Monthly Archives: January 2014


Geary, left, and James

Geary, left, and James

Thursday a local district attorney outed a couple of his former employees as the sources of leaks during a couple of high-profile investigations.  The DA was under oath, testifying in a pretrial hearing in one of those cases.

The DA was Robert James of DeKalb County.  The employees, he said, were his former chief assistant DA Don Geary, and John Melvin, who worked closely with Geary.  The testimony explained some WSB-TV scoops that puzzled the rest of the market and perplexed some in the legal community.

First, the scoops were great.  Amazing, actually.  In August 2012, on the same day Andrea Sneiderman was indicted for murder, investigators went to her parents’ home on Lake Oconee and arrested her.  Somebody tipped off WSB – not only to the pending indictment, but also to the arrest.  WSB (and the cojoined AJC) had the correct address of the lake house, and a photographer was positioned to shoot video of Mrs. Sneiderman getting taken into custody.

The Sneiderman arrest. AJC photo

The Sneiderman arrest. AJC photo

The presence of “the media” at Mrs. Sneiderman’s arrest became a rallying cry for her defense team.  It showed, they said, that the prosecution was vindictive – and overreaching (the DA dropped the murder charge on the eve of Mrs. Sneiderman’s trial).  Defense attorneys said they had pleaded with the DA to allow them to arrange a low-key surrender of Mrs. Sneiderman in the event of an indictment.  Instead, the DA went for what turned out to be a flashy arrest.

Wish I’d gotten the tip.  I’d have done the same thing.

The same day, WSB reporter Jodie Fleischer reported details of the indictment during a noon live shot.  The indictment hadn’t yet been officially filed in the Superior Court clerk’s office, which makes it public record.  Somebody leaked it to Fleischer.

The rest of us knew the indictment was pending but didn’t have a copy.  During his testimony last week, James said he deduced that Fleischer got the leaked indictment info from Melvin, because the copy she had was identical to a copy Melvin had before the indictment was revised.  (In the courthouse media room last week, Fleischer disputed that, saying she had a copy of the revised indictment, identical to the one certified in the clerk’s office.)

Fleischer - from her Twitter page

Fleischer – from her Twitter page

Fleischer’s name came up several times during James’ testimony.  James said Melvin and Geary had “a relationship” with the WSB reporter.  That may sound like more than it really is.  Reporters develop relationships with sources and they’re based mostly on mutual trust.

James also talked about the indictment of Ellis, and the fact that a WSB photographer was waiting at Ellis’s house when the DA’s office executed a search warrant there.  When he realized “the media” had been tipped off, James testified that he tried unsuccessfully to warn Ellis and postpone the search.

James said he confronted Melvin and Geary about the leaks.  James said both men denied being Fleischer’s source.

Both men quit the DA’s office in 2012.  After they quit, James said, “the leaks stopped.”

I didn’t ask Fleischer if the story James told under oath was correct.  I wouldn’t have answered such a question and I wouldn’t have expected her too, either.

It’s worth noting that prosecutors didn’t question Geary and Melvin about it while they were under oath.  Good call.

Scoops get noticed inside newsrooms but rarely outside them.  The moment of triumph that accompanies them rarely last much longer than a moment.  But these were different — especially the Sneiderman indictment, because the info came from inside a “secret” grand jury proceeding.

Sources depend on reporters to keep their names under wraps — and Fleischer undoubtedly upheld her end of the deal.  But here’s a tip for those inclined to discreetly help their friends in the media:  Try to be a little less obvious than Geary and / or Melvin might have been.

And call me next time!

This post has been updated to correct the description of Fleischer’s noon live shot, which did not include actual paperwork from the indictment.

Off-topic with Hizzoner

Two weeks ago, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed was upbeat as he greeted the press corps covering his post-inauguration press conference.  He invited reporters to ask him about “anything,” but the questions politely followed the ground he’d trod in his speech a few minutes earlier.reed's inauguration

The questions didn’t last long, either.  “Anything else?” Reed asked during an awkward silence that seemed destined to finish the event.  I spoke up.

“This is a little off topic, but you said we could ask about anything,” I remember saying.  Reed nodded and smiled, ready for whatever.

I asked him about Jason Carter, the Democrat running for Governor.  The AJC had written stories hinting about Reed’s cold shoulder toward his fellow Democrat.  The political buzz had been that Reed had been eyeing a run for Governor in 2018, and had wanted the Democrats to take a pass on challenging his buddy, GOP Gov. Nathan Deal in 2014.

