Perp walk…

In the 2004 motion picture “The Clearing,” Robert Redford stars as a business tycoon who has been kidnapped for ransom.  His understandably distraught family members decide to “go public” with a direct appeal through the media and schedule a press conference.

I happened to get a little face time in the movie as an extra — playing, of course, a reporter (just as I once did in real life).

In the scene, Helen Mirren, as Redford’s wife, emerges with her grown children to face the legion of media representatives waiting outside their mansion.

We didn’t have actual lines, but I remember the film’s director’s instructions.  “As soon as you see them open the door, just start shouting questions all at once, like you usually do.”

I raised my hand.

“Well, we really wouldn’t do that,” I said.

He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

“What?

“We wouldn’t just start yelling.”

“Why not?”

“Well, first, this is a press conference, so we’d wait for them to get down here and start talking to us,” I explained.  “And, more importantly, they’re victims who have done nothing wrong, so we’d really go out of our way to respect what they are going through.”

I don’t recall the director’s exact response, but it basically came down to, “Do you want to be in this movie or not?”

So, as soon at the door opened and Helen Mirren stepped out, I started screaming at her like a ravening jackal — thus directly contributing to a pervasive Hollywood stereotype that, until recently, I have always felt was unfair and undeserved.

I’m not a good enough actor, or even a good enough extra, to think up any questions appropriate for the situation.  I couldn’t picture myself ever doing this kind of thing to people with a loved one who was probably dead at that very moment.  So, I made things up.

“Where did you buy those shoes?” I yelled, knowing the words would never actually be audible on screen.  “The people have a right to know!”

That was make believe.  Not real life.

In more than one darkened theater, I’ve leaned over to whoever was with me and said, “I don’t know any real reporters who would do that.”

Oh, sure.   I have witnessed, and even participated in, my share of media circuses.  But, as far as I can recall, they were always centered around a deserving target — like, say, an indicted congressman or someone suspected of hiring a hit man to kill his wife.

The journalists I knew throughout my career were professional and had enough self respect not to  stumble over themselves and each other just to torture people arbitrarily.

But what a difference a few years make.  Times have changed since I left local television three-and-a-half years ago.

If you want to see TV reporters at their worst — (And, really, who among the readers of this blog doesn’t?) — look no further than this video clip.

mayor

I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but she had me at, “No comment.”

By that, I mean to say that, unlike all these guys with the cameras and microphones, I understand English.

This woman is not one of Michael Jackson’s doctors.  She’s not Casey Anthony or some other party-happy mother of a missing and presumably dead tot.  She’s not the governor of South Carolina stepping out of a plane from Argentina after being missing for a week.

This is the mayor of Atlanta, Shirley Franklin.

She is not accused of any crime — unlike at least one of her predecessors and unlike some of her contemporaries around the country.  She is a public official with lots of responsibilities and a busy schedule that may or may not happen to coincide with or accommodate some arbitrary deadline for the 5 o’clock news.

I make very few statements with absolute certainty.  However, one thing I know for sure is that I would make a very bad mayor.  And each of the so-called newspeople chasing Franklin down the street would be just as abysmal as me.  Potholes would go unfilled, garbage wouldn’t be picked up, taxes would skyrocket, public corruption would run amok and crime really would turn the streets into an urban jungle — something that as yet has not happened.

Franklin has done a good job, for a very long time, of running the city.  And that includes not just the last eight years, but many more in which she basically did the job without the title.

Even if you’re not the fan I am, why treat someone of her caliber like a perp?  Why live down to the public’s already low opinion that journalists are all bottom feeders?  Why not simply go back to your newsrooms and report that the mayor had no comment today, but has scheduled a press conference for tomorrow morning?

Here’s why:

“Good TV.”

I mentioned that phrase the other day.

It refers not to television that will help to inform viewers, but, rather, to video that people will want to watch.

Someone being tasered, for instance, is always “Good TV.

The folks at WGCL-TV — or CBS Atlanta, as the station prefers to call itself — were so unembarrassed by the scene depicted in this ugly video that they posted unedited “raw” video of the entire confrontation on their official website.

“Raw: Mayor Declines to Comment About Crime,” the heading reads.  And a caption underneath that says, “Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin refuses to answer CBS Atlanta’s Tony McNary’s questions about crime in the city.”

