Category Archives: russell dale

A convenient target

Gloria and Herman Cain Saturday

Herman Cain ended his campaign for president Saturday.  I attended the speech he delivered announcing his exit, and heard the crowd roar loudest when he denounced the news media.

The news media is a convenient object of scorn.  It’s easy to clobber reporters, whose jobs are to look for and tell interesting real-life stories.  Frequently, those stories are salacious — especially when the key players are celebrities.  The audience eats up the stories, while at the same time denouncing the whole business as smarmy.

It would have been much more uncomfortable for Cain to address the particular allegations of the small parade of women who reported untoward personal encounters with Cain, particularly in front of a large group of supporters.  And with Gloria Cain standing in the wings.  “So what if I didn’t tell my wife about my secret 13-year friendship with a single woman, which included generous financial assistance and 4:30am text messages?” Cain could have said.

Instead, the crowd roared at the lines bashing the media.  In interviews afterward, Cain supporters expressed anger at the news media for undoing their candidate.

A woman gave away these buttons at the Cain event

He bitterly attacked “professional scavengers and gossip mongers who have made life hell for innocent people.” An hour later, he went on a local radio talk show and called reporters “vultures and hooligans.”

The above line comes from a 1987  article about Julian Bond, following allegations the former Georgia legislator habitually used cocaine.  The allegations came from his estranged wife Alice.

Bond was and still is an outspoken liberal.  The same guy who broke the story about Herman Cain’s alleged mistress also broke the Alice Bond story.  I honestly don’t know Dale Russell’s political leanings.  But he’s an equal-opportunity pain-in-the-ass to powerful people prone to excess.  Ask Terrell Bolton.  Ask Earl Paulk.  Ask Glenn Richardson.

Donna Rice and Gary Hart share a moment, circa 1987

The rest of the news media are similarly motivated.  We’ll chase a good story, regardless of the political bent of the target.  Since the term became vogue, the “liberal media” has a rich history of clobbering liberals, from Gary Hart to Elliott Spitzer to Anthony Weiner.  Their salacious behavior demanded it.  Hart has probably experienced many flashbacks during the past month.

Thankfully, you don’t hear about the “liberal media” much anymore.  There were “don’t believe the liberal media!” signs and buttons distributed at the Cain event.  It seemed like a throwback to the 90s.

Cain supporters can argue that the string of allegations against Cain were nebulous and unproven.  They can argue that the news media, whose 24 hour presence magnifies the most meaningless stories, gave the allegations undue attention.  They can decry “spin,” though I think that’s merely a pejorative term for the free expression of ideas you don’t like.

The news media is an almost textbook example of a free market entity.  When critics demand reform of the news media and its priorities, they rarely offer an alternative framework.  “Would you rather have the government control the news media?” I’ll occasionally ask them.  “No, but…” the response will invariably begin.

The media is your savior when reporters find dirt on the guy you don’t like.  When your enemy is exposed as a scoundrel, you will happily “spin” the material to suit you.  You might even praise the news media for doing its job.

But when your guy is the target, the media becomes a convenient whipping boy.  It’s much easier than discussing the facts.

Sick

Dale Russell, WAGA

You’re now seeing insane jealousy, the greenest, ugliest and sickest sort imaginable.

There was no chance in hell Susan Richardson would talk to any reporter.  As a political wife recently divorced from one of Georgia’s most media-unfriendly politicians, Mrs. Richardson should have retained her ex-husband’s stonewalling nature. Her ex-, only weeks earlier, had publicly revealed a suicide attempt.

Political wives don’t talk on the record about their shifty husbands.  At least, not while the wounds are still fresh.  Hardly ever.

And yet, Susan Richardson did so.   Why?  Two reasons.  It suited her purposes, because she was desperate to get her scheming, manipulative ex-husband out of her life for good.  And, because Dale Russell of WAGA presumably had the audacity to actually ask her to do it.

(That’s an assumption.  It’s possible Mrs. Richardson initiated contact with Russell directly or through an intermediary.  Russell may not be able to say, though.  The details of those early communications probably involve the give-and-take of negotiating the interview.  I’m hoping Russell will enlighten us with a post on this site in the next few days, but I don’t expect him to tell everything…)

There are several reasons why this story is a pretty amazing feather in Russell’s cap.

The enormity.  Glenn Richardson just announced his resignation from the House of Representatives.  The House will have to choose another speaker.  Call it seismic, cataclysmic, apocalyptic — the story is the biggest talker in town.  It’s bigger than the mayor’s race.  It’s huge because Richardson was a huge force in state government, undone by his own arrogance, his willingness to transpose his brain and his boy-parts, and his inability to let his poor ex-wife get on with her life.

Richardson was forced to resign from his position of power because of this story.

