Trampling the flag

Update: This is video of WXIA’s coverage.  The flag topples at 1:52.

Nathan Deal and company

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.

They trampled the flag to get to Nathan Deal.  It was the talk of our newsroom the following day.

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.

Nathan and Sandra Deal, August 10, 2010

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.

This entry was posted in WAGA, WSB on by .

About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

13 thoughts on “Trampling the flag

  1. Charles Edwards

    I was there that night covering the event for WABE.

    A woman I don’t know, but apparently works for a local TV station, called the situation unnecessary.

    You’re right. Deal was more than accessible that night and on primary night.

    Here’s what got me. Not only was it unnecessary, there was no need to move the story any more forward then where it was.

    In his speech, he basically said, “We’re in a good position, but we won’t know tonight. So, we’re going home. Thank you for your support.”

    The story of the race didn’t change until the next morning.

    But I don’t work in TV so maybe there are things I don’t get.

    1. live apt fire Post author

      It’d be tough to suspend anybody if they’re acting on orders of management.

      Let me say that I’m pretty sympathetic to Deidra Dukes. From the video, it appears the 6’4″ Belcher staked out his turf alongside the candidate and didn’t budge. Dukes, wearing an earpiece, probably heard her producers / managers going apeshit seeing Belcher in the shot, and likely ordered her to cross awkwardly behind Deal to try to get in front of Belcher. Dukes had no chance of that.

      Charles Edwards makes the salient point that I overlooked: How does interviewing Deal at that moment advance the story? Answer: It doesn’t.

  2. tracey

    A low point.

    At cbs atlanta we treated it for what it was, a quick hit. Here are the results, here’s a bite now let’s get on with the other news of the day.

    The story now becomes the differences and ideas of Barnes and Deal, not who can do the most coverage on election night – that’s TV from the 80s and 90s

    Rushing the podium looked crass and amateur hour. Let WSB and WAGA fight it out. They’ve lost sight of the viewers.

    It’s not about who can get pictures of deal behind his back or interrupt the proceedings it’ about relevance.

    As a manager at CBS Atlanta I have to ask the Tough Question, what the F were they thinking? It was horrible TV.

  3. Scooby-Doo

    It’s worthy of more than a “quick hit.” One of the closest races in Georgia history decided by less than one per cent with no winner declared by airtime. In the balance- – the candidacy of the first potential female governor. If that’s not of interest what is?

  4. charles edwards

    I’m somewhere in between tracey and scooby doo. The race was big news, but nothing was decided before the 11pm newscast. I’m not in TV, so I don’t know the exact definition of “quick hit”. But i do think the race was worth more than a mention at the top of the newscast. But, there was definitely a different way to do it.

    In the way we hope politicians can get past politics, I would hope the local TV stations can do the same. Although this involved WAGA and WSB, I’m sure the others have been involved in something similar before.

    Does this “Budd” guy read LAF? I would be interested to hear his take.

  5. tracey

    We kept you updated. You got the numbers – there wasn’t much more to say until there was a final number.

    we could have spent 10 minutes just talking, talking, talking but we gave other news with election/score updates.

    And while it was a big story, few people cared to actually vote.

  6. Jim

    I was actually watching WXIA’s coverage when that happened, and the first thing I thought when I saw Belcher and Dukes on the podium was, “oh, no, they’re not going to do that, are they???”

    Sure enough, they did.

    And nobody won.

    I’m fairly sure their ND’s read this, and I’m hoping they’re both shamed by what happened. There was no call for it. All it did was reinforce an image of TV reporters/crews as heavy handed goons who can’t wait to stick a camera in someone’s face.

    I can see being at the side of the podium, and hoping he exits your way, but actually rushing the podium??

    I’d bet if Deal wins, and then gets re-elected, he’ll have a couple of big ol’ state troopers flanking him at the re-election victory party, and this won’t happen again.

    Seriously guys, y’all looked like idiots.

  7. TheNews

    How does it advance the story? Did you really ask that? You wouldn’t want to ask him any questions? You’d be happy with a prepared statement? Is that the best way to serve the viewers?

  8. CB Hackworth

    The phrase, “It was a low moment for Atlanta TV news,” is almost a given these days.

    It really would have been impressive, though, if the still-blurry Hullinger didn’t merely jump right in front of the WXIA camera to block the shot, but instead reported what had just happened. “Folks, I think we’re giving you pretty good coverage and managing to be polite at the same time, but I want you to take a look at what’s going on up at the podium…”

    Want people to watch local news? Don’t just chase Shirley Franklin down the street. Turn on each other!

    Guaranteed ratings!

  9. Mike Daly

    I interviewed Nathan Deal in a parking lot of an event last week. This was after the flag toppling fiasco. The battery in my wireless mic died during the interview. I quickly unhooked the transmitter and set it on the ground. Then I plugged the mic into an audio cable that I had as a backup and continued. . Mr. Deal was patient as I made the switch and his lovely wife actually reached down and grabbed the wireless transmitter from the ground to make sure I didn’t step on it during the rest of the interview. She’s a sweetie. Do not elbow her.


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