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In a story you first heard on Six

When it comes to sensational news no station can hold a candle to WATE.

WATE television news had another sensational news story where it made a production out of getting the story wrong. The story involved a debate in Halls Thursday evening with the Women’s League that the Sheriff was not able to attend because of a prior commitment. This is interesting since on Gene Patterson’s WATE blog the public was recently asked what could be done to make local television news better. Most people responded that WATE is too sensational in the reporting of the news. Was WATE sincere when they asked the public for their opinions?

On the 11:00 PM news on Friday WATE reporter Adam Longo had an exclusive phone call with Martha Dooley public information officer of the Knox County Sheriff’s Department. What was not clear is whether Dooley knew that the phone call was being recorded on videotape and would appear on television later. In fact Dooley asked Longo how he had found her private cell phone number. From both the television news broadcast and WATE’s website it appeared that Dooley was not aware her phone call with Adam Longo was being recorded.

As Longo held a cell phone in his hand Dooley could be on the cell speakerphone while video cameras rolled:

“We never told anyone where the sheriff was, Adam,” she told Adam Longo.

“I didn’t pull the information out of thin air,” Longo responded.

“At no point did anyone ever tell you, that I’m aware of, that the sheriff was at Austin East. You made it up Adam. You made it up and are trying to cover your tracks is what you’re trying to do,” said Dooley.

A glance at Longo’s reporter’s notes taken before and during the debate prominently show the name of the sheriff’s legal advisor and debate stand-in, Mike Ruble. Immediately following that notation is an arrow pointing towards the words “civic meeting at Austin East.”

“Mike Ruble says he didn’t say that,” said Dooley.


On their website WATE has the first story that was aired Thursday evening where more sensational reporting claimed that the Sheriff lied about where he was during the debate. According to WATE the Sheriff said he was at an event at Austin East High School. WATE sent a camera crew to Austin East and reported that at 7:05 PM the school was deserted. The implication was that the Sheriff had lied. The actual event was at Vine Middle School and is an annual event that is a cookout for over 200 young children who are in the Baby Road Runners Football Leagues.

Instead of airing a correction WATE chose to have Adam Longo stalk Martha Dooley. Longo said he got the information from Mike Ruble and it is not his fault. Then he became agitated and repeatedly said to Dooley “I think it’s preposterous to suggest that I made something up Martha.”

None of the other Knoxville television stations reported this story nor did the Knoxville News Sentinel. This is news you heard first on Six.

The final note is this is this entry from Gene Patterson on his blog at WATE.

You would think that would be enough mistakes in one news broadcast. Later in the Friday 11:00 PM program WATE confused Ed Bryant with Harold Ford. A picture was shown with three U.S. Senate candidates. It was supposed to be the three Republican candidates. The first picture was Bob Corker, the second was Van Hillary, and the third was Harold Ford. The third picture should have been Ed Bryant.

Can WATE get anything right?

11 Responses to “In a story you first heard on Six”

  1. Jim Smith Says:

    #9:
    You’ve made several factual errors/omissions in your summary of this story.
    1. We reported the sheriff was at Austin East because that’s what Mike Ruble told us. While you mention that, you claim we said the sheriff lied. We did not. We reported the facts as they were given to us and did not characterize them in that fashion.
    2. Once we learned he had been at Vine we corrected that information and included a photo of the sheriff at that event.
    3. WATE was not the only local station to report that the sheriff was at Austin East. WVLT had a similar report. See http://www.volunteertv.com/Global/story.asp?S=5149525. To date, their report has not been corrected.
    4. By saying other media did not report this story you imply it is not news. Perhaps that notion should be rethought, considering how many people complain that all the news is the same.
    5. You didn’t mention that we have made several attempts to get the sheriff to talk to us or simply issue a statement in response to this story. Though he chose to simlutaneously publish the response in the public office’s Web site and his own campaign Web site, we gave full coverage of it.

    As for the error of the wrong photo in the graphic of the three candidates, yes that was an unfortunate mistake.

  2. #9 Says:

    Fair enough Jim, thanks for the additional information. You are correct about WVLT.

    The film footage of the empty parking lot at Austin East at 7:05 PM gave “me” the “impression” that WATE suggested the Sheriff had lied. But you are correct that at no time was anything “spoken” during the broadcast that the Sheriff lied.

    Did Ruble say the event was at Austin East? Adam Longo said he did. It would have been a good idea to double check that before sending a film crew out to film an empty parking lot.

    Jim, Can you understand why the Sheriff’s department might not want to cooperate with WATE? It does look like there is a “White Whale” complex going on here.

    You did correct the first story with the Longo report. But I did not perceive that to be a “correction” per say. While the first story did not set off any radar the second Longo report did.

    The important issue is did Martha Dooley know her phone call with Adam Longo was being recorded and would be broadcast?

  3. Jim Smith Says:

    I cannot directly answer your last question, #9. I simply don’t know because I wasn’t involved in that reporting. But I know Adam to be an experienced, ethical and thorough reporter. You only have to look at the notes he took at the debate to see a good example of that.

    As for your statement, “It would have been a good idea to double check that before sending a film crew out to film an empty parking lot,” I have to ask this: When the sheriff’s personal representative tells us where the sheriff is, how much more checking would we need to make. Is it not reasonable to presume his information is accurate? He was the sheriff’s spokesman.

    Again, WATE did not make up this information, as proven by the fact that another news organization had the same information.

