Category Archives: murphy adam

Applying Murphy’s law

"I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for the human trafficking allegation. Let's chat..."

A reporter at WXIA raised a question that I’d asked myself while driving home Monday night.

“You went into — the lobby?  Camera rolling?  Did you — ?”

Did I call the WXIA lawyer first?  Actually, no.  It went like this:

We were at a DeKalb County day care center.  The administrator had been indicted by a federal grand jury for human trafficking.  I wanted to talk to her.  I suspected she might not want to chat with a TV reporter.

From outside, I called the facility.  A woman answered, and stammered “who’s this?  She’s not here” when I asked for the suspect.  It had the whiff of BS, confirmed when a parent told us “oh yeah — she’s in there.”  Most parents hadn’t heard about the allegation until they saw us.

Photog Tyson Paul and I pondered our options.  There’s weren’t many.  The center was a brick building.  The administrator / human trafficking suspect wasn’t coming out.

“We could just go in, roll on it and see what happens.”

“Let’s do it.”

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done this:  Enter a public business, photog in tow, rolling tape.  But I flashed back to guidelines I’d gotten over the years.  “You have to have a legitimate news interest.  The building has to be open to the public.  You can’t go past the public area of the business.  If they tell you to leave, you must leave.  But you can leave slowly. You can ask questions as you leave.”

Then I flashed back to numerous news stories I’d observed, mostly on WAGA and WGCL.  The Restaurant Report Card flashed strongly in my mind.  “If Adam Murphy can bust into a restaurant with a health score infraction, I can go into a day care where the administrator is charged with human trafficking.”  Done.  We went in.

The administrator didn’t react well to the friendly introduction I’d uttered upon entry.  “This is private property.  Please get out.”  We backed toward the door.

“May I ask you a question first?” I said, as I backpedaled.

“Please leave now.”  Her voice got louder.

“I’d like to ask you something –” I intended to offer a conversation off-camera.  She wasn’t having it.

“Please leave NOW!” she screamed.  We exited.

We waited outside in the street for the next ninety minutes.   During that time, she told patrons of the day care that she’d been charged with a crime; it was just allegations; she was innocent.  “Wish she’d have told me that,” I told a day care customer who’d related her explanation to me outside.

By the time we returned Tuesday, the administrator was gone.  The state had ordered her to vacate.  A replacement was in her office.  I entered, sans camera.  I introduced myself.

“No.  I’m not talking you you.  Please leave now,” said the replacement.    A bit puzzled, I left immediately.  I never got the indicted woman’s story, except second-hand, through customers.

She had plenty of opportunity.

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If you watched the story, you may notice a certain Addams Family quality to the graphics.  Although Tyson Paul had created perfectly lovely graphics in WXIA’s Avid system, he learned after they aired that they were “corrupt.”  It happens.

Class action

Adam Murphy probably has many loyal friends.  No doubt, they love his Restaurant Report Card stories on WGCL.  They follow his regular appearances on the pop radio station known as Q100, wherein Murphy talks (we presume) about the failings of restaurants, as well as other exposés in the “Action Adam” portfolio.

They probably love his hometown credibility; the fact that he grew up in the Atlanta suburbs and metriculated at the University of Georgia.

But of unquestionably greater importance, they undoubtedly love the fact that he’s in the running for the title of Nicest Man on Earth.

I have no idea what that would be like.  But I’m learning what it’s like to be killed with kindness.  If you learn that I’ve died unexpectedly hyperglycemic, my corpse wearing a silly embarrassed half-smile on its slightly reddened face, I would suggest a tough question or two for Mr.  Murphy.

Who's tormenting whom?  The blogger with Adam Murphy, WGCL

Who's tormenting whom? The blogger with Adam Murphy, WGCL (photo by Jonathan Goss, WGCL)

Murphy would have every reason to be unkind to me.  Close followers of this blog would know the reason.  During the time when I produced critiques of Atlanta TV stories, Murphy provided an abundance of material.   I’m not gonna say the critiques were harsh.  I will say that some of them lacked a certain amount of sugarcoating.

So, of course:  Upon my return to the news biz, it turns out Murphy was the first competitor I ran into while encircling a newsmaker with microphones during a breaking story.

Murphy was – so – damned – nice.

I also encountered Murphy at a meeting of bloggers at WGCL last spring.  Murphy stayed ’til the end.  We spoke afterward.  He was – so – damned – nice.

