Three rounds of Kasim Reed versus an Atlanta TV station

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Fox5's Dale Russell (center) and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (right). City of Atlanta footage

The pugilistic style employed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in his responses to reporters who annoy him – whether in print, in person, or on video – is no secret.

The outraged phone call is most common, but has recently been supplanted by the long written rebuttal, as the AJC’s Bill Torpy can testify. But we have now entered new territory: The Internet-based video rebuttal.

Which offers an excellent case study in how journalistic sausage is made. How, when offered same digital information, reporters and politicians see things quite differently. The history:

Fox5’s Dale Russell, a longtime investigative reporter, last week turned a report on a former city of Atlanta employee who has filed a whistleblower lawsuit, claiming she was fired for questioning the purchase of city vehicles for use by the mayor and his family.

In his report, Russell included what has become standard in TV journalism – pursuit video. One particular clip showed a member of the mayor’s entourage trying to slow Russell down. In his description, Russell says the mayor refused to answer his questions about the lawsuit.

In some concluding desk chatter at the end of the report, Fox5 anchor Russ Spencer says to Russell: “You made the best effort to talk to the mayor, and his executive protection kind of blocked you along the way there.”

“And that’s very unusual, Russ,” Russell replied. “You don’t see that very often from anybody’s executive protection. I was, frankly, surprised a little.”

When you watch the video below, note the slight semantic difference. Spencer speaks of attempting to “talk” to the mayor. Russell speaks in terms of unanswered questions:

In response, Reed’s office did something unusual. It released its own footage of Russell and the mayor from the same April 12 event, engaged in a spirited conversation. Clearly, the two talked. It has been posted on Youtube and Facebook under the title, “You Deserve the Truth.” Viewers are invited to watch Russell and Spencer “make stuff up.”

The artist Usher and others have taken up for the mayor. On Facebook, it’s been watch 200,000 or so times.

In his own video, Reed refuses to answer questions about the whistleblower lawsuit, saying he hadn’t seen a copy of the suit yet. But Russell also asks questions about the mayor’s father’s business interests, a previous topic. (Click on the hyperlinks for the city’s response to each.)

In this video, rather than answers to Russell’s questions, you catch the back end of the mayor’s repeated allegations that Russell is choosing his journalistic targets on the basis of cash received from a third party. “Are you prepared to show your tax returns?” the mayor asks the journalist. Russell and his superiors strongly deny the allegation. The mayor offered no evidence, and so, unsurprisingly, it was not included in the Fox5 report. But watch the mayor’s video rebuttal here:

Journalists don’t like to be accused of being on the take. Reputation is currency. Their bosses get angry. And so this afternoon, Mike McClain, vice president for news at WAGA-TV, released the entire, unedited encounter between Russell and the mayor of Atlanta. Almost six minutes, including some blatant accusations from the mayor. Said McClain:

“Our Fox5 I-Team reports on Mayor Reed speak for themselves. Dale’s reporting is fair and above reproach. We will continue to cover Mayor Reed and his administration.”

Watch the extended video here:

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We’ll let you decide who comes off better. Step between those two? Not a chance.


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