Carter’s candidacy this year — whether he wins or loses — threatens Reed’s presumed front-runner status in the Democratic primary in 2018.  It’s all inside ball, but a fascinating subtext.

Nobody would have blamed Reed for dodging the question, especially on his inauguration day.

Sen. Jason Carter

Sen. Jason Carter

Instead, Reed ramped up the intrigue:  “I ran for mayor twice.  Jason didn’t support me,” he said.  “I’m not a bandwagon jumper.”

As Reed concluded and left the room, you could see dropped jaws among the press corps.  Though Reed would undoubtedly disagree, it was easily the most interesting thing he’d said on his inauguration day.  Reed’s inauguration made headlines, but the sidebar stories were about the “chill” between Reed and Carter.

Reed is great about responding to off-topic questions. It would have out-of-character for him to dodge the Carter question.

But the longer he’s been mayor, the more combative he’s become with reporters.  I always have to make sure whatever question I ask is precise and accurately framed, or he’ll expend many words challenging the question before answers it.

But typically, he will answer — even questions he doesn’t like.

Irritated:  Kasim Reed

Irritated: Kasim Reed endures a follow-up question

Friday, Reed challenged the entire Carter story.  I’d met with him following an event in Buckhead.  “May I ask you a question about politics?” I began, and Reed was agreeable.  I asked about his comments last week in Washington, wherein he described himself as “Robin” to Gov. Nathan Deal’s “Batman.”

Reed provided a long answer that quickly circled back to the inauguration presser.  He conveyed irritation that I’d asked that question on that occasion.  He derided what he called “the most insanely overblown, falsely created narrative that I’ve ever seen,” referring to stories about the chill between Reed and Carter.  The interview lasted five minutes, and is posted here in its entirety.  Reed’s irritation at yours truly is quite plain.

But mostly, he seemed to be arguing that the story was overblown.  Maybe he’s right.  I think a lot of stories are overblown.  The news media grasps onto material it finds interesting, often to the exclusion of other stories that are at least as important.  Consider how many times weather dominates a newscast.  Frequently, no other news exists on such days.

The Reed / Carter story got nothing close to “Snowmageddon” treatment.  But it got ample attention in a political season that has had little drama so far.  Like it or not, the news (and our audience) is drawn to drama.

Once again, Reed could have sidestepped my question.  But that would have been out of character.  Instead, he denounced coverage of the story as “crap.”  In so doing, he made news and gave the story legs for another day.

The interview is also an example of an opportunity wasted by yours truly.

During his answer, Reed complained that nobody had reported about his enthusiastic support for Michelle Nunn, the Democrat seeking the open US Senate seat in 2014.

“If you’re not a bandwagon jumper — then why’d you jump so enthusiastically onto Michelle Nunn’s bandwagon?”  That’s the follow-up question I failed to ask.

At some point, Reed will undoubtedly answer that question — probably at length, and with a wary eye directed at the questioner.


The case for Stomp and Stammer

I’ve often said that Stomp and Stammer ought to be examined in a laboratory as an unlikely example of a print media entity that somehow thrives in a digital media world.

Now, that examination could include its unfortunate self-destruction — which, at this writing, is ongoing and may be irreversible.

Jeff Clark - from Creative Loafing

Jeff Clark – photo from Creative Loafing

Stomp and Stammer is a modest Atlanta music magazine edited by Jeff Clark.  Clark wrote something very dumb and insensitive in his January 2014 issue.  Somebody took a photo of it — in the print edition, of course — and posted it on Tumblr.  The ensuing social media shitstorm was breathtaking.

The January issue included a 2013 review, and Clark wrote (or as editor, approved) the following:

  • Most Overdone Memorial: The ongoing posthumous deification of Ria Pell. She was a nice woman who opened a restaurant that helped revitalize a stretch of Memorial Drive. She was also unhealthy and met with an early death. Had she not been lesbian, had she been a straight woman or man we would have seen but a fraction of the reaction. Instead, she was unrealistically elevated into something she wasn’t: a symbolic figure.”

Yeesh.  Talk about tone deaf, ill-advised and wrongheaded.  This was the kind of aggrieved-white-guy crapola that made radio talk show host Neal Boortz a gazillionaire.  But while Boortz courted an audience of old, angry white folks, those aren’t Clark’s readers.

