Category Archives: russell

First blood

Timing is everything, the cliche goes.  This cliche has a measure of truth, at least regarding the story of DeKalb police chief Terrell Bolton.  Unlikely to survive his current contretemps with his new boss, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, Bolton may be inclined to blame WAGA’s Dale Russell for digging up information leading to his demise.  If so, he’d be overlooking (as we’ve done, until now) the reporter who (it appears) actually broke this story more than a year ago:  Joanna Massee at WGCL.

Massee’s piece posted on WGCL’s web site on February 4, 2008.  Russell’s I-Team investigation, which contained mostly the same material, posted on November 24, 2008.  But Russell’s work aired shortly after Burrell Ellis was elected CEO.  Ellis was already suspicious of Bolton, whose appointment was force-fed by Ellis’s predecessor, Vernon Jones.  Russell’s story gave Ellis a fresh reason for a hard look at the chief.  Ellis’s investigation gave Russell’s story legs that Massee’s story lacked.

Massee’s story is worth viewing because it shows her effort to pin down Jones on the comp time story.  On-camera, Jones tells Massee he’ll be happy to talk to her later about Bolton’s comp time.  Not surprisingly, the always-slippery Jones never did so.

Unfortunately for Massee, Russell’s story also had greater clout because WAGA has more clout than WGCL.   And Russell’s I-team had the resources to devote three nights to the Bolton story, plus numerous follow-ups.  Jones probably blew off Massee’s interview request because he figured nobody would notice.  WGCL deserves more respect.  It’ll earn it when it gets more viewers.

H/T to DeKalb Officers Speak

Inconvenient truths

Mark Winne, WSB

Sidestepping an inconvenient fact: Mark Winne, WSB

Mark Winne is a proud man, and he should be.  Winne does a lot of good work as one of WSB’s investigative reporters.  He’s done some of that work with the help of Terrell Bolton, DeKalb County’s police chief.  Bolton gave Winne an exclusive last year when Bolton decided he needed to arm his cops with tasers.  Winne has had other insider access to DeKalb PD investigators, doubtless with Bolton’s blessing.   And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Winne’s job is to cultivate relationships with folks who can help him break news.

But Winne’s pride is preventing him from telling the full story of Bolton’s embattled relationship with his new boss, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis.  Last week, Ellis suspended Bolton from his job.  Winne, as well as reporters from the AJC, have played the Ellis / Bolton tug-of-war as a generic power struggle.  But the essence of the power struggle is a result of a series of stories produced by Dale Russell, WAGA’s chief investigative reporter — and Winne’s professional arch rival.

Terrell Bolton with Dale Russell, WAGA

Terrell Bolton with Dale Russell, WAGA

Take this story, produced on the fateful day that Ellis suspended Bolton.  In it, Winne never mentions that Ellis is investigating Bolton’s use of comp time — the key issue that has put Bolton in Ellis’s cross-hairs.  Why not?  Probably because Russell was the first to raise that issue, based on a series of Open Records Act requests.  Russell showed Bolton had taken dozens of comp days, despite a DeKalb County policy denying such perks for higher-ups like police chiefs. Russell’s story from the same day appears here.

Russell and Winne have a competitive history in Atlanta that goes back decades.  The two men once got in a physical confrontation while covering a story and had to be separated by their photogs.  They were both much, much younger then.

Sometimes the AJC will cite original reporting done in other media outlets, but the AJC has been oddly unwilling to cite Russell’s work in what has become a major story that got feature-length treatment Sunday.  Local TV almost never directly cites the reporting of a competitor.   But the Open Records Act information on Bolton’s comp time is available to anybody, including Winne.  Winne’s refusal to fully explore the issue leaves his viewers with vagaries about a “power struggle.”

Somewhere within his über-competitive heart, Winne knows that Russell got the goods on Bolton.  All Winne has, at least on this story, is his stubborn pride.

Ratf#cked

Gena Evans

Gena Evans

Maybe Gena Abraham Evans, now Georgia’s DOT commissioner, did something wrong while head of the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission.  Maybe she allowed her personal relationship with a contractor in a state construction project to cloud her judgment.  Maybe she erred by failing to disclose that relationship.  Maybe Dale Russell’s I-Team investigation into those issues hit a bulls-eye.

But we predict it won’t matter, because a) those issues are several years old and b) Gena Evans is coming off like a victim of a sanctimonious media probe into her personal life.

Dale Russell, WAGA

Dale Russell, WAGA

It’s complicated by the intriguing bi-play between WAGA’s Russell, and his ex-colleague, WSB’s Richard Belcher.  Belcher produced a story last week that touched the surface of the issues raised in Russell’s report.  Though Belcher’s story lacked the depth of Russell’s, WSB’s piece aired a full week ahead of Russell’s.  It seems fair to say now that Belcher produced that story as a classic bit of ratf#cking, a pre-emptive strike to dampen the fire of a competitor’s exclusive.

An interesting theory, floated by a commenter at the Peach Pundit is this:  That Gena Evans was behind the ratf#cking.  The commenter suggests that Evans was so annoyed with Russell’s questioning that she called Belcher, a presumably friendlier reporter.  Belcher produced a story that focused on some R-rated e-mails sent between Evans and the ex-boyfriend.  The story wasn’t a bright moment in Belcher’s distinguished career.  In it, Evans looked like a victim in game of e-mail / Open Records Act Gotcha.  Russell’s piece also had the salacious e-mails but was densely packed with more legitimate questions of impropriety.

(OK.  That theory’s interesting.  But it doesn’t give WSB enough credit.  And it gives too much to Evans.  If she was that cunning, she wouldn’t have sent those e-mails through the state system in the first place.)

