Category Archives: LAF

Meaningless

mean·ing·less

[mee-ning-lis] adjective

1. without meaning, significance, purpose, or value; purposeless; insignificant: a meaningless reply; a meaningless existence.

2. some other definition because of rampant misuse.

I heard this come out of a TV during local coverage of this month’s Georgia ice storm:  The crews were literally a Godsend for those who’ve been without power.

Which meant one of two things:  Either this reporter buried the lead, and had literally found proof of the existence of God (and perhaps overlooked an opportunity for a rare, on-the-record interview with the Big Guy); or he had misused the word “literally.”head-explode

Pondering both possibilities, my head literally exploded.

Except — it hadn’t.  Because it turns out that according to Google, Merriam-Webster and Macmillian dictionaries, “literally” no longer literally means “actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy”  The word now includes the “informal” definition so often misused by TV reporters and anchors and children of all ages.

Dictionary.com  includes a “usage note” in its definition, explaining how the word is “widely used as an intensifier” that “contradicts the earlier meaning.”  In that spirit, it adds the crowd-pleasing “informal” definition: “in effect; in substance; very nearly; virtually.”

Which means that there is no longer a word in English that literally means “literally.”  Except for the word that has a definition that literally contradicts itself.

Certainly, English has its quirks.  Why does the word “invaluable” exist, with the same meaning as its linguistic sibling “valuable”?

But “literally” isn’t a quirk, it’s a cause.  Its misuse / overuse has been the subject of parodies and overbearing, opinionated Bud Veazey usage memos.  It new definition is linguistic capitulation, a Chamberlainesque concession to the higher power of the babble and hyperbole of the masses to which we now bow down and call “trending.”

I want to continue to insist on the correct usage of a word for which there is literally no synonym.  The fact that there are now four or more references to which the misuser can point — and correctly tell me that I’m the one who’s wrong — is upsetting from my perch, literally atop a very high horse.

I want to be able to snicker when I hear, as I did during the anointment of Pope Francis, that “Catholics were literally glued to their TVs.”  I did more than snicker when I heard that from an Atlanta TV reporter.  My head literally exploded.

But then, I literally reassembled it.  Turns out that an exploding head isn’t literally the end of the world.

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LAF FAQ 2013

Why are you still writing your blog?

Sheer stubbornness, best I can tell.  I get about 200 clicks per day these days, down considerably from LAF’s head-cracking heyday of about 600-800 clicks per day.  Back then, I tended to write daily posts.  Now I only post weekly.  Added up, I figure each post gets about a thousand eyeballs.  That, and I get just enough positive feedback on the street — from people who recognize me as a blogger primarily, and only secondarily as a TV reporter — that I feel some loyalty to those folks who have hung in there with LAF.  And by the way, thank you.

Why so few comments on your posts?

Cheers!

Cheers!

This distresses me a bit.  In 2013, I’ve written a few posts that ought to have buzzed with reader commentary, but got almost nothing.  I attribute it to comment exhaustion.  Specifically, I blame Facebook, a wildly popular site in which “friends” comment on each other’s witticisms 24/7.  Readers who ought to be commenting on LAF are all commented-out.

Which is too bad.  I’ve had some damn good commenters on this site.   On the occasions I stray into controversial territory, some commenters will pipe back up.  But that’s only because I’ve given them something to talk about that they aren’t seeing on Facebook.

Why isn’t your blog more interesting?

I have a strong self-preservation instinct.  The math is easy here:  Job > blog.

What happened to your blogroll?

The blogroll is the list of blogs on the right side of this page.  Under “Atlanta TV Blogs,” I had a big ol’ list of blogs written by Atlanta TV folk.  A few weeks ago, I actually clicked on those sites, and most of them went to a “404” page, meaning the site no longer existed. Oddly enough, one of the most interesting sites is a leftover from an Atlanta reporter who has left town.

Writing a blog eats up valuable time.  Even this guy has stopped posting stuff daily, which I hope means he’s writing a book.