The exclusivity.  Because Susan Richardson talked to nobody else, any other media reporting the story had to either cite WAGA as the source of the bombshell info (as the AJC did), or give vague (and wimpy) credit to “a TV interview” or “broadcast reports.”  Russell owned the story.

And yes, other media made efforts to play catchup.  WSB had a live truck parked outside Mrs. Richardson’s house all day Tuesday, we’re told.   She was unwilling to tell her story again.  She didn’t have to.  She didn’t tell the story as a public service.  She told the story to get her ex-husband off her back.  If she’d become a large-scale media presence, it could have turned Glenn Richardson into a victim, giving him ammunition he now lacks.

Once was enough.  Boy, was it ever.

Tight-lipped: Susan and Glenn Richardson

The storytelling. Sure, he had plenty of excellent raw material from the scorned woman.  But watch the story.    It starts off with her take on his suicide attempt, an effort to manipulate her, she says.  Then Russell goes into the back story.    He weaves  Richardson’s suicide drama with events in their estranged relationship.  (Turns out he’d threatened suicide previously, after she discovered he was having an affair with a lobbyist.)

Then we learn Richardson had threatened to use his political power to help his mistress and harm his estranged wife.   This is the stuff that cost Richardson his job as Speaker of the House.

It caps with the image of her unhappily holding a Bible for his swearing-in.   Now we know it was a climactic, abusive moment in a marriage that had already unraveled.

The story was expertly told, and WAGA gave Russell enough time (seven minutes, plus) to let Mrs. Richardson say her piece, devastatingly so.

Jealous?  Absolutely.  Dale Russell makes me sick with envy.  Others may not admit it.  I just did.

Shading the truth

Dr. Kris Sperry, Chief Medical Examiner

Dr. Kris Sperry, Chief Medical Examiner

In 2003, Gwinnett County prosecutors tried to send a 16 year old boy to prison for life for killing a child he was babysitting.  The trial got lots of media attention.  Prosecutors claimed the victim died from Shaken Baby Syndrome.

But defense attorneys had a different story:  The baby had died from a brain hemorrhage that had begun more than a week prior to her death.  Their expert witness was Dr. Kris Sperry, Georgia’s state medical examiner.  Sperry’s testimony refuted the testimony of the local forensic pathologist, and torpedoed the prosecution’s case.  When the jury acquitted the 16-year-old, nobody in the press room was surprised.  The surprise was that the Gwinnett District Attorney’s office, one of the state’s best, had brought such a weak case to trial in the first place.

Sperry’s testimony openly angered prosecutors.  They fumed that because Sperry works for the state, he should only testify on behalf of prosecutors.   Asked about it on the witness stand, Sperry’s answer was perfectly sensible:  Why should I shade the truth for anybody?

Since then, Sperry’s bosses at the GBI have reined him in.  Sperry is allowed to run a side business as an expert medical examiner.  But his contract won’t allow him to provide testimony that undermines prosecutions.  Yet Sperry has apparently done it anyway, in violation of his contract.   WAGA’s I-Team has concluded a two-part exposé on it.

Dale Russell, WAGA

Dale Russell, WAGA

Dale Russell’s investigation apparently has Sperry cold on the issue of violating his contract.  Russell visited locales in Mississippi and Tennessee where Sperry testified on behalf of murder defendants.  Sperry’s boss, Vernon Keenan, tells Russell that Sperry isn’t supposed to do that.

But most of Russell’s storylines explored the “conflict of interest” angle, and it ill-serves Russell’s investigation.  Russell seems to buy into the notion that Sperry has a conflict of interest when he testifies against the prosecution.  It makes no sense, unless the “interest” is something other than a full, honest exploration of the evidence.

(A separate issue goes unexplored:  Should the state medical examiner have a side business at all?  Judges and prosecutors can’t do it.  Police officers can.   Ideally, the state would pay its people well enough to keep this from being an issue.)

Unfortunately, Sperry didn’t talk to Russell  — probably because a) he knows he’s violating his contract and b) he knows his boss is annoyed with him.  But if Sperry had talked, he might have said the same thing he told that courtroom in Gwinnett County in 2003:  It’s not my job to shade the truth for either the prosecution or the defense.  My job is to present the evidence, draw my conclusions as a forensic pathologist, and let the jury decide the truth.

Instead of exploring the conflict of interest angle, Russell’s investigation might have asked this question:  Why is the GBI gagging the state’s chief medical examiner, arguably one of the top pathologists in the country?  Sperry’s testimony saved the life of a wrongly-accused 16-year old in 2003 (a kid who’s now finishing college on a scholarship, we’re told).  Sperry’s contract would prevent him from doing that now.

Sperry has screwed up, and Russell’s got the goods on Sperry’s contract.  But the whole “conflict of interest” issue fails to pass the stink test.  Grade:  C+