The S&S article that started the boycott (click to enlarge)

The S&S article that started the boycott (click to enlarge)

The folks who continue to mourn Ria Pell’s death — intown, diverse, gay-friendly — are the people who read S&S, patronize its advertisers and patronize the businesses that distribute the magazine.  They got very, very angry.  I don’t blame them.

They created a Facebook page.  They began contacting S&S’s advertisers, some of whom announced they’d pulled their February ads.  They began contacting the businesses that distribute S&S — or simply visited the businesses and swiped the pile of January issues that typically sit near the door.

They want to destroy S&S.  I’m here to argue that S&S shouldn’t be destroyed.

S&S has a right-wing tilt that automatically alienates much of its audience.  Its film critic, David T. Lindsey, routinely and happily goes into homophobic / angry-white-man territory.  I read Lindsey’s stuff knowing it’ll often test my gag reflex.

But politics is only a subtext.  As a music magazine, S&S has thrived because it’s smart and clever.  It’s mostly well-written.  It’s exceptionally well edited — you never see a typo or mangled prose in its copy.  And it’s fun — even when it’s infuriating.

It’s also overwhelmingly positive.  I don’t know of a piece of local media that promotes Atlanta and Georgia music as singlemindedly as S&S.

echo_signOne of S&S’s virtues has been its willingness to piss people off.  As editor of the magazine, Clark wrote critically about Atlanta music institutions like the Star Bar, the (defunct) Echo Lounge and Criminal Records.  They all advertised in S&S.

Clark’s editorial decisions to take on his own advertisers took guts and gave S&S journalistic credibility.  (I’m not here to fact-check those pieces.)  Niche magazines struggling to survive typically find a way to sidestep such conflicts – by shading the truth or ignoring important subjects.  Clark deserves credit for his willingness to occasionally risk his own advertising revenue in pursuit of the truth.

Some folks have suggested that if S&S disappeared, a replacement magazine or site would fill the void.  But it’s unlikely a startup would take the journalistic risks that Clark is willing to take.

Clark also writes brief yet hilarious critiques of (what he considers to be) crappy music and musicians.  In the context of each issue of S&S, they are isolated bits of vinegar in an otherwise upbeat salad of music news.  He has clobbered friends of mine, and perhaps yours too.  Yet these vignettes are the guilty pleasure that often drive his readers to pick up the magazine.

They also built years of individual resentments, which coalesced last week.

S&S is a free magazine. The two things that made S&S financially viable — adequate advertising and low-cost distribution — are now under attack.  It only takes a few determined individuals to make the magazine disappear from the coffee shops, bars and record stores that distribute it.  If the magazine can’t be found, then there is no magazine.

The same day the shitstorm started, Clark wrote an apology on his Facebook page.  It appeared heartfelt.  It also appeared to driven to save his magazine.  I see no dishonor in that; clearly, the angry mob got his attention.  The apology blunted some of the the anger, but much of it remains.  That, too, is understandable.

On the anti-S&S Facebook group, there were ‘way too many people who posted stuff about physically harming Clark.  Like Clark’s post, those comments were (at best) crude and insensitive.

To their credit, the administrators of the FB group deleted those comments and booted those people.  Presumably, those commenters went away quietly, without any threat to their freedom (like a felony charge of making terroristic threats) or their livelihood, which is what Clark faces now.

I’d like to be able to write a rousing defense of Clark, but I can’t.  (Clark is a friend of mine, but not a close friend.  Likewise, my wife and I have many friends who are members of the Boycott Stomp and Stammer FB group.) His insensitive remark is indefensible.  It wasn’t homophobic, but it was too close for comfort.

The January 2013 issue

The January 2013 issue

However, I would argue that S&S makes Atlanta a more interesting place.  If it goes away, let it go away because the free market deems it unworthy.

In the February issue of S&S, I’m guessing that Clark will elaborate on the apology.  He will probably give ample space to his detractors.

Here’s my respectfully-submitted suggestion to Clark’s critics:  Let the February issue of S&S get distributed unfettered.  That means, don’t swipe piles of it from distribution sites.  Read what he has to say.  Let the rest of us read it.  See how respectful he is of his critics.  Observe how much / how little advertising there is in it, the direct result of your campaign.