On the other hand, newbies emerge periodically.  They too will get fatigued, and question their devotion to writing for free on the internet.

Anything interesting in your blog analytics?

WordPress gives me a stat called “search terms,” in which words typed into a search engine result in clicks on my blog.  Over the last year, the most searched term (excluding “live apartment fire” and “liveapartmentfire”) is “warren savage” the former WSB morning anchor.  Go figure.

After that is “dolly hearn crime scene photos,” which is fucked up.  I wrote about her in a first amendment context.  I guess weirdos are searching in the same spirit.

After that is “wendy saltzman,” “joanne feldman,” “suchita vadlamani” and “bruce erion.”  Saltzman is probably getting a lot of traffic from her new fans in Philadelphia.  Feldman does fine work as a WAGA meteorologist.  Vadlamani is a former WAGA anchor described online now as an Atlanta “socialite.”  Erion, the former WXIA Skycam cowboy, is flying helicopter ambulances.

In other words, if you’re searching for bygone era info about Atlanta news, you’re searching the right site.

Why is that tiny unexplained photo on this post?

It’s my family, and it’s to lure you into reading Jaye Watson’s entertaining rant about silly white-shirt family photos taken at the beach.

And again, thanks for clicking on LAF.

The evangelist

Mom, Mrs. LAF, Jimmy, Rosalyn, Clint and Doug

Odds are, you haven’t been to Plains, GA on a Sunday morning when Jimmy Carter is teaching Sunday school.   Maybe you’ve considered it but have always had something better to do on a Saturday night / Sunday morning.

The trek has gnawed at me for much of the last twenty years.  I’d see the 39th president on TV, or see his grandson at the Capitol, and the prospect of a Sunday school visit would briefly flash in my mind, then recede.  We finally did it this weekend.

The impetus came from Mrs. LAF, who encountered Bill Clinton at a book signing this month and kinda dug it.  “We can go see Jimmy Carter pretty much any Sunday,” I told her.  I went to the Carter NPS site, which linked to his church’s site.  The Maranatha Baptist Church faithfully posts Carter’s Sunday school teaching schedule, often weeks in advance.

My mom was in town for Thanksgiving.  Mom loves Jesus and voted for Carter.  The plans were laid.

I’m often struck by longtime Georgians — and by people in the news biz — who overlook the amazing things about Georgia.  Odds are, you’ve never been to the Okefenokee Swamp.   Most people I ask haven’t.  It’s a uniquely breathtaking locale.  But it’s in the middle of nowhere, and the whole alligator thing freaks people out.

Likewise, it’s easy to underappreciate Georgia fixtures like Carter.  Some Georgians loathe him, still.  I’ve chatted with him on-camera several times.  He’s easy to take for granted.  Why make the trip to watch the guy teach Sunday school?  Like the Okefenokee, Plains is kind of in the middle of nowhere, and the whole Baptist Church thing freaks some people out.

the Windsor, Americus GA

We stayed at the Windsor Hotel.  The Windsor is remarkable, a fully restored antiquity that dominates downtown Americus.  I don’t know of another hotel in the state — including Savannah — that’s like it.  The lobby is ancient and breathtaking.  Our rooms had twelve-foot ceilings, walk-in closets and cost a hundred bucks each.

We showed up at church at about 8:45 am, fifteen minutes after the doors opened.  A dog sniffed our car upon entering the parking lot.  Secret Service agents casually wanded us at the front door.  We took seats in the fourth row.  Another row filled behind us by the time Sunday school started.

At 9:45, a woman entered the sanctuary and gave an amusing take on the ground rules.  Photos were allowed at certain times.  He is “Mr. Carter” or “President Carter” but not “Mr. President.”  Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter would take photos afterward, but you had to stick around for the hour-long church service that followed Sunday school.

Mrs. LAF insisted on watching from an overflow room with a TV so that she could also watch our one-year-old.  While backstage, Clint kept toddling into the Carters and their security detail.  Mr. Carter made eyes at the boy and cooed at him several times.

