I was all set to boldly urge a little jail time for the news director at WSB-TV. The contention would have been that the TV station flagrantly violated a court order Friday March 29, the day the Fulton County grand jury indicted 35 people in connection with the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.
This was the violation: WSB’s exclusive use of court-ordered pool video in its newscast without first distributing the video to the other Atlanta TV stations who were part of the pool.
The video was short but significant. It showed a Fulton County sheriff’s deputy walking out the door of the district attorney’s office, carrying a hundred-or-so page indictment. He then exited the DA’s lobby and headed to the courtroom of Superior Court judge T. Jackson Bedford, who was due to give the indictment his blessing before it would get certified by the court clerk. The video — and a news conference a few minutes later — culminated a three-day stakeout of the grand jury.
Per an order issued by Judge Bedford under Rule 22 of the Electronic and Photographic News Coverage of Judicial Proceedings in the Uniform Superior Court Rules, WSB was named as the pool camera in the stakeout. This meant the video belonged to all the TV stations present at the stakeout.
I’ll again note the absurdity of using Rule 22 to cover a stakeout in an office lobby; Rule 22 covers “official court proceedings,” but the Fulton County sheriff and courts have broadened it so that a Rule 22 form, signed by a judge, is required almost anytime a commercial TV camera enters the Fulton County Courthouse. Since I’m not calling for the jailing of WSB’s news director for violating Rule 22, I’ll gently avoid demanding an adjoining cell for Sheriff Ted Jackson for abusing the rule.
Back to the video of the deputy carrying the indictment:
Reps from all three of WSB’s TV competitors watched WSB’s pool photographer shoot it. I shot a perfectly lousy Iphone photo of it at 4:57pm.
WSB aired the video at 5:31, perhaps even earlier.
A few minutes later, a WXIA producer asked me about the video she’d seen on WSB. “You don’t already have it?” I asked her.
Oopsie! Golly, did we forget to distribute the video to the TV stations who don’t call themselves “the number one news team in America”?
Actually, WSB didn’t overlook it. WXIA’s desk made repeated calls to WSB to distribute the video. WSB’s desk apparently questioned whether the video was pool video, then dragged its feet getting the right answer. The station finally distributed the video well after 7pm, when most early evening newscasts were done.
Rule 22 states that “approval … shall be granted without partiality or preference to any person, news agency, or type of electronic or photographic coverage…” In this instance, WSB clearly exercised “partiality” to itself by failing to distribute the pool video before airing it.
Rule 22 does not set out how pool video will be distributed. “Photographers, electronic reporters and technicians shall be expected to arrange among themselves pooled coverage…” TV stations don’t “arrange” pool coverage on a case-by-case basis. Instead, they rely on a sensible and time-honored arrangement: Until the pool station distributes its video, the station that shoots it can’t broadcast it.
It presumes that TV stations can behave honorably and not like children. This isn’t as hilarious as it sounds. Every pool photographer I’ve worked with at WXIA and WAGA honored the principle that pool video could not air on the pool camera’s station until after every station received it. WSB photogs also reliably honor that tradition.
Somehow, WSB decided to be dishonorable Friday, ignoring the “no partiality” clause in Rule 22. And ignoring the what goes around, comes around concept that really drives the rules behind pool video. All for a 15 second shot.
It would make perfect sense for Judge Bedford to hold a hearing and demand an explanation from WSB’s news director. Bedford is a tough guy, especially with the news media. He can be a bit scary when he’s angry. A hearing would likely deter such behavior going forward.
However, Fulton County’s courts are pretty clogged with serious criminal cases. And another Superior Court judge tells me that jail time — even a few hours in a holding cell, like the one that held Beverly Hall — is unlikely in a civil contempt case. So, I wouldn’t ask Bedford to spend his valuable time on this.
Which leaves us with the concept of honor. Or the lack thereof at WSB.