Category Archives: franco george

Oily encounter

Handcuffed: George Franco, WAGA (R)

Monday, WAGA’s George Franco got arrested while covering the oil cleanup in Pensacola Beach.   He was charged with misdemeanor battery during an encounter with a BP subcontractor.  “Franco grabbed his arm and spun him around,” the police report says.  Read the reports by clicking the images below.

Photographer Chris Rosenthal rolled on a portion of Franco’s encounter with a BP subcontractor named Joshua James Mitchell.  WAGA hasn’t shown the video on TV or the web.

The video doesn’t show the contact explicitly.  Just outside of the frame however, one surmises Franco’s left hand touches the right arm of Mitchell.  Mitchell freaks out:  “Hey!  Get your hands off of me.  Get your hands off of me!”  Franco raises a hand to object.  “You touched me again, sir,” Mitchell says.  As this is happening, Mitchell is backing away from Franco.  Holding a WAGA stick mic, Franco continues to step toward Mitchell.  “Do not touch me again.”  Franco apologizes, but continues his mic-wielding pursuit.

Franco was inside a staging area on a parking lot at Pensacola Beach.  There are trucks and buses and equipment on the lot, apparently used by workers cleaning up the oil mess.  Twenty seconds later, Mitchell calmly but firmly tells Franco repeatedly that he isn’t authorized to be in the staging area and needs to leave.

Franco’s presence in the staging area may be explainable.  Sure, a loud guy wearing a reflective vest is demanding that you leave; that doesn’t mean he has any authority to do so.  If the general public isn’t restricted from the site, then Franco and Rosenthal shouldn’t be restricted either.  I don’t know whether the area had any signage marking it as restricted.

Franco’s pursuit of a story about the cleanup workers is also understandable.  WAGA had dispatched them to the Florida panhandle late last week.  Franco was undoubtedly looking for a fresh angle on a story he’d already covered in several newscasts.

But the encounter is puzzling.  Certainly, Franco knew that BP subcontractors had been gagged by BP.  On one hand — a gag rule doesn’t necessarily rule out tidbits of commentary from those gagged.  If a reporter pursues it correctly — casual conversation works best for me, not bellicose pursuit with a hand mic — sometimes those who want to talk will find a way to do it.

On the other hand, it seems pretty clear:  Once the guy erupts over the arm contact, the odds of engaging him for purposes of your TV story become almost nonexistent.  Although the “battery” had apparently already taken place, Mitchell continued to invite Franco to leave.  (The police report says Mitchell told Franco he was free to shoot the staging area from the exterior perimeter.)  Franco probably now wishes he’d accepted the offer.

Franco was arrested around midday Monday.  By 5pm  he was out of the Escambia County jail and doing live shots for WAGA.  NewsBlues reports that WAGA never mentioned Franco’s arrest; a coworker (of mine) reports that WAGA mentioned the arrest in their noon news Monday.  WAGA news director Budd McEntee told the AJC that Franco and the station deny the charges.

The video does not show Franco “grabbing” and “spinning” the subcontractor, as described in the police report (the report says Mitchell outweighs Franco by 100 pounds).  But it shows Franco pursuing Mitchell beyond a zone of comfort.   Editorially, I can’t figure out what Franco expected to get from him.  As a BP subcontractor, Mitchell wasn’t responsible for the spill or the mess on the beach.  “Are you gonna get on the beach and clean up?  There’s a bunch of tar balls!” Franco is heard asking, as Mitchell continues to order him away.  Perhaps the idea is to ask Mitchell how he feels about it.

Instead, we find out how he felt about Franco.

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Whiplash

Julie Wolfe was on TV three times during her night shift Wednesday at WXIA. George Franco, same thing at WAGA. Both may have gone home with a bit of whiplash, a chronic condition among local TV reporters.

Wolfe began with a drive to Peachtree City, where the “backpack journalist” shot and reported an enterprise story about graffiti problems. Still in her twenties, the UGA grad has gained a reputation in Atlanta as a pretty good photographer. Her video in the graffiti piece was impressive. Her storytelling was good, too.

Like Wolfe, George Franco’s night shift began on a high note. Franco located a victim in a Doraville abduction-and-robbery case targeting Hispanics. (WGCL had done the same story Friday but couldn’t produce a victim.) Franco’s story, about robbers posing as federal agents, was compelling but seemed abruptly cut short. Turns out there was a reason.

At 9pm Wednesday, fire broke out at a DeKalb County apartment complex. Wolfe and Franco had probably just finished the scripts for their stories. They voiced their scripts, then hauled butt to the apartment fire.

Wolfe got there first, ably producing live shots for the A-blocks of WXIA/WATL’s 10pm news, and WXIA’s 11. Franco’s crew was unable to get him on TV until about 10:20pm. There was, no doubt, much consternation in WAGA’s newsroom when they saw Wolfe on TV while Franco’s crew was still trying to establish a live shot.

As for the apartment fire? Garden-variety. WSB’s Eric Philips gave it his all, telling viewers firefighters at first believed “two souls (were) trapped inside;” the apartment buildings, “totally destroyed because of those roaring flames that whipped through there like a very strong wind.”

Thankfully, Wolfe and Franco avoided the overly dramatic language. No doubt, Wolfe’s UGA professors taught her that “totally destroyed” is a top-shelf redundancy.

Turned out, nobody was trapped. Nobody was hurt. A few folks were displaced. Another evening’s work was somewhat upended by the great Atlanta TV news cliche.

Immigrant Song

Fifteen to twenty people are abducted, tied up, robbed and abandoned in a vacant house. The robbers gain control of the victims by claiming to be federal agents. Sounds like news, no?

If the victims are Hispanic, the answer is “yes, but….” No denying that it’s news. The question is whether it’ll get on TV or in the newspaper.

Local TV news craves the “get.” Get the victim. Get the next-of-kin. Get them to talk on camera about how horrified / sorrowful they are. News managers all but carry a scorecard, recording which station has the better “get.” (The pursuit of the “get” is also one of the many factors that drive audiences away from local TV news.)

But when the victims are Hispanic, the “get” is less likely. There’s the language barrier. There’s the distrust of English-speaking TV, and whether its presence is a precursor to a raid by immigration agents.

So give WGCL credit for pursuing the above story Friday night. Sarah Parker gave the story as much life as she could. Since it happened in Doraville, it benefited from the on-camera presence of John King, arguably metro Atlanta’s most engaging police chief. And it benefited from Parker’s knowledge of Spanish. She  translated the remarks of a Spanish-speaking woman who admitted on-camera that Hispanics are less inclined to seek law enforcement help when they’re victims of crime.

Parker’s story also proved why TV doesn’t rush to embrace such stories. The 15 to 20 victims were nowhere to be found.

Monday night, WAGA’s George Franco somewhat successfully told another story that benefited from Franco’s Spanish-speaking skills. Franco’s story raised questions about the killing of a day laborer by a DeKalb sheriff’s deputy. (The story mimicked a similar story by WSB’s Tom Jones Friday.) But unlike Jones, Franco’s story leaned on Spanish speaking folk to tell it, with Franco skillfully translating on the fly.

Both stories—Parker’s and Franco’s—were worthwhile pursuits. There are many more that we never hear about.