Wearing a bolo tie and sport coat, Carter began by referring to the book of Hebrews.  He talked about a little-known bit of Jesus lore rooted in Hebrews 1:2— that Christ was present at the Creation.

His lesson veered between the teachings of Jesus and the work of the Carter Center, and a story or two from his presidency.  He knew his audience — much of which was very versed in the New Testament, but were also politically-minded.

The closest he came to talking about politics was when he referred to 1 Corinthians 1:10, where Paul beseeches Christians that “there be no divisions among you.”

the program

“I may disagree with some of you about homosexuality or abortion” Carter said, while saying that followers of Christ could stay united in their faith.  Carter did not elaborate on his positions on those secular topics.

It was an entirely nonpartisan lesson, with matter-of-fact references to Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and the upcoming elections in Egypt and the Congo.  It sounded like he referred to his wife as “Rosa,” though here may have been a silent “n” at the end, kinda like military folks call sergeants “sarn’t.”

My wife and mother sat through the church service afterward while I played with Clint in the nursery and on the swing set behind the church.

The 11am service ended promptly at noon.  The Carters took a side exit and stood within a rope line outside.  As the parishoners and tourists exited the front door, the woman who laid out the ground rules hurried them toward the rope line.  There, the Carters posed for photos with everybody who wanted one.  The ground rules included no handshakes and no autographs.  A volunteer used our camera, and shot a much-too-wide photo of our group.  The above photo is cropped.

Neither Carter appeared to recognize yours truly as part of the Atlanta local news rabble.  Our only conversation during the photo op was about Clint’s age.  I thanked him for the Sunday school lesson.

It was a life experience.  I recommend it.  Do it while the Carters are still young.

It’s also a a pretty brilliant way to spread the Word.  Carter is an unabashed evangelical.  How many of us actually remember the Biblical chapters and verses cited during Sunday school lessons?

Or write about them in secular blogs?

Vernon Jones walks into a bar….

It happened October 4, a Tuesday evening.  Three political operative-types were seated with me at Manuel’s at a table in the non-smoking section.  The former DeKalb CEO enters the room.  Vernon Jones sees us and makes a beeline across the room toward our table.

Not doing "the robot": V.A. Jones

I have, shall we say, a peculiar history with Mr. Jones.  I covered many of the controversies that followed him while he held office.  During that time however, we had an ongoing rapport that only occasionally descended into head-shakingly unhinged qualities for which Jones became known.

Since leaving office, I’ve seen him three times.  Each time, he’s treated me as if I’m his mortal enemy.  I wrote about the first one, which was genuinely bizarre.

In 2010, I saw him with a freelance TV photographer at a Nathan Deal campaign event at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.  So that I couldn’t hear him, Jones whispered to other reporters that he was shooting something for a cable TV show.  I resisted the temptation to engage him about his apparent conversion to the fourth estate and gave him a wide berth.

This was the third.  As Jones approached our table, I stood and smiled and greeted him.  He shook my hand and those of the other folks at the table, who also knew him.

What are you doing now?  somebody asked.

I think I’m going to start a web site to fact-check reporters like Doug, he answers.

That’s actually kind of exciting, I start to say.  Then his body language changes.  He assumes a chilly stance toward me while continuing to chat with the other folks at the table, one of whom has grabbed him by the arm so that he wouldn’t leave.

Hey Vernon.  I hear I should call you “Angus” now, I say to him.

Friends of mine who live in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward have told me about two different dwellings Jones has moved into over the last three years.  In both locations, Vernon has identified himself as “Angus Jones,” an apparent nom de street.  I’ve been told Angus is his middle name.

It was intended as an icebreaker.  It didn’t work.

Jones turned his back to me while continuing to talk with one of my table-mates.  Periodically, he’d spin toward me and mutter something about “reporters like Doug who can’t ever get their stories right,” then spin back away.

Why yes, sir. This is a camera in my hand.

