I got my first job in TV in Atlanta at a bar.
I’d flown in from Washington DC one day in April 1986. Jack Frazier, then news director at WAGA, interviewed me in the morning. Then he told me to spend all day “helping” in the newsroom, which was very awkward. After the 6pm newscast ended, Frazier took me to PJ Haley’s, the bar that used to occupy the north part of the parking lot at the Sage Hill shopping center on Briarcliff Rd.
In the course of 20 minutes, Frazier slammed three Budweisers and offered me a three year contract. I was in my twenties and couldn’t keep up, intake-wise. Frazier was an outstanding newsman and a somewhat notorious drinker.
A few weeks later, Frazier hired Amanda Davis. Davis is now the station’s 6 and 10pm anchor.
When Davis got arrested for DUI last weekend, I mostly overheard words of surprise and yes, sympathy. “I’m not going to throw stones,” I heard more than one coworker say. I also heard some of them say that because of their jobs in a high-profile industry, they take extra care to never drive while intoxicated.
The news biz is an industry whose history is flavored with booze. The aforementioned PJ Haley’s was frequently packed with WAGA (and later, WGNX/WGCL) folk who completed their work days, drove their logo-emblazoned news cars to the bar’s parking lot, and careened out of there in the wee hours. For WSB and WXIA folk, the location of choice was a Peachtree St. establishment called The Beer Mug.
One night a now long-gone WAGA photog spent an evening drinking, exited the bar and drove his marked car straight into a police DUI checkpoint. He pulled over, exited the vehicle, steadied himself, grabbed his camera and told the cop he’d been assigned to shoot the checkpoint. After “shooting” the checkpoint, the cops waved him through.
Scotty was a talented and resourceful photog, and a helluva drinking buddy.
And of course, he showed a lapse in judgment by getting behind the wheel.
If I recognize that I’ve entered such a state, I will attempt to rationally find a way to get home that doesn’t involve getting behind the wheel of an automobile. Have I always succeeded? My answer to that is: I’ve never been arrested for DUI, or anything else.
As a coworker pointed out, Atlanta is a market where local TV folk almost never make the news the way Davis did. Google “tampa tv anchor dui” and all kinds of results come up for stories about Florida anchors who allegedly drink too much and drive. Who was the last Atlanta media figure (excluding “former” figures) to get popped with DUI? The late Keith Kalland comes to mind. Besides Davis in 1992, who else? I draw a blank.
Times change. If there’s a drinking culture at WXIA, it’s so far underground that I don’t know about it. It seems to be embodied by the woman who hired me. She drinks nothing stronger than a latté.
Davis’s story is exacerbated by the circumstances of her arrest: Police say she drove the wrong way down a one-way street and was involved in a head-on collision. A mere checkpoint incident would have given the rest of us less to talk about.
The fact that she’d been arrested for DUI twenty years ago added another element to the story, which got widespread Atlanta media coverage.
I worked with Davis for twenty-plus years. I never had a drink with her. I can’t say I got to know her very well. Yet I feel certain that she is utterly humiliated by her arrest and the subsequent coverage. If she drove drunk that night, she showed very poor judgment and endangered other motorists. I’m sure she’d be the first to say that, if she could do so without incriminating herself legally. Her case is pending.
I’ll throw no stones beyond that. The justice system will put her through the wringer, which is what it’s supposed to do. I hope she keeps her job, and never drives drunk again.
Jack Frazier worked at WXIA, WGNX/WGCL and WAGA during his career. He died May 8, 2012 at age 66. His memorial site is here. He deserves a better epitaph than “an outstanding news man and a somewhat notorious drinker.” I’ll work on that in a future post.