Monthly Archives: July 2009

Pitchforks and torches…

Certain Speculation
By CB Hackworth
newsmanatl [at] gmail [dot] com

The “Tea Party” crowd — a vocal and apparently growing protest movement made up of radical Republicans and other unhappy Americans — was very upset with the Obama family last week.

Here’s a cell phone pic from their latest rally:


Ok, ok. I lied. That’s not a “Tea Party” rally.

Close, though.

Their high-pitched rhetoric is reminiscent of good Bavarian townsfolk getting ready to storm Castle Frankenstein with torch and pitchfork in hand.

And what was it that set them off last week?

Apparently, the mere fact that First Lady Michelle Obama had the audacity to travel to Europe with her two daughters.  How dare the President’s family use taxpayer dollars to represent the United States abroad, even though that’s part of their “job” and exactly what all their predecessors in recent memory have done.

Leading the charge up the hill last week was Martha Zoller, by all accounts a very nice, Christian lady. She is also the host of a very conservative radio talk show on Gainesville station WDUN, she appears regularly on WAGA FOX5’s “The Georgia Gang,” and she is a frequent commentator on FOX, CNN and other major national news outlets.  I enjoy keeping up with what she has to say.

On her Facebook page, Zoller diligently posts links to articles from numerous other sources, which are always informative in one way or another. One went up last Monday night and caught my eye. It was headlined, “White House Won’t Reveal How Much Michelle Obama’s European Vacation Cost Taxpayers” and comes from

Ever heard of it before?


Didn’t think so.

At any rate, the posting sparked quite a spirited debate, and I just… couldn’t… help… myself…


I confess I love the fact that Zoller flat out stated, “Laura Bush did not travel with her children.”

Yes. Yes, she did. Just log onto Google, type in “Laura Bush” and “Jenna” and “travel.” Not that anyone should let facts get in the way of a good castle burning, but in about 15 seconds, you’ll learn all about a 10-day European holiday that the then-First Lady took with her daughter Jenna that kicked off on Mother’s Day of 2002 — as I pointed out above.

There may have been other such trips. I don’t know. I quit looking after I found that one.

At any rate, Zoller never acknowledged the faux pas.

Then, just a few days later… she changed course. Her derision of Michelle Obama for taking her daughters on a madcap travel spree suddenly morphed into grave concern for the very well being of the Obama girls.


Here’s the photo Martha Zoller “doesn’t want you to see.”

The 11-year-old daughter of President Barack Obama, was photographed in Rome, Italy. The t-shirt Malia is wearing looks like one I had back in the late 1960s, when I was about her age — but apparently this specific peace symbol is used by a group called, “Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.” With her dad busy at the G-8 Summit just around the corner, the photo appeared in London’s scurrilous Daily Mail, which chastized her a bit for wearing “peacenik” imagery.

“I don’t think the press should be photographing either of the Obama children,” Zoller wrote on her Facebook page. “They deserve their privacy…”

Zoller was so distraught with worry about Malia, in fact, that she posted a link to the unflattering Daily Mail article and she included a thumbnail of the “offending” photograph.

zoller1Ok, so the pic of Malia in the peace sign t-shirt it isn’t exactly as iconic as John John playing underneath JFK’s desk in the oval office — but to suggest that the youngest members of the First Family be hidden completely is just… strange.

Zoller simply doesn’t think Malia or her sister Sasha should be photographed at all.

Presumably, the “Tea Party” folks want Melia and Sasha to stay indoors, at home, in gauzy veils like Michael Jackson’s children, or — if they absolutely must leave the White House — be sure they wear their burkas and leave through the back door.

Their hatred of the First Family runs so deep, these people have convinced themselves the Obama kids should be heard about but not seen.

Attacks on the youngest members of the First Family are in bad taste, and far less artfully disguised than some may think.

The real concern for the girls — or perhaps about them — is obvious. They are nice, sweet, pretty, well mannered kids and they make their dad look good. And, well… that, we just can’t have!

Grab your pitchforks and torches!

Doesn’t play well with others

Courtesy Amanda Emily via Lenslinger

Courtesy Amanda Emily via Lenslinger

A common myth got shattered last week when the entity known as the Local News Service lost one of its three subscribing Atlanta TV stations.  The myth is this:  That the “news media” is a conspiratorial, monolithic entity that works in lockstep to feed garbage and liberalism to the masses.  The truth is much, much messier.

In Atlanta, there is very little about the news media that is in lockstep.  Sure, they show up at the same stories.  They often make similar judgments, the sort that deliver stories like the Cobb County cheerleader thief as the lead for newscasts from Atlanta to Timbuktu.  But they are also independent and competitive.

