Monthly Archives: January 2015

The awkward chase

Believe it or not, I actually like some Georgia politicians.  My favorites, of course, are the ones who return my calls / texts and readily agree to interviews on short notice.  Atlanta city councilman Michael Julian Bond is one of them.

Michael Julian Bond dodges Catie Beck

Michael Julian Bond dodges Catie Beck

So yeah, I cringed a bit when I found out that my new-ish coworker, WXIA investigative reporter Catie Beck, was producing a story about Bond’s use of his city council expense account to pay for personal stuff.  The evidence was convincing.  Catie had the story cold.

Then came the follow up — after the original story — when Bond took a plane trip to Boston and Catie and photog Shawn Hoder followed him there.  He’d gotten the city to pay for his travel to a conference that he never attended.  Catie not only had the story cold, but Bond had been nailed a second time for the same offense.

It was not an attractive moment for a guy I liked and respected.

Catie Beck, WXIA

Catie Beck, WXIA

(By the way, Catie and Shawn and another new-to-Atlanta investigative reporter, Brendan Keefe, are three excellent reasons why you people — and I’m pointing and wagging my finger here — ought to be glued to the news programming of WXIA-TV!)

Councilman Bond had many fans at WXIA.  We could call him day, night or weekends and if he could help us do our jobs, he would.

Tuesday, Common Cause Georgia planned to appear at the Atlanta city council meeting to call for Bond’s resignation.  Catie and Shawn had a double-secret investigative shoot planned for that day, so I got to cover it.

I called Bond.  He answered the phone.  “It’s Doug from your favorite TV station…” I started, a weak effort to lighten the overture.  I heard silence.  I stammered on, requesting an interview.

Not gonna do it, Bond answered.  He said he felt like he hadn’t gotten a fair shake from my TV station.  In particular, he didn’t like the station ballyhooing the investigative story in promotional spots.

The complaints sounded nitpicky, but perhaps understandable coming from a proud guy who, a few days earlier, had essentially admitted to the central facts of Catie’s story to the city ethics agency.

“Your organization has treated me shabbily,” he concluded.  The phone conversation ended cordially.  Bond wasn’t blaming me personally, but was disinclined to play ball with the news organization that had exposed his behavior.

At the city council meeting, I saw Bond exit his seat and head toward the door to the foyer.  Mike Zakel and I bolted from the press room and spotted him in a public hallway.  I stood there with a mic.  Yes, Bond had already told me “no” to an interview.  I had to ask him again with Zakel’s camera recording it.

Councilman Bond declines to chat

Councilman Bond declines to chat

It was an awkward moment.  “I know you’re recording me,” he said.  “Yes sir, we are,” I answered.  I asked a question.  He stopped and calmly reminded me that he had declined my earlier request for an interview.  “I wanted to give you another chance,” I said.  Bond demurred again.

At that point, I might have started firing specific questions at him, knowing he wouldn’t answer and knowing he would probably walk away.  Instead, I backed off and let him return to the council chamber.  I had what I needed.

“Good to see you, Doug,” Bond said as we parted company, a moment of civility that Bond could have easily skipped.

Elaine Boyer. AJC photo

Elaine Boyer. AJC photo

When DeKalb County commissioner Elaine Boyer appeared in federal court last year following a guilty plea, it set up another awkward moment.  Boyer was another politician I liked.  She was especially helpful providing interviews about the misbehavior of other politicians.

Boyer was about to enter a guilty plea to a charge of misusing county funds, an allegation first exposed by the AJC.

When I entered the courtroom, I walked up to the defense table and said hi.  Boyer smiled and greeted me, as she always had.  And then she looked at me and said: “I’m sorry.”

I was too.

 

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Punchline

Two years ago, the Little Five Points Halloween parade included a very amusing “Murder Kroger” float.  Staffed by people carrying toy weapons and dressed as bloody murder victims, the float paid comic homage to a grocery store on Ponce de Leon Ave. whose nickname has been, for years, a dark civic punchline.BnyxKqL

That punchline drove a story I produced on a slow Friday in November. I’d spotted a blog that said that the renovated “Murder Kroger” was scheduling a grand re-opening under a new name, the “Beltline Kroger.”

