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 Post subject: Letter to the AJC concerning the Vick coverage (long)
PostPosted: Fri May 25, 2007 3:44 pm 
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Dear Mr. Mellott:

This letter is in reference to your newspaper’s recurrent unbalanced news coverage of Atlanta Falcons quarterback, Michael Vick. This is a call to rectify it. A major newspaper is suppose to aptly depict and set the tone for a city’s image, especially when reporting on its most prominent, highly recognized citizens. The AJC currently fails on both accounts, particularly regarding Michael Vick. I expect more from a major newspaper.

I seldom see positive or neutral stories in the AJC regarding Michael. The lack of such has nothing to do with his actual off-field activities and everything to do with the manner in which the AJC reports his activities. The AJC seems set on making Michael look guilty of something, anything, with the pervasiveness of its unbalanced, disparate coverage, sensationalistic, inaccurate headlines, and negatively skewed stories regarding him. It’s tiresome and beyond ridiculous.

Every time the AJC prints an adverse, often speculative story about Michael, it not only loses credibility and puts into question the veracity of all its other stories but it also casts Atlanta in a negative light. As Atlanta’s major newspaper, the AJC represents Atlanta. Due to your continuous imbalanced, negative coverage of Michael, you all represent us poorly. It’s no surprise that Atlanta has had trouble securing another Super Bowl bid. The AJC has done very little to correct the negative image it perpetuates of Atlanta.

The disparate news coverage and perceived negative image of Michael constantly perpetuated by the AJC is especially disheartening, disturbing, and inexcusable. What is it about this man that requires the AJC to report something, anything about him daily, no matter how trivial? For instance, is anyone really interested in Michael’s friend inadvertently picking up an airline

worker’s watch while passing through airport security, his half-braided hair perhaps being a new, permanent hairstyle, fishing without a license, or a detailed account and timeline of him missing an airline flight? I honestly don’t think so. The AJC could have put the time and talent wasted pursuing these stories to better use.

It was not so much what the AJC reported inasmuch as the tone and manner in which they were reported. In three of the stories, the AJC magnified Michael’s involvement to make it seem like he was guilty of a committing a felony when in actuality, to date, Michael has been charged with no more than a misdemeanor – a traffic offense and a fishing violation. Also, the AJC reported these stories in the most controversial, sensationalistic manner possible, overtly and subtly casting aspersions on his character. Based on these and many more stories too many to specifically list herein, I began to wonder if the AJC has an issue with Michael and if so, its reason.

I am not one to play the “race” card haphazardly and without merit, especially when it is not applicable. However, given the AJC’s markedly distinct coverage of the Patrick Kerney situation vs. Michael’s situation and since Michael is African American, I had to wonder whether race is the issue.

The AJC reported that a woman who “lived/stayed” at Patrick’s Atlanta residence, a place where he still lives, was raped. The AJC later reported Patrick was actually inside his home “asleep” at the time the rape occurred. Thereafter, the AJC reported that authorities stated that Patrick was not involved and would not be charged. The AJC made absolutely no further mention of Patrick or the incident again. The AJC never hounded Patrick regarding how he could have been in the house even if “asleep” with absolutely no knowledge of the rape. There has been no additional coverage or updates as to the progression of the investigation and/or its final outcome. The AJC made no insinuations of a cover-up or a pay-off. Nothing.

Now, imagine had it been Michael instead of Patrick. I am certain the AJC would have bombarded us with at least two (2) additional weeks of coverage regarding the incident, complete with speculations as to whether he was actually “asleep” at the time of the incident, how could he have not known about the occurrence of a rape at his house while he was present even if he was “asleep,” “unnamed” sources “close” to him and who had known him for years would have mysteriously appeared convinced he was somehow involved in this and other similar incidents, exactly who was in the house at the time of the incident, who the victim was and exactly what was her relationship to Michael, exactly how the perpetrator entered the premises then later managed to escape after the rape without being detained, etc., etc, etc.

Recently, the AJC reported that police found evidence of dog fighting and injured emaciated dogs at a property owned by Michael, a place where he didn’t live and hadn’t visited in awhile. The AJC later reported Michael claimed he was innocent and blamed family members, however, the animal rights groups didn’t believe him and had long suspected him of dog fighting activities. Seemingly in the same breath, the AJC next reported Michael has had too many off-field
infractions, oh but by the way, he raised about $175,000 in association with the United Way for the Virginia Tech community.

The AJC chose to bury the latter semi-positive story on page 2 or 3 of its Sports section while the former negative story was page 1 news. Also, the AJC made sure to mention in the latter semi-positive story that Michael had met with NFL commissioner and had vowed to change his ways, which overshadowed the potential positive impact of the story and implied that the NFL commissioner went out of his way to schedule the meeting mainly to call Michael to task. Shortly thereafter, Virginia authorities reported Michael would most likely not be charged in connection with its investigation at the property he owned, which I somehow missed seeing reported in the AJC. I only located stories stating that the investigation was ongoing in the AJC.

