Monthly Archives: October 2009

Answer me these questions three…

Discussing the subject at hand:  the Carters

Discussing only the subject at hand: the Carters

See correction / clarification below.

“You’ll get three questions.” This was the no-nonsense ground rule delivered by Deanna Congileo, Jimmy Carter’s press secretary last week.  We were at the Carter Library / Museum, which was re-opening following a $10 million facelift.  The museum’s namesake, and his wife Rosalyn, would do a round-robin Q&A with assembled local media.

I learned about the assignment that morning.  I began formulating questions.  This was easy.  Carter had been making news lately.

My strategy was this:  Ask a puffball question about the museum, then zero in with a question about Carter’s recent observation that racism was fueling opposition to POTUS’s agenda.  The question would be somewhat challenging, along the lines of “does it cheapen the charge of racism” when used in this context.  My third question, I figured, would be a follow-up to the racism question.

WAGA’s Paul Yates was there with photog Chris Rosenthal.  WSB’s John Pruitt was there with what seemed like a cast of thousands.  WTVM, Columbus GA was in attendance.  WGCL sent photographer Everett Bevelle solo.

My photog Steve Flood had positioned us by the doorway where Mr. and Mrs. Carter would enter.  Because of our location, we were told we’d be first in line to chat with them.

The Carters entered the room.  The former president, who can be guarded with the media sometimes, was lively and engaging.  “Take your time,” he said as I fitted a mic onto his lapel.

I asked about the museum.  He talked about its display of his life story and his emergence in politics during segregation.

Jimmy Carter, Doug Richards WXIA“I need to ask a newsy question,” I began question number two.

Immediately, Congileo stepped in.  “We’re only doing museum questions.”  She explained that this was part of the deal, arranged days in advance.

This was news to me.  Congileo is an experienced and respected pro.  Earlier, she’d spent a few minutes giving me a personal tour of the museum.  She hadn’t mentioned this particular restriction.  She apparently thought I already knew.

Carter stood there smiling, awaiting another museum question.

I tried to rephrase the racism question.  “You came of age during segregation…” I began.  You lived with racism, I went on.  At this point, Rosalyn Carter rolled her eyes, muttered something and started to shift around awkwardly.  Then the press secretary piped up again, firmly:  “A museum question, please.”

I hadn’t prepared another museum question.  I could feel my face reddening.  Carter stood there, still beaming.

I stammered a question about the attention spans of young people, and whether they’d find a display about the Carter years relevant.  Carter liked that question.  He said they’d updated the museum with cool stuff for youngsters.

Then I asked him if I could follow him on Twitter.  Not yet, he said.

Interview over.  Thanks.  Nice talking to you.

Sensing my discomfort, Carter then said:  “You can ask me a question about Iran.”  Rosalyn rolled her eyes again, shifted again, and began removing her lapel mic.  She wanted none of it, and was now irritated with me and the ex-President.  It was a minor, lovely, very human marital-tension moment between an extraordinarily famous couple.  But I was having my own issues with tension.

I groped for a thoughtful question about Iran’s nukes.  Carter answered, more or less, that the museum shows that some issues never really go away.  (Carter’s 1980 re-election was undone by Iran’s 1979 seizure of the US Embassy.  And by Teddy Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.)

I produced the story about the museum.  I used the “twitter” question.  I didn’t use the Iran comment.

This could launch into a discussion of the propriety and circumstances of interviews with pre-existing “no questions about…” conditions.  It happens.  The Carters probably wouldn’t have agreed to chat with the local media without the condition.  I find such conditions regrettable, especially with a guy like Jimmy Carter.  Even at age 85, he’s way sharp.   He’s a big boy.  He could have handled the POTUS / racism question.

But it was Carter’s show.  We were guests in his museum.  And his wife wasn’t having it.

This post had originally asserted that WGCL was absent from the Carter event.  It has been changed to reflect the fact that WGCL sent a photographer solo.


