Author Archives: newsmanatl

Perp walk…

In the 2004 motion picture “The Clearing,” Robert Redford stars as a business tycoon who has been kidnapped for ransom.  His understandably distraught family members decide to “go public” with a direct appeal through the media and schedule a press conference.

I happened to get a little face time in the movie as an extra — playing, of course, a reporter (just as I once did in real life).

In the scene, Helen Mirren, as Redford’s wife, emerges with her grown children to face the legion of media representatives waiting outside their mansion.

We didn’t have actual lines, but I remember the film’s director’s instructions.  “As soon as you see them open the door, just start shouting questions all at once, like you usually do.”

I raised my hand.

“Well, we really wouldn’t do that,” I said.

He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

“What?

“We wouldn’t just start yelling.”

“Why not?”

“Well, first, this is a press conference, so we’d wait for them to get down here and start talking to us,” I explained.  “And, more importantly, they’re victims who have done nothing wrong, so we’d really go out of our way to respect what they are going through.”

I don’t recall the director’s exact response, but it basically came down to, “Do you want to be in this movie or not?”

So, as soon at the door opened and Helen Mirren stepped out, I started screaming at her like a ravening jackal — thus directly contributing to a pervasive Hollywood stereotype that, until recently, I have always felt was unfair and undeserved.

I’m not a good enough actor, or even a good enough extra, to think up any questions appropriate for the situation.  I couldn’t picture myself ever doing this kind of thing to people with a loved one who was probably dead at that very moment.  So, I made things up.

“Where did you buy those shoes?” I yelled, knowing the words would never actually be audible on screen.  “The people have a right to know!”

That was make believe.  Not real life.

In more than one darkened theater, I’ve leaned over to whoever was with me and said, “I don’t know any real reporters who would do that.”

Oh, sure.   I have witnessed, and even participated in, my share of media circuses.  But, as far as I can recall, they were always centered around a deserving target — like, say, an indicted congressman or someone suspected of hiring a hit man to kill his wife.

The journalists I knew throughout my career were professional and had enough self respect not to  stumble over themselves and each other just to torture people arbitrarily.

But what a difference a few years make.  Times have changed since I left local television three-and-a-half years ago.

If you want to see TV reporters at their worst — (And, really, who among the readers of this blog doesn’t?) — look no further than this video clip.

mayor

I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but she had me at, “No comment.”

By that, I mean to say that, unlike all these guys with the cameras and microphones, I understand English.

This woman is not one of Michael Jackson’s doctors.  She’s not Casey Anthony or some other party-happy mother of a missing and presumably dead tot.  She’s not the governor of South Carolina stepping out of a plane from Argentina after being missing for a week.

This is the mayor of Atlanta, Shirley Franklin.

She is not accused of any crime — unlike at least one of her predecessors and unlike some of her contemporaries around the country.  She is a public official with lots of responsibilities and a busy schedule that may or may not happen to coincide with or accommodate some arbitrary deadline for the 5 o’clock news.

I make very few statements with absolute certainty.  However, one thing I know for sure is that I would make a very bad mayor.  And each of the so-called newspeople chasing Franklin down the street would be just as abysmal as me.  Potholes would go unfilled, garbage wouldn’t be picked up, taxes would skyrocket, public corruption would run amok and crime really would turn the streets into an urban jungle — something that as yet has not happened.

Franklin has done a good job, for a very long time, of running the city.  And that includes not just the last eight years, but many more in which she basically did the job without the title.

Even if you’re not the fan I am, why treat someone of her caliber like a perp?  Why live down to the public’s already low opinion that journalists are all bottom feeders?  Why not simply go back to your newsrooms and report that the mayor had no comment today, but has scheduled a press conference for tomorrow morning?

Here’s why:

“Good TV.”

I mentioned that phrase the other day.

It refers not to television that will help to inform viewers, but, rather, to video that people will want to watch.

Someone being tasered, for instance, is always “Good TV.

