boyfriend.  The story wasn’t a bright moment in Belcher’s distinguished career.  In it, Evans looked like a victim in game of e-mail / Open Records Act Gotcha.  Russell’s piece also had the salacious e-mails but was densely packed with more legitimate questions of impropriety.

(OK.  That theory’s interesting.  But it doesn’t give WSB enough credit.  And it gives too much to Evans.  If she was that cunning, she wouldn’t have sent those e-mails through the state system in the first place.)

Ratf#cking doesn’t happen often, but it’s not uncommon.  The AJC used to be well known for filing Open Records Act requests that simply asked for copies of Open Records Act requests filed by competing media.   It’s a lazy yet legit way to uncover news and monitor the competition. If the target of an investigation can play competing media against each other, as Evans may have done, then the target can better shape the story that’s emerging — and give the appearance that the media is ganging up on her.

It may not serve the audience.  But ultimately, the reporter’s master is his station manager.  In the run-up to the November sweeps, Belcher served WSB by taking the thunder out of WAGA’s exclusive.  And WSB can say  it had the story first.  The claim doesn’t stand up to full scrutiny.  But most folks don’t pick those kind of nits the way, say, we do.  Ultimately, a viewer may see WAGA’s promotion and say:  Exclusive?  I saw that last week on another station.  I don’t need to see it again on WAGA.  Russell’s story is better.  But Belcher goes home the winner.

Russell is producing a second part of his investigation at 6pm Wednesday.

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