This amusing promo / trailer for my favorite Hitchcock movie leads to a lament of sorts.  It’s about an opportunity lost, though for understandable reasons.

During my two-year TV news hiatus, I did almost zero on-camera work.   Nobody beat down my door demanding my craggy credibility as a spokesman for personal injury attorneys, automobile dealerships or salad dressing.  It was OK.  Advertising was a field of work I was happy to sidestep, unless I was producing the video for TomorrowVision Media.

ZML-NAMES MASTER ai fileOne day, I got a pretty amazing e-mail:  We need a fake TV news guy to do an on-camera pitch for a comedy / horror movie called Zombieland.  The pitchman would appear on a faux news set, and gravely intone about the presence of zombies in your town.  The fake newsman would then demonstrate, on cantaloupes and watermelons, how to effectively bludgeon zombies with instruments like hammers and baseball bats.

Naturally, I was all “hell yeah!” to this.  Problem was, I had begun my employment with WXIA just mere days prior to getting the pitch.

Under normal circumstances, I would have written it off and not even bothered to ask permission from my supervisors at WXIA for such a commercial appearance.  But this obviously was not a normal circumstance.  Somehow, I deduced that having a WXIA reporter doing a commercial providing useful how-to tips for warding off zombies, while fictitious, could give the station some “cool” points.

Most bossfolk would have dismissed the notion instantly.  Mine didn’t.  She asked the General Manager, Bob Walker.  Amazingly, Walker also didn’t dismiss it instantly either.  I’m not saying they were enthused about it.  But they considered allowing it.  Walker ran it up the flagpole among his betters at Gannett in Washington.

As one might expect, caution reigned.  The request was denied.  Much as I might like to pin the blame on corporate, the bosslady stresses this was a collective decision.

Ultimately, this came as no surprise.   TV reporters frequently appear as actors in movies (usually playing TV reporters). News radio anchors like Scott Slade at WSB are inexplicably allowed to deliver commercials.  But I can’t recall an instance where a TV news guy also appeared in a commercial — at least, not since the Camel News Caravan days began to fade away with Barbara Walters doing commercials on the Today show…. but I date myself.

At least the folks in corporate know me now:  That wannabe Zombie reporter.

Btw, Zombieland was shot in Atlanta and opens in theatres today.

Walk – give – cure

Leigh Richards, Doug RichardsThe redhead is my daughter, Leigh Richards.  Twenty years ago this week, a doctor at Egleston Children’s Hospital diagnosed her with diabetes.  She was 19 months old.  She was just learning to talk.  She slept in a crib.  She was tiny.

Every day since then, she’s depended on insulin injections or insulin pump infusions to keep her alive.  She’s had to puncture her fingers to test her blood glucose levels several times each day.  She’s quite accustomed to it.  She doesn’t moan and cry about it.  Her health is good.

Diabetes is a nasty disease.  It slowly erodes the health of its victims, some more than others.  At the twenty-year mark, Leigh is now at the point where she might expect to begin to see such effects.  This, despite the fact that her hemoglobin A1C benchmarks have been considerably better-than-average for persons with diabetes.  She’ll need a lifetime of luck and self-discipline to avoid complications.

On October 17, Leigh is leading a team on the 2009 Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Walk for a Cure.  It takes place at Centennial Park at 8am.  I’m walking with Leigh’s team.

We’d like nothing better than to have readers of this blog join us.

Click here to register.  Click the team “chicks before pricks” (Leigh is referring to the finger-pricks required to draw blood to test blood glucose levels).   The team’s facebook page is here.  To donate directly to JDRF, please click here.  (It could be that your employer has a program to match donations.  Gannett is such an employer, despite it financial straits.)

There may be a T-shirt involved.  It kinda depends on the turnout and our ability to pull it off.

We’d love to see you there.  Or simply take your money on behalf of JDRF.

Thank you.