    And though I might be accused of putting too fine a point on this, I want to add that the error about the location of Hutchison’s event was not only corrected in Adam’s 11:00 report. It was also corrected in mid-afternoon in the Web site story and was corrected in reports that aired at 5:00 and 6:00 by Catharyn Campbell.

    Frankly, this all seems like an ad hominem argument. Let’s shoot the messenger rather than consider how a public official is responding to inquiries about conduct.

  4. _Jon Says:

    heh.
    This blog has grown to the point that a commentary on a TV News broadcast gets two conversational responses from the TV station.

    How f-in’ cool is that?

  5. JustinB Says:

    Hutchinson is starting to sound like “Boss Hogg”. Time for his ass to get the boot.

  6. Jim Smith Says:

    UPDATE: I have confirmed with Adam Longo that he told Ms. Dooley he was recording their conversation. In fact, he says, he told her twice and she acknowledged that she understood she was being recorded.

  7. #9 Says:

    Jim wrote:

    UPDATE: I have confirmed with Adam Longo that he told Ms. Dooley he was recording their conversation. In fact, he says, he told her twice and she acknowledged that she understood she was being recorded.

    Thank you for confirming that Jim. It was that segment that disturbed me.

    Jim wrote:

    As for your statement, “It would have been a good idea to double check that before sending a film crew out to film an empty parking lot,” I have to ask this: When the sheriff’s personal representative tells us where the sheriff is, how much more checking would we need to make. Is it not reasonable to presume his information is accurate? He was the sheriff’s spokesman.

    I saw the film of Adam Longo’s reporter’s notebook. It was very brief, the words “Mike Ruble” followed by an arrow, the next line was “Austin East” followed by an arrow. That is not very much detail. Considering what Sandra Clark wrote in the Halls News I wish those notes were more detailed.

    “Essentially, a reporter overheard someone say Hutchison was at an event at Austin-East High School. He called the station which sent a camera crew to A-E. No sheriff. It was a Channel 6 “gotcha” moment.

    But the Sheriff was actually at a cookout for the Austin-East grasscutters, a youth football program, at Vine Middle School. Witnesses included NAACP president Dewey Roberts and former A-E principal Marion Quinn.

    The station that finds it easy to say “We got it first” cannot find words to say “We got it wrong,” so score another win for Shurf Tim. Tyree was simply lost in the dust.

    Is it possible that your reporter did not understand that the Austin-East grasscutters were having a cookout at Vine Middle School? That would be easy to do. From the brief notes in the reporters notebook it seems that could be possible.

    Thanks for finding out about the phone conversation. I think it would have helped if the viewers knew Martha Dooley gave permission for the phone conservation.

  8. Jim Smith Says:

    Believe what you want, #9. You can believe Sandra Clark’s version if you insist. You can create your own theory of what happened if that makes you feel better. It seems you don’t want to accept the facts as we reported them or you haven’t been able to make them fit your opinions of WATE and the sheriff.

    But whatever you believe, shouldn’t you reconcile the fact that WATE and another independent news organization reported essentially the same facts from the forum?

  9. Ralph Says:

    Dear Jim Smith,

    Try to drag other stations into this all you want, but the fact is WATE is the ONLY station that said the Sheriff was at AE High School. WVLT reported

    “The sheriff had a preexisting commitment with a civic organization that was scheduled long before this organization asked him to be here. He tried to move the time, their start time so that he could be here and do this, but he wasn’t able to work it out,” stand-in Mike Ruble said.

    This statement contains direct attribution to Mike Ruble. What needs to be corrected in your opinion?

  10. Jim Says:

    Read the entire article, Ralph. The last line says, “According to the sheriff’s representatives, Hutchison attempted to reschedule the event at Austin East, but was unable.”

  11. #9 Says:

    Believe what you want, #9. You can believe Sandra Clark’s version if you insist. You can create your own theory of what happened if that makes you feel better. It seems you don’t want to accept the facts as we reported them or you haven’t been able to make them fit your opinions of WATE and the sheriff.

    Jim, I have taken several eyewitness tests and it is easy to make mistakes. The fact that WVLT reported the event was at Austin East does not absolve your reporter. I do not know what the facts are. I only know that WATE is too quick to go to air. I still prefer WATE over the other two local television stations. This is not a game of “gotcha” on my part. I believe that all three local stations need better editing.

    When your film crew got to Austin East and saw an empty parking lot shouldn’t someone’s intuition have been alerted? Why is no one here? Is it possible there is a misunderstanding? But no, your station broadcast the empty parking lot. In my opinion it is more important to be correct that to be “first”. WATE did issue a correction but that correction blamed Mike Ruble for giving the “wrong information”. But is that what actually happened?

    My point is simple. The Austin East grasscutters had a cookout at Vine Middle School. Two school names are pertinent to the story. If what was overheard was, “the Sheriff is at an event for the Austin East grasscutters”, is it that difficult to see how that could have been written in the notes as the event was at Austin East?

    On film WATE showed Adam Longo’s notebook. There was no mention of the Austin East grasscutters. There should have been. The point is your station should not have gone to air with the film of the empty parking lot. The rest of the story was fine.

    My point is meant to be constructive criticism. I hope that is how it will be received. I would suggest having your reporters and editors take some of the following tests. There may be better ones geared to reporting but you will understand what I mean if you take any of the following tests.

    http://www.psychology.iastate.edu/faculty/gwells/theeyewitnesstest.html

    http://www.youramazingbrain.org.uk/testyourself/eyewitness.htm

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dna/