He was gracious.  He was generous.  He said he was familiar with the LAF critiques, yet praised the blog and the spirit behind it.  He was also familiar with some of the specifics of my work in TV news.  Murphy is one of those young adults who “grew up watching” yours truly on the TV, always a mixed blessing.  He was very flattering.

Adam Murphy’s parents raised him right, their devotion to local TV news notwithstanding.

So I come now not to bury Adam Murphy, but to praise him.  You’re a class act, kid.  I’m proud to know you.

Maybe I can learn something from you.  Like, how to properly pose for a photo.

Postscript- I hear you asking:  What’s with the “media area” sign?  It’s a creation of the Atlanta Watershed Management Department.  Spokeswoman Janet Ward says the department had it custom-made after a wayward TV photographer nearly fell into a trench at a construction site.

The advocate

adam-murphy-33009WGCL showed some enterprise and got a nice scoop earlier this month when Adam Murphy produced a story on metro Atlanta’s only toll road, Georgia 400.  The story basically said this:  Although tolls are producing many times the revenue needed to pay the road’s 18 year old construction bonds, the state intends to continue to keep raking in the surplus change until 2011.

Once the bond is paid off, the state is obliged to stop collecting the toll.  The implication is that the state is stalling paying off the bond so that it can keep milking the cash cow, fifty cents at a time.

“My goal is to find out why the state continues to collect your money,” says Murphy at the start of one of several follow-up pieces.  In the last week, Murphy and WGCL have become unflinching advocates for the viewpoint that the continued collection of the toll is a ripoff.  The station has even started an online petition to “take down Ga. 400 tolls.”  And it has a link on its web site to contact members of the Georgia Tollway board, several of whom are dodging WGCL’s effort to ask why the toll continues to be collected.

As the news business evolves, WGCL is trying to evolve with it.  In journalism schools, news is taught as the art of detachment and objectivity.  But advocacy has been rampant at Fox News for many years.  Newspapers and pamphlets have advocated certain viewpoints on stories since the invention of the printing press.  In fact, audiences often find advocacy where none exists and are increasingly suspicious when newsfolk plead that they deliver balance.

Likewise, investigative reporters all-but advocate viewpoints (Shouldn’t this loophole be closed?  Shouldn’t this bad guy be punished?  Shouldn’t the city stop overcharging water customers?  Shouldn’t this state government toilet stop wasting hot water?)  So WGCL is on firm ground here.

But the petition carries its advocacy to another level.  On one hand, it drives interested viewers to WGCL’s website, always an important goal.  On the other, it removes any pretense of objectivity.  The station is still a fact-finder, but in the same way that a plaintiff’s lawyer is a fact-finder:  With the goal of strengthening a particular viewpoint.  The dismissal of its own objectivity is a perilous strategy in a quest to build viewership.  Even if it’s on a story-by-story basis.

Curiously, WGCL’s petition only has about two hundred signatures on it as of Monday afternoon.

Water, water everywhere

Adam Murphy, WGCL

Callling BS on the commish: Adam Murphy, WGCL

We’re overdue to deliver a slow but sincere one-man round of applause for Adam Murphy.  The WGCL reporter has taken more than his share of abuse on this site for the still-unfortunate Restaurant Report Card.  But maybe that franchise, and Murphy’s tough-guy role in it, has steeled him for the worthy work he’s done in the last few weeks on the Atlanta Water Department follies.

Investigative reporter Wendy Saltzman has been equally tenacious.  Saltzman and Murphy tag-teamed a Water Department news conference last week, wherein commissioner Rob Hunter tried to explain that the city’s bizarre overbilling of residential customers raises “complicated issues.”  Maybe for him, yeah.  WGCL has documented extraordinarily large water bills that have suddenly and inexplicably arrived in the mailboxes of Atlanta residents.

“Let me make it clear.  Commissioner Hunter called that news conference because of our persistence on this story,” Murphy began a live shot.  “In fact, Commissioner Rob Hunter said I was rude when I tried to ask him a tough question.”

Murphy’s package began with Hunter triumphantly telling the news conference about flaws in a list of complaining water customers delivered the previous day by WGCL.  Hunter said the list didn’t include street addresses and phone numbers.  WGCL sent a second photog to the newser.   When Murphy pounced, it was on-camera.

“You mentioned six people were unreachable.  You realize… they all have e-mail addresses.  They are reachable, first of all.  Second of all, are you saying that every one of the people who has contacted us is making this up and lying?” Score a bulls-eye for Murphy.

