Daily Archives: February 16, 2009

Inconvenient truths

Mark Winne, WSB

Sidestepping an inconvenient fact: Mark Winne, WSB

Mark Winne is a proud man, and he should be.  Winne does a lot of good work as one of WSB’s investigative reporters.  He’s done some of that work with the help of Terrell Bolton, DeKalb County’s police chief.  Bolton gave Winne an exclusive last year when Bolton decided he needed to arm his cops with tasers.  Winne has had other insider access to DeKalb PD investigators, doubtless with Bolton’s blessing.   And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Winne’s job is to cultivate relationships with folks who can help him break news.

But Winne’s pride is preventing him from telling the full story of Bolton’s embattled relationship with his new boss, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis.  Last week, Ellis suspended Bolton from his job.  Winne, as well as reporters from the AJC, have played the Ellis / Bolton tug-of-war as a generic power struggle.  But the essence of the power struggle is a result of a series of stories produced by Dale Russell, WAGA’s chief investigative reporter — and Winne’s professional arch rival.

Terrell Bolton with Dale Russell, WAGA

Terrell Bolton with Dale Russell, WAGA

Take this story, produced on the fateful day that Ellis suspended Bolton.  In it, Winne never mentions that Ellis is investigating Bolton’s use of comp time — the key issue that has put Bolton in Ellis’s cross-hairs.  Why not?  Probably because Russell was the first to raise that issue, based on a series of Open Records Act requests.  Russell showed Bolton had taken dozens of comp days, despite a DeKalb County policy denying such perks for higher-ups like police chiefs. Russell’s story from the same day appears here.

Russell and Winne have a competitive history in Atlanta that goes back decades.  The two men once got in a physical confrontation while covering a story and had to be separated by their photogs.  They were both much, much younger then.

Sometimes the AJC will cite original reporting done in other media outlets, but the AJC has been oddly unwilling to cite Russell’s work in what has become a major story that got feature-length treatment Sunday.  Local TV almost never directly cites the reporting of a competitor.   But the Open Records Act information on Bolton’s comp time is available to anybody, including Winne.  Winne’s refusal to fully explore the issue leaves his viewers with vagaries about a “power struggle.”

Somewhere within his über-competitive heart, Winne knows that Russell got the goods on Bolton.  All Winne has, at least on this story, is his stubborn pride.