Ratf#cking doesn’t happen often, but it’s not uncommon.  The AJC used to be well known for filing Open Records Act requests that simply asked for copies of Open Records Act requests filed by competing media.   It’s a lazy yet legit way to uncover news and monitor the competition. If the target of an investigation can play competing media against each other, as Evans may have done, then the target can better shape the story that’s emerging — and give the appearance that the media is ganging up on her.

It may not serve the audience.  But ultimately, the reporter’s master is his station manager.  In the run-up to the November sweeps, Belcher served WSB by taking the thunder out of WAGA’s exclusive.  And WSB can say  it had the story first.  The claim doesn’t stand up to full scrutiny.  But most folks don’t pick those kind of nits the way, say, we do.  Ultimately, a viewer may see WAGA’s promotion and say:  Exclusive?  I saw that last week on another station.  I don’t need to see it again on WAGA.  Russell’s story is better.  But Belcher goes home the winner.

Russell is producing a second part of his investigation at 6pm Wednesday.

Hell hath no fury…

In light of his documented sexual exploits– the fact that DNA tests prove that he’s the real father of his nephew, for example– Earl Paulk is a remarkable dude: Megachurch founder, jowly pompadoured Lothario, libidinous egomaniac. Dale Russell of WAGA has had his number for several years now, thanks to the fact that Paulk’s ex-secretary / victim of his Holy lecherousness has talked to Russell whenever a development ensued. Apparently the octogenerian Bishop was unaware.

The secretary, Mona Brewer, sued Paulk years back. Their case has gone back and forth. Recently, Paulk apparently sent Brewer envelopes full of cash, pitching a peace conference. Guess who Brewer called?

WAGA’s I-team wired the restaurant meeting place with three cameras. They recorded audio of Paulk calling Brewer “baby” and professing his undying devotion to her. They showed the pathetic old man’s body language, solicitous and desirous of reconciliation and God help us, perhaps more. And they showed him offering a payoff and walking her to her car, where she rebuffed his obvious desire for a good-bye embrace.

Perhaps Paulk had never heard the secular William Congreve quote about a woman scorned. No doubt, Paulk remembers this one:

  • Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
    — Proverbs 16: 18-19 (KJV)

Russell’s gambit was a crapshoot: Wire a restaurant and watch what happens. Russell skill is in maintaining the confidence of the principal victim in the story. In this instance, he lucked out, and then some– almost to the point where one feels sorry for the geriatric sociopath, still thinking with his male parts at the age of eighty-plus. Russell produces a second part Tuesday at six.

“I wish I were smarter.”

Each Atlanta TV station posts short biographies of its news personnel on their web sites. The bios are usually filled with data about awards and college degrees. Some offer the occasionally-surprising nugget. We learn that WGCL’s Rebekkah Schramm has been a broadcaster since age 15. We learn that WSB’s Anissa Centers was a bone marrow donor. We learn that WSB’s Jeff Dore took out the trash at his first TV station and is the author of an unpublished novel.

Most bios are mind-numbingly similar. They tout the humble beginnings and family values of their subjects. They list resume highlights, awards and volunteer work. There are 42 of them on WSB’s site alone. We’ve perused a fraction of them.

Without question, the best bio we’ve seen is on Dana Fowle’s WAGA blog. Fowle writes “I’m generally disheveled and have a messy car… I also love red wine, rare steak, dark chocolate and strong coffee. I’m Type A, so of course, I wish I were smarter.” This is especially funny, given that Fowle is one of those scary-smart people.

The bio is the best part of Fowle’s blog. She hasn’t updated it in more than a month.

Dale Russell’s blog bio is a close second to that of Fowle, his I-team colleague: “My desk is a mess. I don’t smoke. I do drink. I have a politically incorrect sense of humor and a little problem with authority. (I’m working on that) And, I never get my expense reports in on time.”

Our least favorite bio belongs to WAGA’s Tom Haynes, which starts thusly: “Credibility, experience and a bit of an edge; that pretty much sums up Tom Haynes…” This is especially icky because it’s obvious Haynes wrote it himself. He goes on to tout his “journalistic expertise” and his position “front and center in FOX 5’s new, innovative and interactive newscast.” His bombast is almost Burgundyesque.

The journalistically-expert Haynes could learn a thing or two about humility from some of his colleagues.

Morgan v. Jones

Last week, WAGA’s Dale Russell did a piece that linked DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones to the DeKalb judge who awarded attorney fees to the lawyers for admitted perjurer (and prolific baby-daddy) Bishop Earl Paulk. The story showed that Jones and Judge Mark Anthony Scott are friends. Jones contributed to Scott’s campaign for Judge. Scott’s ruling let Jones off the hook from testifying in the Paulk trial, at least temporarily. A courtroom appearance in this case may have been embarrassing for Jones, who’s running for US Senate.

No doubt, Jones’s camp howled at WAGA management about the story. That’s because the only on-camera critic of the ruling was J. Tom Morgan– a former DA whose open disdain for Jones runs every bit as deep as the friendship between Jones and Scott. Morgan spoke articulately about why the ruling, and the relationship mattered. Russell is perhaps the best investigative reporter in town. But Russell had to know that Jones’s people– who famously cry and moan about any unfavorable coverage– would raise a stink about this. Likewise, casual observers familiar with DeKalb politics might watch this story and say: Oh well– that’s J. Tom beating up on Vernon again.

The story was about political ties tainting a judicial proceeding. No doubt, the judge (and Jones) deserved the scrutiny. But political ties— Morgan v. Jones– tainted Russell’s story too. If the issue was so troubling, Russell should have been able to strengthen his story by finding a critic other than a longtime enemy of Vernon Jones. Maybe he’s saving it for the follow-up.