Their independence is what keeps WSB from participating in newly-formed pool arrangements like LNS and the helicopter sharing arrangement between WAGA and WXIA.  And surprisingly dissimilar news judgment forced WGCL from the LNS last week.

LNS was formed as a cost-effective way to cover stories considered no-brainers:  Press conferences, low-priority but essential ceremonies and events, the occasional meeting and such.  One photographer covered this stuff and sent it to all three LNS member stations.

Now there are only two:  WAGA and WXIA.

WGCL got out after a series of questionable LNS assignments:  It shot press conferences WGCL didn’t want to use.  It shot a promotional event for a grocery store.  It shot AFLAC night at a Braves game.  And LNS is apparently slow to respond to breaking news, probably because the TV stations are playing chicken with one another to see who knows about what breaking news, and how soon.

News directors are the most competitive individuals among the hundreds of people employed by Atlanta’s four TV newsrooms.  The news directors at WAGA, WXIA and WGCL agreed to LNS as an experiment.  WGCL’s news director, a driven Philly guy named Steve Schwaid, was apparently unwilling to experiment for very long.

WGCL also declined to participate in the helicopter-sharing arrangement with WAGA and WXIA.  Economic pressures will probably compel a re-examination of that position.  The question will be:  Will WSB consider teaming up with WGCL, or will WGCL join the WAGA/WXIA alliance?  It’s a question for another day.

As we’ve said before:  LNS makes sense given contracting TV revenues.  So does the helicopter-sharing agreement.  But it’s kinda comforting to see that it isn’t too easy.  Wouldn’t want anybody to think that “the media” is anything other than a collection of independent entities making independent judgments, all in the pursuit of better stories and a bigger audience.

Localizing MJ

No, we watched none of the local TV coverage of the Michael Jackson story.  It poses the classic local news dilemma:  The essence of the story is across the continent, at the Staples Center in LA.  But you’ve got umpteen hours of local news time to kill.   Love him or not, everybody’s talking about MJ.

Odds are, you’ll find yourself in a bar watching folks watching the MJ rites on TV.  Or talking to somebody who Twittered that he saw MJ on tour three times in Atlanta — “go find that guy!”  Maybe you’re staking out Jermaine Dupree’s Atlanta studio.  Maybe Da Brat is out of jail and you’re trying to get her reaction.

Or, you’re just on the street, talking about “local reaction.”  Maybe we’ll watch some local coverage and see how far off-base we are.  But in the meantime, be glad you aren’t this guy:

Bye bye, Skycam

2300010977_df29062c76In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was no more visible piece of equipment in Atlanta TV news than the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter employed by WXIA.  Dubbed “Skycam,” the blue and white helicopter floated among the tops of Atlanta skyscrapers every weeknight whether it needed to or not.  Its affable, swashbuckling pilot-reporter, Bruce Erion, was one of the most familiar on-camera faces in town.

Our recollection is that WXIA was the first TV station in Atlanta to use a helicopter bearing its logo.  Skycam is still in business as a promotional entity.  But WXIA is no longer using its own helicopter.

WXIA has reached an agreement to use WAGA’s helicopter for aerial footage, live and otherwise.  WAGA’s assignment desk continues to control the helicopter.   But whenever the aircraft goes up, WAGA must notify WXIA.  Likewise, WXIA is now obligated to call WAGA when WXIA hears about breaking news that may require aerial coverage.

Each station has forty hours of “shared” time on the aircraft per month, according to a memo obtained by LAF.  Each station also has ten hours to use exclusively.  WXIA will still hail its aerial footage as that of “11 Alive Skycam,” as will WAGA “SkyFox Five.”

WGCL is not part of this arrangement (nor is WSB).  We understand that WGCL was included in talks to share helicopter resources, but declined to participate in the final arrangement.

It’s worth noting that WGCL has also withdrawn from the LNS, which pools video resources for common events like news conferences.

The helicopter pool makes obvious sense.  Not only is it wasteful to see four aircraft hovering over an accident scene, but it’s also scary.  Never mind that Atlanta news pilots are typically very experienced and fully communicative with one another in such circumstances.  The fact is, they’re under a lot of pressure to get a better camera angle than their competitors.  The 2007 crash of a news helicopter in Phoenix during a routine police chase was an industry eye-opener (be forewarned:  the link is chilling, disturbing, awful).

Unfortunately, WAGA’s and WXIA’s cost savings will probably go directly to the corporate bottom lines of Fox and Gannett.  Neither newsroom is likely to benefit.skycam

It’s a remarkable turning point for WXIA.  At one time, its best promotional tool was its helicopter.   WXIA frequently sent Skycam to schools.  The aircraft would dramatically land on the playground.  The kids would run out.  Erion would do a show-and-tell.  A photog would shoot it, then send the video back to Atlanta for the show close, with smiling children waving at the camera.