Currently, the AJC is regaling us with stories of Michael’s connection to dog breeding and pit bull raising activities, ownership of dog kennels, being present at the property and knowledge of the property’s dog cages being installed, questioning how could Michael not have known about dog fighting activities at a property he owned, as well as the inexplicable, convenient appearance of “unnamed” sources who are “close” to Michael, having known him for years and other “unnamed” sources via animal rights groups, such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society, both of whom I understand may pay their sources, declaring Michael’s involvement with dog fighting activities. The pervasiveness of negativity and controversial slants, speculative nature, and leaps in logic permeating these stories all constitute the AJC’s deliberate and transparent attempt to malign Michael’s name and character.

For instance, it is not illegal to breed dogs and on the website for the dog kennel owned by Michael it explicitly states that the dogs are not raised for the purpose of fighting. Yet, the AJC’s poll in connection with its story was, “Should Michael Vick be breeding pit bulls?” Prior to this situation, Michael has on numerous occasions expressed how much of an animal lover he is. Yet, the AJC has repeatedly failed to mention this in its coverage of the situation and explore how this characteristic contradicts the dog fighting allegations.

What is most egregious is the AJC’s recycling of national headlines and stories with no independent investigative research of its own and the blatant lack of varied perspectives. Also, since when has quoting “unnamed” sources with no verification become a basis for the truth? Did anyone at the AJC think it strange that an “unnamed” source “supposedly” close to Michael was so willing to share with the media that Michael was involved with dog fighting, information which coincides with the court of public opinion’s that Michael is guilty? Did anyone ever wonder about the “unnamed” source’s motives? Did anyone think it of paramount importance to discover the name of the source and verify the accuracy of the supposed source’s information before mindlessly printing the story in the AJC?

Did anyone at the AJC think that the “unnamed” source on whom PETA and the Humane Society are relying just may not be telling the truth? Did anyone question PETA and the Humane Society to ascertain the accuracy of their source’s information? Did anyone find it odd that although PETA and the Humane Society have supposedly long suspected Michael of dog fighting, they are both just now coming forward with such allegations? Did anyone ever suspect that PETA and the Humane Society might go to any lengths necessary to capitalize on Michael’s situation in an effort to further its own agenda and generate more publicity and empathy for their cause, thus playing the media like a fiddle?

The foregoing are just a few questions that crossed my mind and I am most certainly not alone. Yet, I never saw any of these obvious, logical questions and perspectives posed or explored in the AJC’s coverage of this situation. Thus, based on the AJC’s conspicuously divergent coverage of the Michael and Patrick situations, race definitely seems to have played a factor, subconsciously or consciously. However, then I recalled the AJC’s coverage of the Jonathan Babineaux incident.

The AJC reported a dog was found dead at the Jonathan’s Atlanta residence and his girlfriend accused him of killing the dog. Although Jonathan was actually charged with felony animal cruelty, a charge which is still pending, the AJC provided only 2 to 4 days of news coverage regarding this incident, an incident which may have a detrimental impact on the Atlanta Falcons considering recent injuries. However, the AJC made no further mention of it except a brief blurb in connection with Michael’s situation.

Maybe, it’s a socioeconomic issue. While Jonathan, like Michael, is African American, he does not earn nearly the amount of money Michael does. Let’s be honest. There are those that seriously dislike seeing an African American man, regardless of his profession, make over a $100 million, especially if he’s young, an athlete, and doesn’t fit their idea of a multi-millionaire. This is the underlying reason why so many people are so quick to believe the worst of Michael and the AJC continually perpetuates it. Their first thought is he doesn’t really deserve it. On the contrary, Michael deserves every single penny of his earnings not only for his football accomplishments but also for the utter nonsense with which the media makes him face, like the “water bottle” fiasco.

The AJC definitely incited and was the catalyst of the rest of the media’s knee-jerk reaction to this situation. Its coverage of it was the laziest, most inept, discrepant example of journalism I’ve ever seen. The AJC’s most recent smear campaign and assault on Michael’s character is merely an attempt to recover face from its imprudent reaction and flagrant mishandling of the “water bottle” fiasco. After the dust cleared, I was forced to wonder whether someone at the AJC, someone in an executive position, has a personal vendetta against Michael.