The folks at WGCL-TV — or CBS Atlanta, as the station prefers to call itself — were so unembarrassed by the scene depicted in this ugly video that they posted unedited “raw” video of the entire confrontation on their official website.

“Raw: Mayor Declines to Comment About Crime,” the heading reads.  And a caption underneath that says, “Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin refuses to answer CBS Atlanta’s Tony McNary’s questions about crime in the city.”

That statement — while technically true — is pretty hilarious since Tony McNary is just one of a gazillion reporters descending en masse upon Mayor Franklin as she attempts to negotiate her way down a public street.  I think you can see the mic flags of just about every station in town at one point or another (and I am very sorry to say I recognized an old friend in there).  So, for WGCL to imply that the mayor refused to answer McNary’s questions in particular is perhaps the strangest example of self promotion I’ve come across lately.

All this over-the-top behavior and coverage is because of a perceived crime wave in Atlanta.

It’s an issue that has inflamed passions throughout the city (at least in part because of the media) but the facts are subject to a great deal of debate.  I don’t claim to know the truth, but I’ve talked to various people — from neighborhood advocates to public officials — who have very different views on the matter and very different interpretations of the available statistics.  The fact that it’s an election year, with three leading candidates for mayor loudly pushing anti-crime agendas, may also figure into the overal equation.

Who is right?  Not sure.

Either way, Mayor Franklin’s decision to wait and discuss crime at a scheduled press conference the following morning did not result in a single homicide or burglary that wouldn’t have happened even if she’d been willing to stop what she was doing and deal with this journalistic lynch mob.

“I will not have any comments at this point, with you chasing me down the street, today,” Franklin says in the video.  “I have not run from the press, I have not run from issues, I have a reputation for being open and willing to talk to you.  I will not do it now.”

At which point, a reporter — quite possibly WGCL’s Tony McNary — lectures the mayor, in a tone dripping with righteousness and condescension, “There’s a crisis right now with crime in the city!”

The reporter makes that statement as if it is absolute fact, as if he really knows more about it than she does.

“And I have a crisis every day as mayor,” the mayor answers tersely.  “Thank you.”

At that point, I almost expected one of the reporters to shout, “Where did you buy those shoes?”

It is hard to believe that the local media has degenerated into a poor man’s TMZ, dogging a respected public official as if she was Britney Spears and presumably hoping to drive her crazy enough to shave her head and attack them with an umbrella.  And it is equally hard to believe that this is stuff that WGCL or any of the other news stations actually want the public to ever see.

Mayor Franklin is the only person in this “raw” video clip who was elected by the citizens of this community.  I strongly suspect she is the only person in the clip who would have a job at all if the public got to vote on reporters and photographers, as well.

— CB Hackworth

Reporter Threatened! Details at 5!

Someone wants to kill Richard Belcher.

Yes, again.

Ok, that’s not exactly a new story.  Somebody or another always wants to kill Richard Belcher.

Since he is actually a very nice guy (especially for an investigative reporter), I suppose this just confirms the fact that the man is very good at what he does.  Trust me, if you are ever getting out of your car, and you look up and see Richard Belcher walking toward you with some documents in his hand and a videographer already rolling tape, it is a safe bet that life as you know it is about to come to an end — or at the very least change forever.

(First, a disclaimer.  I am friends with Richard and for many years worked with him at WSB-TV Action News, a station I still love, respect and occasionally even ask for a favor.  So, take me at my word when I compliment both his investigative prowess and the station’s shrewd marketing.)

At any rate, the target of Belcher’s latest investigation is this truly fabulous old geezer:

belcher

WSB-TV Action News aired this absolutely spellbinding promo for Belcher’s investigation as often as possible, and, over and over, the man reaches for Belcher’s throat and snarls, “You better (bleep) watch it, man. I can break your neck!”

It is brilliant.  Truly.

No lie, I could watch this clip 100 more times.  It’s just that entertaining.