That statement — while technically true — is pretty hilarious since Tony McNary is just one of a gazillion reporters descending en masse upon Mayor Franklin as she attempts to negotiate her way down a public street.  I think you can see the mic flags of just about every station in town at one point or another (and I am very sorry to say I recognized an old friend in there).  So, for WGCL to imply that the mayor refused to answer McNary’s questions in particular is perhaps the strangest example of self promotion I’ve come across lately.

All this over-the-top behavior and coverage is because of a perceived crime wave in Atlanta.

It’s an issue that has inflamed passions throughout the city (at least in part because of the media) but the facts are subject to a great deal of debate.  I don’t claim to know the truth, but I’ve talked to various people — from neighborhood advocates to public officials — who have very different views on the matter and very different interpretations of the available statistics.  The fact that it’s an election year, with three leading candidates for mayor loudly pushing anti-crime agendas, may also figure into the overal equation.

Who is right?  Not sure.

Either way, Mayor Franklin’s decision to wait and discuss crime at a scheduled press conference the following morning did not result in a single homicide or burglary that wouldn’t have happened even if she’d been willing to stop what she was doing and deal with this journalistic lynch mob.

“I will not have any comments at this point, with you chasing me down the street, today,” Franklin says in the video.  “I have not run from the press, I have not run from issues, I have a reputation for being open and willing to talk to you.  I will not do it now.”

At which point, a reporter — quite possibly WGCL’s Tony McNary — lectures the mayor, in a tone dripping with righteousness and condescension, “There’s a crisis right now with crime in the city!”

The reporter makes that statement as if it is absolute fact, as if he really knows more about it than she does.

“And I have a crisis every day as mayor,” the mayor answers tersely.  “Thank you.”

At that point, I almost expected one of the reporters to shout, “Where did you buy those shoes?”

It is hard to believe that the local media has degenerated into a poor man’s TMZ, dogging a respected public official as if she was Britney Spears and presumably hoping to drive her crazy enough to shave her head and attack them with an umbrella.  And it is equally hard to believe that this is stuff that WGCL or any of the other news stations actually want the public to ever see.

Mayor Franklin is the only person in this “raw” video clip who was elected by the citizens of this community.  I strongly suspect she is the only person in the clip who would have a job at all if the public got to vote on reporters and photographers, as well.

— CB Hackworth

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28 thoughts on “Perp walk…

  1. sick-of-it

    “It is hard to believe that the local media has degenerated into a poor man’s TMZ…”

    No, it’s not.

    Reply
  2. thePhantom

    “She is not accused of any crime — unlike at least one of her predecessors and unlike some of her contemporaries around the country”

    Well, one could argue that she is guilty of impersonating a mayor….

    And the police chief? What a complete waste of oxygen. Has he found a new job yet?

    Reply
  3. The Road Warrior

    Good article CB. The self flagillation over at 46 is the worst. They are so wrapped up in “asking the tough questions” that they lose site of the story. I am sure each reporter has been charged by their news director to go out and “ask the tough question” so that he/she will get in the weekly promo.
    46 goes beyond this by reading blogs and emails about it on the air.
    Its a sad day in Mudville…

    Reply
  4. cityjock

    me thinks newsmanatl likes to hear himself talk..

    interestesting opinion, but nontheless he’s absolutely wrong.

    Reply
  5. in the know

    I believe that encounter took place after several days of requesting an interview with the mayor and the police chief… both of whom declined. So in that respect it seemed like they were hiding from the media and not showing to their public scheduled events. Further more, the media and news organizations aren’t supposed to be in bed with or cozy to the political and government establishment. That is what got society in the mess it is in today! There has been and still is an outcry about crime in the city of Atlanta. No matter what the stats say the average person I run into on the streets thinks there is a problem. And the average citizen’s opinion is the only one that counts whether you work as a politician a government official or in the news media. We both serve the public interest…and I believe this line of questioning and reporting did just that. Shirley had a right to say no comment… but the reporters had a right to chase he down ask questions, whether they be tough or not.

    Reply
  6. Rick

    Mayor Franklin and Governor Perdue and many other public office holders all too often issue press releases with their quotes on this or that, instead of letting the public, including reporters, ask them questions. That ugly scene with the mayor and reporters in front of City Hall? She has only herself and her relatively-recent aloofness to blame. She is way out of touch with the voters who put her in office twice and expect her to be a leader and not act like a lame duck.