The AJC reported that a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent in Miami retrieved a water bottle Michael had been carrying from the trash because she smelled a “funny odor” emanating from it. Upon closer examination, a secret compartment was discovered in the water bottle. If the TSA agent actually smelled a “funny odor” or suspected the bottle contained an illegal substance, shouldn’t she have detained Michael and stopped him from boarding his flight? At the very least, shouldn’t he have been questioned? Wouldn’t not doing so have violated TSA regulations? Instead, Michael was allowed to wait for close to 2 hours for his plane in the airport and no one from TSA ever bothered to question him. I never saw this reported in the AJC. It would have taken only five minutes of investigative work to uncover.

Why was Michael’s bottle really retrieved from the trash? If the “funny odor” was so strong that it caused one TSA agent to retrieve the bottle from the trash, why didn’t the TSA agent who initially received the bottle react to the smell and detain Michael in the security area? Wouldn’t not doing so have violated TSA regulations? Once the bottle was thrown in the trash that should have been the end of it. That it wasn’t suggests some tomfoolery transpired between the TSA agents in response to Michael’s celebrity. Most likely, the TSA agent wanted to keep the bottle because it had belonged to Michael. Whatever occurred was most likely a violation of TSA regulation. News flash, AJC! Did anyone at the AJC ever think that the tape was erased to cover up the agents’ violation of TSA regulations, not to cover up anything Michael did as continually implied by the AJC?

None of the aforementioned lines of inquiry were ever posed or explored in the AJC. Thus, instead of seeking to get the story right, the AJC sought to get the story first, even if inaccurate, and in the process led a nationwide assassination of Michael’s character. Even after Miami officials explicitly stated no illegal substance was found and therefore, the case was closed, the AJC in all its brilliance and genius continued to keep the story alive (sometimes following its other media cohorts but mostly leading the pack) for an additional two (2) weeks.

The AJC’s stories ranged from various AJC Sports Reporters backpedaling from previous statements that the Atlanta Falcons should release Michael to examining use of the term “thug” in connection with Michael to insinuations of some alleged cover-up and/or pay-off by or on Michael’s behalf. Why the additional two (2) weeks of coverage? Was it all about the AJC merely attempting to recover face, sell more newspapers, stir up more controversy, or even worse, merely to give people something to talk about?

On a recent flight I took, I noticed literally hundreds of water bottles in the trash and lining the counters in the airport security area, which indicated that many people were not aware of or had forgotten about the new water prohibition regulation. However, Michael was made to look stupid for carrying water and criminal for carrying a water bottle with a secret compartment. Such secret compartment items are, by the way, extremely popular at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. Many people purchase such items for their novelty and/or to hide valuable items.

However, when Michael later stated that he used the water bottle to hide jewelry in it to prevent theft, the AJC went out of their way to make him look like a liar and to appear guilty. The AJC chose to ask the Miami prosecutor whether there had been jewelry in the bottle, knowing full well the bottle would not have been thrown away then forwarded to the prosecutor’s office with jewelry still inside it. Michael would have retrieved any jewelry from the bottle before it was thrown away if he had used it to carry jewelry on this particular occasion. However, if someone at the AJC had really been listening they would have realized that Michael never explicitly stated there was jewelry in the bottle at the time he went through airport security. He merely stated he used the bottle to hide his jewelry in it to prevent theft, such as during hotel stays. However, the AJC never pointed this out. Why? It seems they failed to do so to make Michael look like a liar and to make him look guilty of committing some crime.

This was also a matter of lazy journalism. It was easier to follow the rest of the media crowd and make Michael look guilty rather than innocent. The AJC could have chosen to thoroughly examine the facts and point out the inconsistencies in the TSA agents’ accounts. At the very least, the AJC could have neutrally reported the facts without the negative slants, insinuations and opinions. The AJC did neither. The AJC had a choice and it chose to take the low road.

As a result, a lot of deep-seated prejudices, hidden biases and preconceived notions were revealed and it was an extremely ugly, disturbing, and sad sight to behold. Racially charged comments and innuendos were thrown about with no hesitation and little forethought. Further, the AJC instigated a lot of it and at times, appeared to revel in it.

To date, Michael has been called everything but a child of God and before any evidence is weighed, the court of public opinion with the AJC leading the way continues to find him guilty. Gone is the “presumption of innocence” upon which our legal system was found. As far as the AJC and other media are concerned, the applicable standard for Michael is guilty before proven innocent.

Also, a newspaper’s Editorial Section is supposed to balance the unbalanced news coverage of its other sections by providing a voice for its readers. Yet, even in this section, I seldom see positive pieces regarding Michael. Positive opinions regarding Michael seemed to get inexplicably filtered from the AJC. For instance, I previously forwarded a letter to the Editorial Editor along with an offer to write a positive piece regarding Michael. Oddly, I never received a response. Is the AJC truly only interested in publishing adverse, controversial stories about Michael?