But do I care about the particulars of Belcher’s investiation? Does it really matter to me what those documents prove about this small town public official and why he’s so darn upset?

Nahhhhhh…

I mean, he’s the city manager (or something like that) in Braswell — wherever that is.  At first, I thought it was Braselton, the town Kim Basinger famously bought and later sold, but I was wrong — as is so often the case.

So, unless you happen to be one of that town’s 14 or 15 residents, or unless it turns out the mean old fool is actually D.B. Cooper and he’s been hiding in rural Georgia all these years, chances are excellent that your life is not going to be affected no matter what wrongdoing Belcher has uncovered.  (From the looks of it, I’d guess something to do with meth, but I’d probably be wrong again.)

Thus, the caption under this promo on the WSB website says, “SNEAK PEEK: Man Threatens WSB-TV Reporter.”

The actual investigative story — whatever it might be — is completely overshadowed by the fact that the camera was rolling when this clone of Walter Brennan became agitated enough by the impending destruction of his career to go crazy in the street.  (Does Braswell have more than one street?  Not sure.)

As all of you in the business already are aware, this is what is referred to in newsrooms as “Good TV.”

The phrase is a bit of a misnomer, obviously.  It is “good” not because it contributes to the betterment of mankind or anything like that, but because people will want to watch it.

In seeming recognition of that fact, the WSB website goes a step farther than ever before — posting a full minute and a half of unedited videotape from the incident.  (You’ll find it if you scroll down on the same page as the promo above.)  Why bother watching the news story itself, when you can see the entire hilarious confrontation like a clip from “America’s Funniest Home Videos?”

The caption says, “RAW VIDEO: City Manager Threatens Richard Belcher.”

And, yes.  Yes, he does just that.  The city manager of Bumblewherever threatens Richard at length.

(If for some unimaginable reason you still want to see Belcher’s investigative report and bore yourself with the evidence he’s expertly uncovered of some kind of wrongdoing, you’ll find it on the site, too. The caption reads, “Tiny Community Embroiled in Big Dispute Over Taxpayer Money.”   The introductory graphic, however, just says, “Outraged Official.”)

I really don’t want or need to watch it, though.  Belcher’s reputation is impeccable.  I trust that that he got the goods (whatever they may be) and this raving coot is the local scumbag, or a reasonable facimilie thereof.

The particulars just don’t matter.

And so, viewers are saved the trouble of wasting time watching an actual news story, thanks to wsbtv.com and the “Good Parts” version.  Once again, Action News has beaten the competition by pioneering a new frontier.

— CB Hackworth

Journeys…

Certain Speculation
By CB Hackworth
newsmanatl [at] gmail [dot] com

Remember “Journeys With Brenda Wood?”

Ok, never mind.  Not important.

Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine — often described as a “leading” Republican candidate for governor — has launched his own show, “Journeys With John Oxendine.”

I kid you not.  It’s on his YouTube Channel.

Good stuff?  You bet.  I think he consulted the creators of “Robot Chicken.”

It’s certainly not unusual for the parent of a newborn to whip out the ol’ camcorder to remember the moment with some first shots of the newest family member. Shooting a campaign commercial…?  It tells you all you need to really know…

I’m not aware that any of Atlanta’s broadcast media outlets have picked up on the strange things candidates are posting about themselves online. Like, say, this zinger from Secretary of State Karen Handel.

These shameless, smarmy self-promotions are starting to eat up a lot of YouTube bandwith, they’re as funny as anything on “Saturday Night Live,” and nobody in the mainstream media is paying attention.  I suspect Atlanta’s news directors don’t regard the governor’s race as a ratings grabber, but I’m telling ya — this stuff is better than the early rounds of “American Idol.”

Can hardly wait to see who gets voted off the island first!