    Ch.46’s “tough questons” promotions schtick, and constantly patting themselves on the back, as if their reporters are the only ones in town doing it, has jumped the shark. All too often it’s not even “gotcha” TV, I’m embarrased for them. Last week they ran a story at 11pm consisting of nothing but their reporter standing outside of the secured entrance to the police station demanding to speak to the Chief, as if he were hiding, shirking his duties. But that same night at 10pm on Ch. 5, there was the Chief, on camera, answering a reporter’s tough questions, and it wasn’t a dramatic ambush interview. The same thing happened when Ch. 46 was making a big deal over not being able to speak with the GA Revenue Commissioner about the ridiculous delays in processing state income tax returns, and there was the Commissioner on Ch. 11 sitting in his office and also another time live in Ch. 11’s newsroom answering tough questions about it, and the reporter wasn’t chasing him.

    So yes, I think the thing with the mayor and all the reporters last week on the sidewalk was ugly but necessary. And trying to turn every rejected interview request into a license to chase that person down the street is hokey and just makes you look bad when that same person is breaking out in a sweat answering your competitors’ tough questions.

    Reply
  7. steve schwaid

    I would think a reporter who writes a column like this might want to call and conduct some fact checking. But so be it. That’s what blogs are, allowing folks to comment on anything they want. Again, so be it. I take responsibility for what Tony did that day. And he along with Jeff Thorn did a great job. (Interesting how the other stations used the sound from Tony’s questions.)

    Some facts:

    * Earlier in the week a community leader had raised concerns about safety and crime. He told people not to go out a night or fear for their safety.

    * The area around Georgia Tech was seeing more and more violent crime.

    * There was a shooting on one college campus by local bad guys.

    * A city council member had just been car jacked.

    * Questions whether the furloughs led to an increase in concerns over the past several months have been a top of mind topic throughout the city. (The mayor has denied it but now the police chief admits it has.)

    For the past several days we had been trying to talk to the mayor and police chief but to no avail.

    (In fact, recently we were trying to talk to the mayor – an elected official and public figure – about another story. Her folks told our reporter to wait but as we did she slipped out a back door.)

    We spent days trying to talk to the mayor about the crime issue. Her office said there was no availability. The night before we went to a public appearance listed on her calendar. She was a no show.

    The police chief? No one knew where he was. In a city filled with PIOs not one of them could tell us where he was, whether he was in town or our out of town or get a comment from him regarding questions we had. (We learned at the press conference that he doesn’t disclose his schedule because of safety concerns. ?????)

    Our mission is to ask the tough questions of our elected officials. That’s what the fourth estate is supposed to do. That’s part of our job. Our focus is not to do features or soft stories, but to do the stories relevant and top of mind for our viewers. We don’t do reporting – TV and Web – for our fellow journalists. We do it for our viewers and users – our consumers with no apologies.

    I enjoy about how you suggest we should stop at a response of no comment. I guess we should have said: “Thank you mayor for your no comment. Have a nice day. Please let us know when you’re ready to talk about the concerns of crime sweeping the city.”

    Hmmm. The writer suggests we shouldn’t ask the tough questions. I enjoyed the fact that the writer references that the questions we were asking were going to be answered at a press conference. What press conference?

    I find it most curious that the announcement about the press conference was made by the mayor’s office after we asked our tough questions of the mayor. And if one was scheduled ahead of time why didn’t the mayor say so when she was being questioned? Her responses were nothing but “no comment” and how her mention she deals with crises everyday.

    CB – feel free to take the shots at us. But also feel free to gather the facts ahead of time.

    Not one viewer or web user complained about how we asked the mayor the tough questions. It was just the opposite; we got several emails and tweets from folks complimenting Tony and CBS Atlanta for pursuing the story and asking the Tough Questions.

    We will continue to ask the Tough Questions. And I’m extremely proud of how my staff does what we are supposed to do every day.

    Reply
    1. newsmanatl Post author

      Oh, lordy. It will take me awhile to reply to all of this, so please give me a few days.

      For now, just let me say that I found these comments… truly enlightening.

