Category Archives: regan

Free Lunch

The dean of Atlanta’s investigative reporters delivered a clean, solid hit to an odd, costly practice by the Forsyth County Tax Commissioner. It seems commissioner Matthew Ledbetter habitually buys meals for his staff, spending taxpayer dollars to do so. It was so conspicuous that somebody finally tipped WSB’s Richard Belcher, who delivered a report on it last week.

Belcher’s work was a lovely example of why it’s important to keep politicians from weakening Georgia’s Open Records Act. The evidence was readily available in the Tax Commissioner’s credit card receipts. Belcher found that he’d billed taxpayers for more than $14,000 worth of chow, much of it the cuisine of a “burgers and chicken wings kind of place” in Cumming called Roosters.

The commissioner didn’t dispute the expenditure. In a statement, he defended the practice. Apparently morale is quite high in the tax commissioner’s office, and “customer service” is exemplary. Although it was a “gotcha” type story, Belcher’s treatment was evenhanded. It gave viewers plenty of leeway to make up their own minds about whether the commissioner had misused his expense account.

WSB also delivered a helpful, informative piece warning consumers about off-brand flat-panel TV sets. Tom Regan interviewed a repair shop guy who said “you can find Jimmy Hoffa’s body before you can find parts” needed to fix certain brands of flat-panel sets. The $500 – 1100 sets, Regan reported, are considered “disposable,” where the repairs are more expensive that a new set.

Our only complaint: WSB’s insistence on calling this an “investigation.” It was solid, useful consumer reporting. But calling Regan’s story “investigative” cheapens a term rightfully applied to pieces like the one done by Belcher.

Sonic blast

It won’t win him any awards, but give WSB’s Tom Regan credit for a fun and interesting special report Thursday. Regan showed off a device called “the Mosquito,” a sonic system that emits a pulse designed to irritate the ears of the young. The idea is to use the gizmo to drive off unwanted groups of “chillin'” teens.

Regan deployed it to an unsuspecting crowd near a school, which dispersed. He played it to a classroom full of teens, most of whom expressed annoyance by it. He also played it for anchors John Pruitt and Monica Pearson. Pearson, 60, told Regan the device irritated her. Pruitt, age unknown, couldn’t hear it at all. Regan suggested that classical music might have the same effect on teens. We suggest these guys.

The rest of WSB at 6

Do normal people actually watch an entire hour of local TV news? After the shock of watching 2’s lead story, we were too stunned to leave our seat. Maybe that’s what they intended. Observations:

Rachel Kim had a forgettable story about a killing that won’t be news for much longer. The family declined to talk on TV. Neighbors were somewhat helpful. Kim is good at developing stories, but not on this particular evening.

Ross Cavitt had a nice enterprise story about WhiteWater’s plan to dig wells to supplement its water supply. The story gained nuance when Cavitt revealed that it ain’t likely the wells will help much.

Jovita Moore– substituting for the thankfully absent Monica Pearson– had the best scoop of the show: An exclusive interview with the new, and much-criticized CEO of Grady, Pam Stephenson. It was a nice lick for Moore, who frequently spends her days in the trenches covering news prior to her nightly anchor appearances at 5.

Lori Geary had a rare emotional story from the Capitol about school bullying. She deftly removed her earpiece during her live lead-in because a technical glitch created a distracting echo. Geary didn’t miss a beat.

Ashley Hayes had what could have been the show’s most interesting story: Cops in Hilton Head talked at length about the disappearance of an Atlanta couple, and the suicide of the main suspect. But the story lacked immediacy because it was obvious Hayes was relying on material fed from other TV stations based in SC.

WSB ran an anchor reader on a captured fugitive. They must have grit their teeth as they gave a photo courtesy to America’s Most Wanted, a show on their arch-competitor WAGA.

And then there was weather with Glenn Burns:

Afterward– live in the dreaded 6:30 slot– Tom Regan produced possibly the most watchable story of the day: A trade show that opened at the storm-battered World Congress Center. Apparently, the GWCC is in better shape than most expected.

Ryan Young had the gratuitous live shot of the night: “Live in midtown” with a story about a robbery in DeKalb Co. “Live in midtown?” That’s WSB telling the world that they’re making one of their reporters stand on the lawn of the TV station on Peachtree. Why? Who knows.

Sports had the best surprise: Bill Hartman reported on new seats at Turner Field, built in front of the previous front row. The story showed rows of seats that drift absurdly close to home plate– the closest spectator view in all of MLB, according to Hartman. Local TV sports no longer exists in many markets– yielding to the hegemony of ESPN. Atlanta retains a lively and competitive local sports presence. It’s often worth watching.

Perhaps we’ll slog through the 6 o’clock show of another station next time.

No sex, please

There’s rarely a more pleasing spectacle than a major TV station appointing itself as a community’s arbiter of morality.  The ironies are abundant– not just when viewed through the prism of network programming, but also through the judgments made daily about which news stories get the greatest exposure.  Is there an element of sex?  A hot victim?  A barbie bandit?  Ratch it up, boys.  Comes now WSB-TV, with an installment exposing the presence of sex toys at Spencer Gifts, a mall store known mostly for silly novelties.  Tom Regan, a fine reporter, redeemed his expose from the previous evening by doing a hidden-camera piece at Spencer.  It was too easy:  Wait for a child to enter, and watch them grab bits of plastic shaped like genitalia “while the store employees paid little attention.”  Interview outraged moms in the parking lot.  Read a statement from Spencer promising to do better.  Smarmy, yes.  But it was a clean hit, in a medium where what’s “clean” is elusively defined.

February Dirt

Readers of this space– too many to count– already know that February is a big ol ratings book month.  The most audience-friendly “investigative” efforts of TV stations are always on display.  Two examples popped up this week– both kinda silly, but to varying degrees.  First, a fine reporter at WSB-TV named Tom Regan phoned in a report purportedly exposing a waste of tax dollars.  Done in the anti-science tradition of former Sen. William Proxmire (R-WI) and legions of evolutionists, Regan displays a prospectus for which “metro Atlanta taxpayers” spent nearly $200,000 for a study on walking.  Listening between the lines, one senses a serious health effort behind the study.  But Regan’s report focused somewhat snickeringly on  the price tag and the absurdity of a study on the obvious.  To his credit, Tom lent some evenhandedness to it.  But conveniently, he never mentioned America’s obesity epidemic.  And it was never clear whether “metro Atlanta taxpayers” were footing the bill, though a graphic so indicated.  Flip over to WAGA, where Dana Fowle, another fine reporter, has been milking an investigation— apparently for months– over the shockingly unsanitary practices of hotel maids.  Unlike the Regan report, Dana’s report appeared to be a clean hit.   It was entertaining.  It was a nice “gotcha,” apparently shamelessly copied by TV stations around America.  But the bottom line is:  Dana’s exposing dirty dishes.  Not even dirty dishes– but dishes not properly cleaned.  Call me a news snob, but I’d prefer to see the resources of Atlanta’s finest investigative unit pursuing official corruption and valid abuses of taxpayer funds–and please,  something a little more convincing than WSB’s cheap shot on  the study of walking practices.