He was at the table ten minutes, tops.  He never sat.  He spoke about me but never to me.

I was disappointed.  I still think that Vernon has mistaken me for somebody else — another reporter, perhaps — who really did give him hell when he was in office.  Dale Cardwell, maybe.  Except I’m pretty sure Vernon can distinguish me from Cardwell.

It would have been a bonus to actually have a civilized chat with the guy over a beer.  There’s a lot to discuss.

Instead, Vernon walked off.  “Always good to see you Vernon.” I oozed sincerity.

As he got halfway across the room, Jones turned back toward the table and finally addressed me.

In a loud voice, he pointed toward me and said Hey Doug!  I know who she is!  I know her name!

What was he implying with that? I hear you asking.  The folks seated at the table certainly asked.

Beats the hell out of me.  And I’m disinclined to overanalyze it.  It is what it is — another strange encounter with one of the strangest dudes I’ve ever covered.

Maya Angelou is right

“Content without context is pretext.”– Rev. Jesse Jackson

A National Park Service ranger stands by the King monument. Washington Post photo.

The longer is sinks in, the more distressed I become about the “drum major” quote on the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument in Washington DC.  The creators of that monument took a liberty with the truth that journalists could never take.   To do it on a historic monument in one of America’s most sacred spots is kind of appalling.

The back story is here.  Basically, the creators of the King monument shortened a quote from one of Dr. King’s sermons, and inscribed it on the monument.  Poet Maya Angelou complained that the shortened quote deprived it of context and made King seem like an “arrogant twit.”  She’s right.  But even if the changed quote hadn’t changed the meaning, it would still be wrong.

Journalism has a responsibility to use quotes within a measure of context.  The words have to be exactly right, or as honest a representation of accuracy as the journalist can make.  If the journalist is scribbling quotes in federal court, where no recording devices are allowed, it can be difficult to get every single word right every time.  But the journalist has to use his memory (and sometimes, share notes with competitors about wording) to make the quote as honest as possible.

Journalists can also eliminate stammering word repetitions.  When translating from another language, the quote is created in English.  Yet it’s still considered accurate.

I use TV to record quotes, which gives my audience an excellent sense of what newsmakers say.  Viewers see the lips flap, and they hear the words come out.  Yet I use my discretion as an editor to remove excess.  “With all due respect to my distinguished opponent…” may get eliminated before a politician slams his opponent.  It removes a mostly-unimportant element of context and gets to the heart of the argument with greater strength.

Calling for context: Dr. Maya Angelou

Historians have the same responsibility, but in a different sense.  Bob Woodward has made a living creating quotes in books as if he were there to listen to them.  He’s actually creating quotes based on the memories of persons who heard them.  Woodward is, presumably, painstaking when making notes on those who remember hearing the words, and presumably double-checks the wording with as many people as he can find to make the quotes as accurate as possible.  But there’s no way he’s getting the quotes right, word-for-word, as spoken at that time, every time.  There’s no way.  But it’s the honesty of the effort that redeems the work.

When I visit the Lincoln Memorial, I read the words inscribed in the monument.  Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is there, as is his second inaugural speech.  Both are there in their entireties.   When it was dedicated 90 years ago, the creators of the Lincoln Memorial made the decision to quote Lincoln’s speeches verbatim.  Nearly a century later, folks reading those words assume them to be word-for-word accurate. 

If you visit the King Center in Atlanta, you can see a large chunk of Dr. King’s “drum major” quote inscribed on an exhibit.  The quote is edited for length, but otherwise accurate.  The quote refers to the potential shallowness of tributes; it essentially says disregard my Nobel Prize. Forget the March on Washington.  If you want to pay me tribute, simply call me ‘a drum major for justice…’  The words are spoken by an essentially humble guy.

But the monument says “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”  There are no quotation marks.  But because it’s written in the first person, it implies those were words uttered by Dr. King.