      Reply
    2. Beverly

      As the Mayor’s Communications Director who personally spoke with Tony McNary and Tom Jones at WSB-TV and other reporters who requested interviews that day….they were told that the Mayor and the Chief would be holding a news conference the next day. So with all due respect to suggest that there were requests that were ignored or not responded to is entirely false, and the reporters know that fact.

      Reporters were aware there would be a news conference the following day to address public safety questions and it was scheudled the following day so that the Chief could be there. So whether other outlets used the sound bite is no indication of its worthiness or journalistic value.

      Newsmanatl……thank you for your introspection and review of the current status of news in Atlanta…my up close view is far too jaded.

      Reply
  8. Bill W.

    And I’m sure this “interview” skyrocketed WGCL into the #1 spot last week, right??

    Ha!

    There is at least one good thing about this mayor video: since no one watches WGCL, no one saw it. If a tree fell in the woods…

    Reply
    1. gabby

      Based on the ratings it seems the viewers like it and want it.

      They consistently beat WXIA in the late news now and in the July book tied WXIA in the morning.

      Reply
  9. Prophet Ezra

    Dear Mr. Schwaid and Mr. Road Warrior,
    Please refrain from so many posts.
    I am begin to tire of your positions.
    Thank You,
    Prophet Ezra

    Reply
  10. Stu G.

    I am with the Prophet Ezra (however Ezra, you do make more posts than just about anyone else) I also happen to like Mr. Road Warrior posts…I remember him from tv and he is an upfront and honest guy. No one did live tv, day in and day out, like he did.

    …but Steve…my goodness. Please go back to Philly…oh wait…they drove you out there. Maybe Atlanta will do the same. Just like Sherman…before you leave you will burn the city down with your “ask the tough questions” schwaid schtick.
    CB…keep up the good work.

    Reply
  11. live apt fire

    @Ezra and Stu G: Thanks for commenting on the site. Ezra even has me looking up scripture (and I loved Ezra’s comment about my return to the TV news biz, from Proverbs 26:11: “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly…”)

    But you should be encouraging Steve Schwaid’s comments, not asking him to go away. I absolutely want to hear his take on issues raised in this blog. And I give him a lot of credit for engaging us with comments on this site, something no other news director has done.

    I’ve been out of town for the last two weeks but have heard gripes about 46’s references to a “city under siege.” It sounds a bit excessive. The pursuit of an audience often isn’t pretty, nor is the pursuit of evasive public officials. Schwaid and his folks are in the trenches, and his viewpoint is typically enlightening, whether you agree or not. I want to hear more from this guy, not less.

    Reply
  12. Ben

    As a retired old fart print journalists, I say Steve is right. They should have dogged the mayor. A good print journalists would have done the same thing–there just would not have been a video photographer in tow. And, of course, if she had a news conference planned the next day she would have said “see you tomorrow and I’ll answer all your questions.” She was a public official avoiding an issue she was not prepared to address. Maybe there was a little hype to it all, but, hey, it was TV news.

    Reply
  13. Element

    I don’t think the questioning crossed the line. When public officials refuse to meet with you, you go to them. This is what happens. The absolutely useless “Mayor” of this city deserves everything she got. Its been coming for quite some time. The negligent “Police Chief” got off light on this one and should have been pressed much harder. BUT NOT due to a couple of recent crimes in this city. He’s been getting paid for a job he hasn’t been doing for far, far too long. And what do you mean, no one knows where the chief is?! Come on!?

    Having said that, this city is no more, or less, “under siege” than it has been at any other time in its history. All that is just absurd and absolutely comical!

    GCL’s ND doesn’t have a leg to stand on, if he’s not happy with what’s said here. Just because you feed the jackals doesn’t make them your pets. They are still jackals!

    But, most of all, I think its despicable and frankly juvenile for you jackals to try and dissuade anyone from commenting here. Come on!? Grow up!

    Reply
  14. thePhantom

    newsmanatl

    As usual, you gotta love phantom snipes from people too timid to sign their names.
    ———————————————————————————–

    And yet you didn’t list your name or any affiliations you have…Awesome.

    My name is unimportant. I have no media affiliations. I am just a concerned citizen who has lived within the Atlanta city limits for the last 15 years, and am totally fed up with what passes as political leadership here. Many people give Shirley a free-pass because so far (for what we know) she hasn’t committed crimes like Campbell. Although I think those of you in the news business should have dug deeper concerning her daughter, the murders, and the BMF coke ring. Or if her family connections keep her from privatizing the airport. Where there’s smoke, there is usually fire.