“Absolutely not saying that.  And I don’t know how you would reach that conclusion,” Hunter stammered.  We’d like to know if that’s the exchange the brought the allegation that Murphy was “rude.”  Murphy never gives the details, unfortunately.

Murphy has been following the story almost daily in his role as WGCL’s consumer reporter.  It’s a story that’s rife with ongoing trouble, made worse by Rob Hunter’s efforts to dodge WGCL’s questions and failure to fix the problem.  WGCL has found and stayed after an absurd and inexplicable story that deserves exposure and affects real people.  If the trade-off is that we must tolerate the Restaurant Report Card, we’re OK with that.

Murphy’s law

The bad news is that WGCL hasn’t given up its weekly feature called “Restaurant Report Card.” The good news is that it’s somewhat less embarrassing than it used to be.

Up until early September, reporter Adam Murphy typically started each RRC with a visit to a “good” restaurant.  That portion of the report would feature Murphy wearing a Regis Philbin-style talk-show-host hat, laughing it up with the restaurant crew and showing off all the great chow displayed on a plate before him.  Then Murphy turned into a pit bull, pursuing restauranteurs on camera whose restaurants had received failing health inspection scores.  It was schizophrenic and just weird.

The last two RRCs eliminated the Murphy-as-Philbin intros and outros, sticking with the kicking-ass-and-taking-names portion of the report.  And WGCL has dressed it up with a slick, somewhat edgy looking pre-produced intro and outro, showing Murphy as consumer reporter tough guy.  We’ll admit, this improves this still-farcical franchise.

It appears WGCL’s new regime is sticking with RRC, a decision that confirms local TV will try anything to carve a niche.   RRC remains flawed; Murphy’s on-camera pursuit of restaurant operators appears to be pretty arbitrary.  Gwinnett and Cobb restaurants seem to be the most likely targets for the Murphy scoldfest.  WGCL still doesn’t draw a huge audience.  But in a tough economic environment, RRC can do some serious damage to some of these small businesses just by driving off a small number of customers.

Adam Murphy, WGCL

Seasoning added: Adam Murphy, WGCL

We’re wondering if the September 5 segment is responsible for management fine-tuning RRC.  As Murphy speaks on camera about “a great new restaurant” at Cobb Galleria, he’s in the kitchen, at the grill stir-frying something himself.  As he closes the piece, he affably says “I’m hot.  I gotta get out of here.”  As he says it, he appears to be wiping sweat from his brow— as the food cooks below him.  (And shouldn’t he be wearing a hat?)

Maybe somebody should stick a camera in that guy’s face.

Rocket science

TV reporters will be among the first to admit they aren’t rocket scientists. With their Journalism degrees and their slightly-above-average IQs, they succeed because they are just smart enough to look under rocks, grasp the obvious, write clean copy and produce ninety seconds of television. The good ones are quick studies, with a broad smattering of knowledge. They may know politics, the courts, or government. But most would admit they are rarely experts at much of anything except TV news.

With that background, it may have made perfect sense for Adam Murphy to produce a story on WGCL about a system that purports to use water to enhance the gasoline mileage of automobiles. The piece ran several weeks ago. Murphy’s bio says he’s a journalism major from UGA. He’s not a scientist.

Murphy’s story showed a couple of Mason jars connected with a rubber tube. There was a motor of some sort attached. And he interviewed a guy who claimed that it works. Turns out, it was the same guy who sold the contraption.

(Since our first draft of this post, Murphy’s piece has disappeared from WGCL’s website.)

Murphy’s story drew the attention of David Dagon, a Georgia Tech researcher and doctoral student. Dagon writes to LAF:

Let’s not mince words: Mr. Murphy (a consumer reporter) was duped by a popular “water for hybrid” scam…. This particular variation of the scam claims that hydrogen, oxygen, and “charged molecules”, are added to the engine– all due to the miracle of “engine vacuum pressure”. (Other versions of the scam claim that steam added to the engine will increase pressure and improve engine horse power.) This of course is complete nonsense.

Murphy has plenty of company. KRIV in Houston also did a story about a local guy producing fuel from water. Were they scammed?

Murphy made an effort to get “the other side” of this story. He visited a mechanic at a Precision Tune. The mechanic’s note of caution: Attaching this gizmo to your engine may void the car’s warranty. Dagon makes this point:

The CBS 46 offices are just a few blocks from Georgia Tech (a world-renowned engineering university). There, he would find Nobel winning researchers and distinguished professors, eager to describe what happens when you add water to an internal combustion engine.