The creators of the monument blamed space limitations for inscription.  They obviously dismissed the issue of strict accuracy.  Perhaps they didn’t consider the context until Dr. Angelou brought it up.  Thank goodness she did. 

Journalism could use a third-person paraphrase to describe what King said about himself:  “Dr. King said a eulogist could call him a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”  But the monument doesn’t do that. 

If the inscription isn’t removed or changed, generations of visitors to that monument will believe that Dr. King uttered those words about himself.  They’ll be wrong, and they’ll have gotten that impression from some sloppy work by folks who undoubtedly intended to accurately honor Dr. King.

Here’s an easy fix:  Change “I” to “He.”

Hurricane checklist

Inspired by a post by Spacey G called Old Field Producer Hurricane Survival Tips (click on it— it’s much more whimsical than this post), here are some useful tips for TV hurricane coverage.  It’s too late for Irene, but it’s never too late.

Tybee Island GA, August 26 2011. Photo by Jim Jensen

1.  Don’t overestimate the severity of a hurricane.  That Cat 1 over Bermuda only occasionally strengthens to a destructive Category 5 bearing down on your local shoreline.  Odds are it’ll be a two or a one by the time it reaches landfall.  When it gets to you, you’ll probably be covering a yucky, breezy rainstorm.

2.  When it looks like it’s bearing down on the coast of Georgia, think again.  It’s actually headed to the Carolinas.  (But when Savannah gets clobbered, if it happens during what’s left of my career, I’m so going.)

3.  Bring backup.  If you’re a one-man-band, insist on rolling with a photog or another one-man-band.  Insist on a Sat truck.  Don’t let them send you to a hurricane with an evil plan to just use Skype.  You deserve better than stop-action live shots.

4.  Try to arrive before the hurricane arrives.  This isn’t as easy as it sounds.  When you’re convinced it’s hitting Charleston, it’ll hit Wilmington instead.  By the time you realize you have to leapfrog to Wilmington, the evacuation is all but finished and your live truck is tacking in the breeze like the Santa Maria.

5.  Seek shelter.  If you actually arrive in advance of a dangerous hurricane, find a sturdy spot for yourself and your truck (especially if you’ve arrived too late to check into a hotel, which has almost always been my experience).  Mike Daly and I rode out Hurricane Opal in a fire station.  Helen Lester and I snoozed through Hurricane Andrew in the lobby of Miami’s Federal Reserve Bank.

6.  When shooting the surging tide, be mindful that the tide is surging.   There’s no reason to get too close.

7.  Get supplied.  Bring a cooler.  Bring trash bags and sanitary wipes.  Bring hand sanitizer.  Water, dried meat products, nuts, and candy are essential. Find sources of caffeine.  Keep an eye out for suppliers of fuel and ice.  Fruits and vegetables are optional.  You won’t be gone long enough to get scurvy.

8.  Bring beer.  It’s not only a splendid refreshment at the end of an 18 hour day, it’s also useful for barter with other media and logistical help.  It can also buy goodwill amongst folk who’ve lost property.  “Mind if we shoot some video of your destroyed house?  May I offer you a cold beer?  You look like you could use one.”  It’s the decent thing to do.

9.  Find room for cots and camping chairs.  Once the hurricane passes, hotels will be filled with those whose homes are too damaged to inhabit.  The weather will rapidly improve, making sleeping outdoors an option.  Walmart and Sam’s Club will allow urban camping in their parking lots, as will friendly hometown TV and radio stations.  And they have rest rooms.  It beats driving fifty miles to find a vacancy in a motel with no power.

10.  Get some sleep.  True, you’re in the hurricane zone to work.  Expect to spend every waking moment working.  But if you volunteer for live shots from 5am to 11pm, you’ll rapidly become irritable and useless.

11.  Get creative.  Everywhere you turn, there’s a story.  But  your stories of destruction will very rapidly start to look and sound the same as the last story you told.  Avoid exhaustion-fueled clichés:  Path of destruction, eye of the storm and above all:  It looked like a war zone.  Even if you’ve been to an actual war zone, don’t use it.