Pitchforks and torches…

Certain Speculation
By CB Hackworth
newsmanatl [at] gmail [dot] com

The “Tea Party” crowd — a vocal and apparently growing protest movement made up of radical Republicans and other unhappy Americans — was very upset with the Obama family last week.

Here’s a cell phone pic from their latest rally:

teaparty

Ok, ok. I lied. That’s not a “Tea Party” rally.

Close, though.

Their high-pitched rhetoric is reminiscent of good Bavarian townsfolk getting ready to storm Castle Frankenstein with torch and pitchfork in hand.

And what was it that set them off last week?

Apparently, the mere fact that First Lady Michelle Obama had the audacity to travel to Europe with her two daughters.  How dare the President’s family use taxpayer dollars to represent the United States abroad, even though that’s part of their “job” and exactly what all their predecessors in recent memory have done.

Leading the charge up the hill last week was Martha Zoller, by all accounts a very nice, Christian lady. She is also the host of a very conservative radio talk show on Gainesville station WDUN, she appears regularly on WAGA FOX5’s “The Georgia Gang,” and she is a frequent commentator on FOX, CNN and other major national news outlets.  I enjoy keeping up with what she has to say.

On her Facebook page, Zoller diligently posts links to articles from numerous other sources, which are always informative in one way or another. One went up last Monday night and caught my eye. It was headlined, “White House Won’t Reveal How Much Michelle Obama’s European Vacation Cost Taxpayers” and comes from CNSNews.com.

Ever heard of it before?

No?

Didn’t think so.

At any rate, the posting sparked quite a spirited debate, and I just… couldn’t… help… myself…

zoller2

I confess I love the fact that Zoller flat out stated, “Laura Bush did not travel with her children.”

Yes. Yes, she did. Just log onto Google, type in “Laura Bush” and “Jenna” and “travel.” Not that anyone should let facts get in the way of a good castle burning, but in about 15 seconds, you’ll learn all about a 10-day European holiday that the then-First Lady took with her daughter Jenna that kicked off on Mother’s Day of 2002 — as I pointed out above.

There may have been other such trips. I don’t know. I quit looking after I found that one.

At any rate, Zoller never acknowledged the faux pas.

Then, just a few days later… she changed course. Her derision of Michelle Obama for taking her daughters on a madcap travel spree suddenly morphed into grave concern for the very well being of the Obama girls.

obama

Here’s the photo Martha Zoller “doesn’t want you to see.”

The 11-year-old daughter of President Barack Obama, was photographed in Rome, Italy. The t-shirt Malia is wearing looks like one I had back in the late 1960s, when I was about her age — but apparently this specific peace symbol is used by a group called, “Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.” With her dad busy at the G-8 Summit just around the corner, the photo appeared in London’s scurrilous Daily Mail, which chastized her a bit for wearing “peacenik” imagery.

“I don’t think the press should be photographing either of the Obama children,” Zoller wrote on her Facebook page. “They deserve their privacy…”

Zoller was so distraught with worry about Malia, in fact, that she posted a link to the unflattering Daily Mail article and she included a thumbnail of the “offending” photograph.

zoller1Ok, so the pic of Malia in the peace sign t-shirt it isn’t exactly as iconic as John John playing underneath JFK’s desk in the oval office — but to suggest that the youngest members of the First Family be hidden completely is just… strange.

Zoller simply doesn’t think Malia or her sister Sasha should be photographed at all.

Presumably, the “Tea Party” folks want Melia and Sasha to stay indoors, at home, in gauzy veils like Michael Jackson’s children, or — if they absolutely must leave the White House — be sure they wear their burkas and leave through the back door.

Their hatred of the First Family runs so deep, these people have convinced themselves the Obama kids should be heard about but not seen.

Attacks on the youngest members of the First Family are in bad taste, and far less artfully disguised than some may think.

The real concern for the girls — or perhaps about them — is obvious. They are nice, sweet, pretty, well mannered kids and they make their dad look good. And, well… that, we just can’t have!

Grab your pitchforks and torches!