(The auto industry), which is writing down billions of dollars in inventory, has evidently overlooked a way to improve mileage by 50% in its SUV line. If we are to believe Mr. Murphy, he is sitting on the story of the century: a technology that would likely end all of our foreign oil imports, using just tap water.

Meantime, Dagon notes, the companies that are producing these gizmos are showcasing these local TV stories on their websites and in their press releases, adding an air of legitimacy to the stuff that they’re selling.

If Murphy got scammed, he wouldn’t be the first. In 27 years of TV news, there are a few stories I wish I could take back. One of them was a cute feature I produced on a dog kennel. A year later, WAGA’s I-team produced a piece showing the owner abusing animals. Go ahead, call me a dumbass.

So I have some empathy for Murphy, a TV reporter trying to produce a deadline story on which he has no personal expertise. Perhaps this entire concept should have raised a red flag, the one that says “if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” Perhaps he should have efforted a comment from Tech (and maybe he did).

Murphy concluded his piece by telling viewers that the vendor of this contraption would be available the following day, making sales at a hotel parking lot. Wonder how their gas mileage is now.

Restaurant Report Card

It is the oddest, sloppiest and most schizoid TV news franchise in town. WGCL foists its “restaurant report card” on viewers once a week, and the results are almost always at once horrifying and laughable.

The franchise promises the best and worst of Atlanta restaurants. We don’t know how Adam Murphy selects the best. Last week he chose Straits, a restaurant owned by the hip-hop star / actor known as Ludacris. Each piece begins with Murphy as TV performer, doing his best on-camera Glenn Burns / Guy Smiley impersonation.

Murphy: You’ll never believe who’s on the program! Check this out. Grammy award winning artist Chris “Ludacris” Bridges!”

Bridges: Hey. What’s going on, my man?

Murphy: What’s up my man? How ya doing?

Bridges: Doing a little supervising around here, making sure everything is clean around here. That’s the most important thing….

Murphy: Who’s this over here?

Bridges: This is my business partner, the infamous Mr. Chris Yo.

Murphy: Yo.

It’s all very amiable until Murphy abruptly sheds his “just hangin’ out with my man Ludacris” demeanor and starts busting chops.

“I want you guys to leave,” begins the section with Murphy confronting a restauranteur who scored poorly in a Health Department inspection. “It didn’t take us long to get thrown out of this Gwinnett County restaurant,” Murphy assures us. The restaurant flunked because an inspector saw an employee slicing bagels barehanded, and “an employee opened a package with their teeth,” among other affronts to good health, sanitation and grammar.

“Can we ask you about the violations?” Murphy says to the restauranteur. “No,” he answers, repeating his admonition to the camera crew to scram. Murphy walks the legal line deftly. Once he’s ordered to leave the private property, he must. But he doesn’t have to turn off the camera, and he can still ask questions as he’s moving toward the door.

It’s classic TV investigative reporting, confronting wrongdoers unwilling to be questioned. But then it hits you: Murphy is confronting small business owners about sloppy work in their restaurants, a one-time lousy score in a county inspection. We cringe as we watch.

Two weeks earlier, Murphy and photog entered an O’Charley’s during lunchtime. The manager politely and repeatedly asked Murphy to return at 2pm, after the lunch rush was over. “We’d be more than happy to take a few minutes with you,” says the surprisingly even-tempered restaurant manager. Murphy would have none of it.

“I don’t want to interrupt our guests’ lunch. We’re trying to take care of them and run our business,” the manager protests, the mic stuck under his chin in the restaurant lobby. The encounter makes Murphy look foolish.

WGCL posted the entire confrontation on its website. It only makes Murphy look worse. The restaurant manager politely asks Murphy to return six times. “Everything possible we corrected yesterday before 5 o’clock in the afternoon,” the store manager tells Murphy at the top of the confrontation. Murphy used very little of the restaurant manager’s cool-headed defense, and he apparently never accepted his offer to return at 2pm.

This kind of thing makes everybody in TV news look bad. If it packed a punch, it would give a black eye to the concept of investigative reporting. But this is so silly, it’s more like a bitch-slap.

And then– Murphy closes on-camera with the same cheery “hey, look at all this great food at this great restaurant” hucksterism that that opened the piece. It’s just weird as hell.

We gotta admit, though: Whenever WGCL delivers a “restaurant report card,” we watch. Why? Because we know we’re about to see some of the squirreliest, dopiest stuff in all of local TV news.