Roger and me

Memorandum

Roger McDowell

To:  Roger McDowell, pitching coach, Atlanta Braves

From:  LAF

Re:  Getting you right with the world

I read, with amazement, accounts of your encounter with baseball fans at San Francisco’s AT&T (or whatever they’re calling it these days) park last month.  Mostly, you’re accused of uttering anti-gay slurs; you then capped it by suggesting that “kids don’t belong in the (bleeping) ballpark.” If even partially true, it was a tour de force of boneheadedness.

You’re now serving a two-week suspension.  You kept your job, which suggests that the Atlanta Braves value you as a pitching coach.  You and I have never met.   I’d always heard you were one of the good guys — smart, talented, with an appealing streak of the crazy.  Sounds like that last part went kinda haywire in SF.  Let’s go out on a limb and assume you are worth redeeming.

Here’s what you need to do.  Most of it involves the news media.

John Rocker

First, I have to make the following assumption:  You want to fix this.  You really don’t hate gays, or what we call the GLBTQ community.  Or, if you did hate them, you now realize it’s not rational to do so.  You don’t want to turn into John Rocker, who compounded his own bigotry by becoming an angry fool afterward.  Although it made Rocker’s demise as a pitcher more entertaining to watch (and clearly inspired one of the best shows ever shown on television, Eastbound and Down), your intelligence presumably will guide you here.  Don’t make this worse.   Let’s make it better.

Your suspension will end in a few days.  The media will descend when you return to the clubhouse.  You may be tempted to issue a statement and take a few questions from the beat writers and local TV folk in attendance.  You’ll want to shut it down afterward, quickly.  You can do better.

On the day before you return to the clubhouse, ask the Braves PR folk to call a news conference in the 755 Club.  Give the news media at least 24 hours advance notice, including media in San Francisco.  This will allow everybody who wants to attend to plan accordingly.  This will make your news conference a big deal.  That’s OK.  You want it to be a big deal, because you want to fix this problem in one 48-hour period.

During the news conference:  You’ll stand alone at a podium.  If you have a statement, make it.  Your statement will conclude with:  After this news conference, I’m not going to talk about this anymore.

Then you’ll take questions.  You’ll take them exhaustively.  You’ll answer questions that are redundant.  You’ll answer questions that you may think are disrespectful or judgmental.  You’ll answer questions that may seem designed to embarrass you.  You’ll treat all the questions and questioners respectfully, and you’ll answer every question thoughtfully.

It will take a while– an hour, maybe longer.  Your goal:  Outlast the press corps.  Answer questions until there are no more questions.  It’ll happen.  The press will want to file their stories, and they’ll realize every question has been asked and answered.

Your template is Geraldine Ferraro, the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 1984.  During that campaign, questions arose about the finances of her husband John Zaccaro.  Ferraro called a news conference, answered questions until the questions were exhausted, and was the last person to leave the room.  She got lots of credit for doing so.  The issue mostly went away, and Ferraro was free to get on with her job.  The same will happen to you.

Two other suggestions, to make your contrition complete.

The day before your news conference, grant an exclusive interview to the Georgia Voice, Atlanta’s gay newspaper.  It’ll demonstrate the seriousness of your intent to make reparations with Atlanta’s gay community.  It won’t get a large audience but it will win you respect, in both Atlanta and San Francisco.

In October, plan to march in Atlanta’s Pride parade.  I’m serious.  I know you’ve got it in you.  It’ll be fun.   There’s  only one thing the GLBTQ community loves more than open-minded, gay-friendly folk:  Former haters who have seen the light.  That will be you, my friend.

You may follow this course.  You needn’t thank me for the advice.

Or, you may follow the Rocker course, and decide you don’t care what people think.  You may utter a halfhearted statement of apology, depart abruptly, and let the ugly whiff of bigotry linger on you forever.  I’m sure Rocker would enjoy having some company in whatever purgatory it is in which he dwells.

Your call.