Titans cornerback Denard Walker lashed out at WKRN-Channel 2 reporter Mike Hill last week after a team workout. The NFL had suspended Walker for two games after the Nashville Scene reported that he pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend, the mother of his child. Having endured a litany of fair questions about not just the suspension but his poor performance during the Super Bowl, Walker finally snapped like a cornered turtle after a relatively straightforward interview with Hill.
And, of course, the image of a troubled football player launching a wounded tirade of self-pity made for good, dramatic television. (Who needs The Real World?) But thanks to Tony Wyllie, the Titans’ director of media relations, at least one station missed the clip.
During all the commotion, WZTV-Fox17 sports reporter Skip Baldwin and his cameraman hustled to capture the footage of Walker ranting by his locker.
According to a source at the scene, however, Wyllie charged the cameraman and shouted at him to turn off his camera. The young cameraman unnecessarily complied. Had he kept his camera running, he not only would have caught Walker’s rant but he would have captured arguably even better film of a Titans’ official angrily rushing toward him.
Soon afterward, Wyllie hurled all the media out of the team locker room. ”I asked the whole media to leave while Denard calmed down,“ Wyllie explains.
Actually, those reporters present should have demanded to stay. The Titans had voluntarily opened the locker room to the media and once they took that step, they should have to live with the consequences. You can’t provide access and then snatch it away when the image you’re trying to promote turns dark. Well, on second thought, you can do that, but a vigilant press corps shouldn’t let you get away with it. Imagine what kind of cooperation Beth Fortune, Gov. Don Sundquist’s press secretary, would receive from the media if she tried to throw out reporters while a Cabinet official was in the midst of a rant.
Wyllie, while noticeably defensive, does not regret banishing the media from the locker room. ”I’ve got to protect the players,“ he huffs. ”I don’t care who thinks it’s right or not.“ Indeed, Wyllie is 100-percent correct; he was simply doing his job. It’s just that the press shouldn’t have made it so easy.
Ooops, we did it againä
The Tennessean’s Dave Green can be a rather perceptive media critic. Early last week in his daily critique of the paper, the longtime managing editor fingered his own staff for not probing the revelation that an aggrieved tenant of Al Gore’s was calling the Democratic presidential candidate a slumlord. Tracy Mayberry and her family live in a Carthage home owned by the vice president. She has told the media that she had complained for months about overflowing toilets in her home to no avail.
Green was on vacation when WTVF-Channel 5 broke the story, which soon garnered national attention and proved easy fodder for right-wing columnists.
In the critique, Green rightly pointed out that even if another media outlet beats you to the story, you still have an opportunity to expand on it. Following a TV newscast, a newspaper in particular can flesh out details and circumstances more ably than its electronic counterparts. But as we all know by now, Tennessean reporters initially sat on the story, fortifying the widespread (and understandable) perception that the paper won’t critically cover its favorite son.
”We should have been way, way more aggressive,“ Green gamely admits to the Scene. ”Regardless of the import of that story, it was big news and we needed to be on it. We need to do the reporting and then make the decision as to what kind of story we want to run.“
And belatedly, the paper did just that. This past Thursday, reporter Leon Alligood filed a story that managed to put the situation in perspective. While it was true that the tenant’s home was in bad shape, that might not have all been Gore’s fault. According to a property manager interviewed by Alligood, one reason for the overflowing toilet was ”toys in the septic lines.“
So much for getting that deposit back.
Matt can be reached at mpulle@ nashvillescene.com. Or give him a ring at 244-7989, ext. 445.