    I don’t care what station asks “the tough questions”, or if it comes from print media, but in my opinion the “news” should be harsher with our politicians. I don’t want fluff pieces on style, athletes homes, or the like. I could give a rats ass how morning weather ladies dress their dog (listening CH 46??). What I would like to see are stories why the Atlanta Public school system has less students this year, but more employees (as reported in the AJC). Why aren’t they cutting like everyone else?
    Or stories why local judges keep giving light sentences to repeat felons. Is anyone else on the Courtwatch email list? Why is someone with 10 previous felony convictions allowed back on the street to commit more crimes? Why must the Courtwatch system exist to push judges to pay attention to the community?
    How about the dog and pony show Shirley put on this week? Getting stimulus money to hire cops sounds all well & good, but how are you going to pay for them in the future? COA can’t pay for what they have now, and isn’t the pension already underfunded?

    You may not agree with me, but at least you’ll have something to phantom snipe now…

    Reply
  15. Lucas Johnson

    CB, I was there as a photog in that scene as well! I remember me, you, Leona, and Kimberly going to that! I think you can see my nose in one shot!

    Reply
    1. newsmanatl Post author

      Took me a minute to realize you were talking about “The Clearing.”

      Yeah, the director actually didn’t care much about us, but he let us be extras because we could bring professional camera and audio equipment for the shot. LOL.

      Good to hear from you, as always! 😉

      Reply
  16. newsmanatl Post author

    All of my pieces are signed with my real name as well as the “newsmanatl” tag and Doug has posted my bio, including current and past affiliations, on the website.

    For the record, I have met Mayor Franklin but do not know her well and I doubt she would recognize me if I walked into the same room. However, I am very aware of her contributions to the city over the course of many years (long before she was mayor) and I think she does an honest, credible job. Let’s hope we get as good the next time around.

    Running a city as large and diverse as Atlanta is not easy and it is always easy to snipe from an armchair.

    Reply
  17. juanita driggs

    Real old timers whose beat was city hall and who covered Ms. Shirley back when she worked for Maynard and then for Andy know she is un-ambushable. That’s why she was such an effective gatekeeper. I suspect some of the newbies who try to pull this stunt again may find personal access to her when it’s really necessary a bit problematic. Rocky wasn’t the only one to grow a hard shell while growing up in Philadelphia.

    Reply
  18. steve schwaid

    Somehow, I missed the earlier post from the Mayor’s office.

    A couple of notes – responses

    1. If a press conference was actually scheduled one would have throught the mayor woruld have said: “I will be talking about this tomorrow during our press conference on crime and how we plan to attack it” or something like that.

    2. Why wouldn’t the Mayor’s office have told the media when they got calls about the mayor’s availability?

    3. There was no notice given to my knowledge on any presser before our attempt to talk to the mayor.

    4. If the presser had been previously scheduled then why did the police chief have a room for the day in question in Virginia for the Police Chief’s Conference. Our FOI request of his schedule and expenses show he apparently rushed back and had to pay for the room he reserved, even though he didn’t use it on the day in question.

    Reply
  19. Beverly

    Mr. Schwaid,
    In reference to this story….you need only ask Mr. McNary on whether he knew there would be a news conference the following day. It was a courtesy extended to the reporters who were there covering another presser.

    The Mayor is not required to answer in any particular way…and again your reporter knew there was a presser the next day…that is a fact.

    If the rationale was to get answers you didn’t but the promo apparently proved useful for your purposes.

    Reply
  20. steve schwaid

    Beverly,

    I would love a clarification from your office.

    When did you notify the media there would be a press conference about the cfime issue?

    When did the mayor request the presence of the police commissioner?

    And yes, the mayor is not required to answer in a particular way. But, if a presser was scheduled it would seem appropriate that she would have said so when asked by CBS Atlanta and the other TV stations.

    Reply
  21. Curtis Smith

    “And yes, the mayor is not required to answer in a particular way. But, if a presser was scheduled it would seem appropriate that she would have said so when asked by CBS Atlanta and the other TV stations”

    …yeah, right. It was not appropriate for a respectable news station to chase someone down the street a la TMZ. Why should the mayor be appropriate if your reporters aren’t?

    Reply

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