Did WKRN-Channel 2 get scooped last week on the hidden camera scandal at the arena? Not according to a decidedly partisan source: WKRN news director Matthew Zelkind. An egg-faced Zelkind insists his outfit interviewed arena manager Russ Simons about the spycam snafu Oct. 19, four days before WTVF-Channel 5’s Phil Williams ran the story.
But WKRN didn’t see fit to air the story until after it had already been broken, both on Channel 5 and in the Scene. That pretty much defines “scooped.”
Zelkind, however, disagrees. When Williams appeared on Steve Gill’s WTN-FM morning radio show last week, Zelkind called one of the producers to say that Channel 2 had the story first, even though the station didn’t air it first. He tells the Scene the same thing. “I’m amused that Phil is claiming credit for this,” Zelkind says about his former employee. “We knew about this story last week; we just chose to be more responsible.”
Claiming that you got beat on a story because you were trying to be “responsible” is a typical loser’s lament. It’s like claiming that your girlfriend dumped you because she was intimidated by your intelligence and good looks. In fact, Williams’ story, which reported that a hidden camera had been found in a dressing room used by the Nashville Kats cheerleaders, relied exclusively on unnamed sources. But when Simons held a press conference on the brewing scandal the next day, his version of events corroborated what Channel 5 and the Scene reported. In other words, no one was irresponsible.
Just don’t tell that to Zelkind. “Our level of ethics is at a higher level than at Channel 5,” he says. “Look at who puts microphones in the faces of children, and look at who broadcasts the ‘Spring Break Tapes,’ “ he says of recent Channel 5 missteps.
The irony is that Zelkind has no reason to be defensive. His station didn’t break the story, but Channel 2’s report by Chris Bundgaard hours before the official press conference included names and details that were missing from earlier stories. That’s something Zelkind can brag about.
Lest you think that Zelkind is the only television news director whose relationship with reality is more tenuous than Michael Jackson’s, consider WTVF-Channel 5’s top dog, Michael Cutler.
Last week, Scene media critic Henry Walker wrote in this space about Channel 5 reporter Rob Manning confusing sewage with drinking water. In an effort to show that terrorists could poison the city’s water supply, Manning crawled underneath a wire fence just a “few hundred yards” from the “city’s water supply.”
The problem is that Manning wasn’t close to the city’s water supply at all; he was, however, in close proximity to a sewage treatment plant. Manning proved nothing, except that we might not want to drink a glass of our city’s sewage.
The reporter’s tortured snafu received national media attention, and so Walker asked Manning’s boss whether the station planned to run a clarification or correction.
Cutler e-mailed Walker that the “the story stands.” Say what? Cutler pointed out that the city did tighten security at the sewage treatment plant in the wake of Manning’s errant exposé. By Cutler’s convoluted logic, that vindicated the station’s earlier report about the sanctity of the water supply.
In an e-mail to Walker, Cutler writes, “the follow-up revealed that now, thanks to NewsChannel 5, it is NO LONGER EASY to break into the city’s water system. If the city was not worried about the sewer plant, they sure moved quickly to tighten security around it.”
Cutler willfully misses the point. Manning’s story gave viewers the false impression that the city’s water supply, not sewage, was easily penetrable. The station should have corrected its error. That’s nonnegotiable. That Cutler would try to save face at the risk of adding to a climate of hysteria is appalling. There are enough security threats these days, both real and imagined, without local television making matters worse.
The Nashville City Paper celebrates its one-year anniversary this week. “Things are going great,” says executive editor Catherine Mayhew.
That might be a bit hyperbolic, but credit the start-up daily for quickly becoming a part of the city’s media landscape. It breaks news, provides a range of commentary and has a decent stable of reporters and writers. The paper has its defects, from its often-irrelevant content to its rather anemic advertising sales, but it’s come a long way in only one year.
E-mail Matt at Mpulle@nashville scene.com or call him at 244-7989, ext. 445.