Update: This is video of WXIA’s coverage. The flag topples at 1:52.
Runoff night got really weird at the Nathan Deal celebratory party Tuesday. It was a low moment for Atlanta TV news.
Deal was unexpectedly eking out a victory for the Republican nomination for Governor. He ascended to the podium to address his supporters. It was no coincidence that he did so at the exact moment local newscasts began, at 11pm. Candidates do that.
But it wasn’t enough to hear Deal’s heartfelt remarks to his supporters. As Deal and his wife Sandra took the stage, TV crews from WSB and WAGA presumed to join him onstage.
TV cameras had a riser in the back of the room at the Gainesville Civic Center, which gave them a pretty clear shot at the podium. But WSB and WAGA, which sent two crews to Deal’s camp, set up a second camera near the podium — so that their reporters could bum-rush Deal after his remarks.
As Deal spoke to supporters, TV viewers could see Richard Belcher of WSB and Deidra Dukes of WAGA alongside the candidate, jostling for position. In so doing, Deal’s wife got elbowed aside — and the Georgia state flag was toppled.
It was unintentional of course. It was also plainly unnecessary. Deal was accessible through the night. Why the heavyhanded behavior?
Competition. But it wasn’t competition for viewers, who couldn’t give two sh-ts about such stuff. It was about ego and sticking it to the other guy.
Belcher, an excellent reporter in whose fan club I stand front and center, has always bum-rushed candidates on election night. Because each of the TV stations broadcasts the winner’s speech live in the 11pm news, the first reporter to question the candidate following the speech gets his / her question asked on live TV. If the question ends up on competing stations, even better. It’s a game of “if we ask the first question — and your TV station is forced to broadcast it, because you’re live too — we win!”
At WAGA, news director Budd McEntee hates losing that game. Belcher and McEntee once worked in the same newsroom. Deidra Dukes undoubtedly was on the podium because McEntee, perhaps via his mid-managers, communicated to her that her only measure of success that evening was to beat Belcher to the candidate following his speech.
This ratcheted up the need to “get” Deal the instant he stopped speaking from the podium, causing the goonish flag-toppling, wife-elbowing scene.
Did the viewers care a whit? No. WXIA declined to play along. Any clearheaded observer would say that Nathan Deal deserved an evening with a measure of decorum, unfouled by the dueling egos of TV reporters and news directors.
Not to mention, Deal deserved to stand alongside his wife and and upright flag of Georgia — and not dueling TV crews.
I don’t know who got to Deal first, Belcher or Dukes. Doesn’t really matter. It was a sad moment, played out by two TV news pros whose work is normally a credit to their profession.
But not this night.