My story started with one line acknowledging a 1991 killing that begat the nickname.  It used a music video by a local band that had done a song called “Murder Kroger,” adding evidence to the name’s presence in the culture.  It was capped with an amusing moment while interviewing a longtime shopper, who both acknowledged the enduring nickname, while touting the store’s low prices and manager’s specials.

“Bargains to die for” I rejoined, and he chuckled in agreement.

Ha ha.

A few days later, a woman contacted DeMarco Morgan, one of 11Alive’s news anchors.  Without rancor, she quietly identified herself as the sister of the victim in the 1991 murder case.  DeMarco passed the info to reporter Jeremy Campbell.  Jeremy had actually produced a “Murder Kroger” story nearly a year earlier, which noted that the store had begun a renovation with an eye on upgrading its reputation.

Jeremy talked to the woman by phone.  She sent him her sister’s funeral brochure.  She also sent him a VHS cassette with TV coverage of the original case.

Jeremy hunted down a VHS machine and popped in the tape.  He saw a fuzzy-headed youngster named Doug Richards doing a live shot outside the Kroger store one evening, tossing to a piece that showed police at the crime scene.  It also had some sound with Danny Agan, the homicide detective who often spoke to news folk outside the old “homicide task force” building on Somerset Dr., just a couple blocks east of the Masquerade off North Ave.

Cynthia Prioleau

Cynthia Prioleau

25 year old Cynthia Prioleau was attacked as she tried to walk into the Kroger store to buy some groceries on April 1, 1991.  Jeremy  reported that the murder is still unsolved.

In the 1991 live shot, that youthful TV news goon had memorized a detailed narrative of the confrontation leading to Prioleau’s death.  There was a lateral 90 degree walk that more-or-less showed the dark parking lot, revealing the lighted facade of the grocery store.  There was an abundance of gestures, occasionally revealing a handful of cables that attached the reporter’s earpiece to the phone line delivering the broadcast audio and control room cues.  There was ample sincerity and dark curly hair.

The story, in hindsight, was clearly told — conveying the horror of the crime without stepping into sensationalistic turf.  Yet there was also a bit of mangled syntax, some misplaced words that mistakenly told the audience that the confrontation happened “as she was walking through the grocery store” after I’d already established that the crime took place in the parking lot.  My train of thought has always been an unsteady, derailment-prone vehicle.

Needless to say, latter-day Doug had completely forgotten that he had covered this particular bit of violence 23 years earlier.

The VHS tape also had coverage from WSB and WXIA, their anchors narrating similar video.  WAGA’s coverage, however, including two more packages — one dayside followup by Morse Diggs, and another nightside folo by yours truly.  My second story included a silhouette interview with the victim’s grieving sister– the same woman who contacted DeMarco Morgan more than two decades later–  and a parking lot standup where I’m holding a canister of pepper spray.  So the evidence shows I covered the “murder Kroger” story on two consecutive days.

How could I forget?

Richard Hyde - Fulton Daily Report photo

Richard Hyde – Fulton Daily Report photo

In 1991, working nightside, crime was a staple of my work at WAGA.  It seemed to be what the viewers wanted.  My bossfolk wanted it.  Our nightside assignment editor, Richard Hyde, was an ex-cop who reveled in catching police scanner tidbits and gleefully sending me out into the fray.  Because he was good at it, it made me look good as a breaking news guy.  I was a big fan of Hyde and embraced the role we played together.  (Hyde was also an outstanding contact for disgruntled cops who wanted to sic the news media on APD’s management, run at that time by the colorful Chief Eldrin Bell.)

Hyde is still stirring the pot, getting judges fired for misconduct in his role with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission.  He also lent the investigative chops to the crew appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to investigate the APS cheating scandal.  I’m still his biggest fan.

Point being:  I covered a lot of crime.  Lots of yellow tape.  Lots of morgue hearses.  Lots of soundbites with Sgt / Lt. Agan on Somerset Dr.

So that horrifying moment in the grocery store parking lot became part of the blur of random violence delivered to an audience both enthralled and numbed by the nightly parade of yellow tape, produced by a kid who believed he was giving the people what they wanted.  And then forgot about it as quickly as possible.

My bud Jeremy Campbell has a TV news blog too!  Start your 2015 by giving it a click here!