While en route, Erion would front live shots airborne from the pilot’s seat.  A photog would strap on a safety harness, then stand out on the skid of the aircraft  with a camera on his shoulder, a thousand feet above the city.

The kids in the footage below are probably in their late twenties now, and dealing with budget cuts in their own workplaces.  Gannett had money to burn back in 1986, the heyday of Skycam.

A little balance, please

Certain Speculation
By CB Hackworth
newsmanatl [at] gmail [dot] com

Kyle Wingfield, AJC

Kyle Wingfield, AJC

First, credit where it is due:

Notwithstanding some insulting theatrics surrounding the selection of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s newest columnist, Kyle Wingfield has quickly proven himself to be a good hire.

He is calm and rational… a good, clear writer who makes compelling arguments… and he focuses on the subject at hand rather than his own ego.

So, now that the AJC finally has a decent conservative commentator, I have a small but seemingly reasonable request:

Can we please have at least one decent liberal commentator, too?

The contrast between Wingfield’s editorial and Cynthia Tucker’s, almost side-by-side on the same page of Sunday’s AJC, is startling and disconcerting.  It’s not the difference between conservative and liberal; it’s the difference between normal and crazy.

In “No Time for Race Cowards,” Wingfield lays the groundwork for an almost-convincing argument that the Voting Rights Act may have outlived its usefulness.  I happen to disagree with him on that topic.  However, he makes the other side sound like it is at least the product of a reasonable, thinking, and even decent person.

Cynthia Tucker, AJC

Cynthia Tucker, AJC

On the other hand, in “No Reason to Fear Detainees,” Tucker equates detainees at Guantanamo Bay with the waves of immigrants who once were welcomed to America by the Statue of Liberty, and she goes on to rant and rave (literally) over the fact that they have been refused entry, and apparently citizenship, to the United States.
Tucker acknowledges “65 percent of Americans oppose closing Guantanamo; 74 percent oppose moving any detainees to a prison in their state,” but simply dismisses all those people as being wrong.  That’s fascinating, because whenever the numbers work to her advantage — for instance, in an Obama popularity poll — she’s the first to cite percentages as irrefutable proof of the position she is advocating.

The column also acknowledges Harry Reid, the ultra liberal Senate majority leader, is among the “not in my backyard” Americans who oppose giving former Gitmo detainees sanctuary in the continental U.S. — and, again, she flat out says she is right and he is wrong.  When you are so liberal you are at odds with Harry Reid, something bad is wrong with you.

Tucker’s rhetoric is so high pitched and hysterical, it almost leaves you wondering if she’s been bitten recently by a wild squirrel without going in for a series of rabies shots.

Sean Penn probably loves columns like that, but for anyone who considers themselves liberal but not to the point of joining the Symbionese Liberation Army,  Cynthia Tucker does not speak for us.

Compare the last paragraph of her column with the last paragraph of Wingfield’s.

Tucker:  “Close Gitmo. Close it now.”

(Uh… or what?  You’ll kill a hostage?)

Wingfield:  “Eric Holder may be right that we are too cowardly, or maybe just too immature, to have such a serious discussion. I, for one, hope he’s wrong.”

Meglomania versus modesty.

One comes across as outraged that she is only writing about public policy rather than setting it herself.  The other one seems humbly attempting to educate his readers without pretending to have all the answers or claiming to be smarter than those actually in charge.

I do not care whether or not the AJC continues to employ Tucker or her even-more-fanatical colleague Jay Bookman, although they both make the paper look ridiculous.  Let them write what they want until they collapse or until the economy collapses, whichever comes first.

Those of us who consider ourselves Democrats but not crazy would really appreciate having a “voice of reason” who can articulate a liberal position as well as Wingfield can articulate a conservative position.

CB Hackworth has won a bunch of awards as a TV and print guy, including a Southeastern Regional Emmy last month.  We think Hackworth would be a great regular contributor to LAF.  Show him some love, please.  And if you don’t agree with him, the tough-love is OK too.

Boom goes the dynamite

Think it’s easy to be a news or sports anchor?  Think it’s just a matter of applying makeup, sitting in a chair and reading a teleprompter?  Think again.  Odds are, you’ve seen this bit of Indiana-based sportscasting.  Stephen Colbert has referenced it at least twice, Will Smith once at the Oscars.

But if you’re a distracted news gathering grunt, careening from a gas leak in Snellville to  a “mysterious package” in Carrollton to a court hearing that started an hour ago in Newnan, you may have overlooked this classic Youtube video.  Happy holiday.