Then put it all in context by asking

  • Has S&S been a credible, interesting and entertaining publication for 17 years?
  • Does the anti-S&S Facebook group prove that some of Clark’s critics are equally capable of writing isolated idiotic crap?
  • Does Clark deserve any measure of credit for apologizing for what he called his “crude, hurtful, disrespectful and insensitive” piece?
  • Did any of the people threatening him apologize?
  • Has Clark given the shitstorm he caused appropriately respectful treatment?
  • Is the Ria Pell post, and other assorted gripes, worth the continued effort to extinguish S&S?
  • Is Atlanta better off with S&S, or without it?

Weigh all that.  Then make an intelligent decision — and not just an emotional one — on how much continued effort to put into the destruction of Stomp and Stammer.

Parker’s plate

You might think getting fired from your on-air job in local TV news would be a career low point.  If so, then you haven’t talked to Parker Wallace.

Wallace is now thriving as an on-camera presence on WGCL’s “Better Mornings,” where she also advances her budding career as a chef.  But her years “between jobs” were more than a bit harrowing.

Sarah Parker, WGCL

2008 screen grab of Parker Wallace / Sarah Parker, WGCL

From 2006 to 2009, she worked at WGCL.  She had started as a general assignment reporter and had moved into feature reporting for “Better Mornings.”  She’d been a solid news presence and a reliably offbeat feature reporter.

But when her contact was up, the station told her it was moving in a “different direction” and fired her.  Then life got weird.

She wanted to transition out of the news business and into the food business.   But in 2009, the “great recession” was in full flower.  She and her boyfriend had moved into an old farmhouse, which they’d intended to renovate.  Both found themselves out of work.  Wallace launched a business as a personal chef — from a house with no running water in the kitchen.  “I had to wash dishes and get running water from the bathtub,” she wrote me in response to some questions.  She quickly lost her enthusiasm for it and the business tanked.

She took a job waiting tables at the Atlanta Fish Market.  She was working a shift when she ran into a familiar customer:  Steve Schwaid, the news director who’d fired her.  “Mortifiying” is the word she uses to describe that moment — though she emphasizes she has no hard feelings toward him now.

Atlanta Magazine photo of Johnny's Hideaway

Atlanta Magazine photo of Johnny’s Hideaway

But she says the real low point was this:  Getting fired from her job as a cocktail waitress at Johnny’s Hideaway, Buckhead’s famously oily singles bar for the middle-aged.  She says she was told she “wasn’t picking it up fast enough,” whatever that means.

“It was hard core and brutal for a long time during the recession,” Wallace writes.  “And once you leave TV, people stop calling you, and stop returning your calls. It’s like losing your relevance and your credibility all at once.”

But she didn’t completely lose her recognizability.  When she applied for food stamps, she says the bureaucrat at the counter asked her if she was there to do a TV story.

By the summer of 2012, she had legally changed her name.  During her first incarnation at WGCL, she’d been Sarah Parker.  She’d grown tired of the countless “you mean like Sarah Jessica Parker?” questions.  She says she’d never been a fan of her first name and had always asked her friends to call her “Parker.”  The new surname has family roots.

Comeback Kid: Parker Wallace, WGCL

Comeback Kid: Parker Wallace, WGCL

She’d also tiptoed back into the news business, working as a Georgia Public Broadcasting radio reporter.  She quietly returned to TV news freelancing for WXIA during the 2012 summer Olympics.  One evening, at the conclusion of a shift, she and I met for a nightcap.  That’s where I first heard many of these stories.

By then, Schwaid had left WGCL.  In November 2012, she’d gotten an unlikely inquiry:  Want to come back to the TV station that fired you?

When does that ever happen?

“Frankly, going through all that drama not only humbled me, it made me a much better reporter- especially while doing radio,” she writes.  “So often, we TV reporters immerse ourselves in stories of struggle, doing some ‘active’ standup to make it appear we relate…but until you ARE that person on food stamps with the electricity getting turned off, you can never really empathize.”

For the last year, she has hosted “pay to play integrated marketing segments” on “Better Mornings.”  It means she’s not in the news biz per se.

When she pitched a segment touting “What’s on Parker’s Plate,” which showcases her culinary skills and pitches to her website and cookbook,  WGCL bought it.

Props to WGCL for making this happen. Props to Wallace for keeping her sense of humor, and keeping her dream alive, despite some setbacks.

Before spring, I’m gonna try her recipe for jambalaya.