Again, I ask, does someone at the AJC have a personal vendetta against Michael? Do folks at the AJC think he’s hiding something because he’s such a private, reflective, and introverted person? I know many want to know what’s beneath the surface, what he’s thinking, and what he’s feeling, etc. But, what gives you or any of us the right to be privy to someone’s innermost thoughts and feelings, and every private, intimate life detail then judge and condemn them when they don’t willingly open up or aren’t as forthcoming as we’d like them to be? Nothing. Nothing gives us the right.

That Michael makes millions of dollars, is in the limelight and has been labeled a “role model,” neither justifies or excuses the media’s deplorable behavior or gives them carte blanche to malign his name and cast aspersions on his character at will. True, role models are expected to and should adhere to certain standards. But so should the media, including the AJC.

I know Michael is something of an enigma to most folks and I’m aware he probably hasn’t made getting to know him easy for you. He seems to have a wall up that he seldom lets others outside his circle past. Given the disgusting and embarrassing way the media circles and hovers around him like preying vultures and/or hounds and gawks at him like he’s some animal in a side show, it’s completely understandable why he has a wall up and why he shies away from the media.

Also, because of the media’s inexcusable, exploitative treatment of him, I don’t blame Michael for constantly being suspicious and wary of the media. Nevertheless, it is part of your job to get past the wall in a respectful manner. You’re “reporters.” You are not only to get the story first but also to get the story right. If there is something which you don’t know or are unsure, you’re suppose to ask the right questions to uncover it, to uncover the truth.

This includes a person’s true character. You are not to speculate, make up stuff and fill in the blanks based on your experiences, speculations, biases, and preconceived notions. However, a lot of “reporters” do just that. In doing so, they cross the line and are no longer reporting the facts or the truth. They’re reporting fiction.

At the end of the day, be it a race, socioeconomic issue, a personal vendetta, or all three, I am not certain of the AJC’s exact issue with Michael but something is definitely amiss. Just as Michael has vowed to change for the better and others will hold him accountable accordingly, it is now the AJC’s turn to change for the better and be held accountable for its actions.

If there is truly nothing new to report about a person or situation, then don’t report anything. A lot of AJC reporters, e.g., Mark Bradley, Jeff Schultz, Terence Moore, apparently think it OK to rehash and piecemeal past events, add some trivial fact, put a more negative, controversial spin on it than before, then pawn it off as the new story of the day. This practice makes the AJC no better than the tabloids. Your readership is not stupid! Instead of being like the tabloids that slant facts to stir the most controversy then affix sensationalistic headlines, the AJC must do better. This is a call for more fair, balanced and objective reporting overall at the AJC.

I’m aware of the financial difficulties the AJC is currently experiencing but to continually, purposely and maliciously malign Michael’s name and character with no thought of the psychological warfare and emotional assault on Michael, his family, and his friends, all in an effort to sell more newspapers is reprehensible and unconscionable. There are more ethical, humane ways to boost your bottom line. Your job first and foremost should be to report the truth, not to increase your bottom line.

I know reporters must meet some stringent deadlines, which causes some of them to reduce their investigative journalism to a Google search. However, they should be given ample time to perform their own independent research and investigation to uncover the truth so they are not forced to follow blindly their media cohorts. Then, once the truth has been uncovered, report the truth and let truth speak for itself. Consistently report the truth and the facts (only the facts) fairly, honestly, accurately, and objectively minus the opinions, biases, and continual rehashing of past unrelated events. Affix accurate, objective headlines to your stories, not salacious ones. Allow readers to draw their own conclusions.

More importantly, the AJC (and other media) should be more responsible, humane and sensitive. Responsible journalists do not compromise a person’s right to a presumption of innocence by publicly declaring them guilty before trial. Also, always remember this is someone’s child, mother, father, brother, sister, husband, or wife about whom you’re reporting. Reporting in any other manner is a disservice to your profession and to your readership.

Furthermore, to date, the AJC has never admitted it may have jumped the gun regarding the “water bottle” fiasco, never admitted it may have been wrong, and never issued an apology. Shame on you! If Michael is man enough to apologize for his mistakes, surely the AJC can pay him the same respect and apologize to him after it has deliberately and maliciously maligned his character. That, to date, the AJC has not done so is extremely irresponsible.

While I’m not certain of the AJC’s motives for its unbalanced reporting regarding Michael Vick, I must ask what the AJC desires as its end result. Do you want Michael to leave Atlanta, leave the Atlanta Falcons, and/or leave the National Football League (NFL)? Or, is it the AJC’s intent to cause him emotional stress and mental turmoil? If you were in his place and your lives were held up to the light of public scrutiny, how would each of you fare? How would you like it? I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t. I’m also willing to bet you would crack under the pressure.

I urge you all to think long and hard about the questions I’ve raised herein because this is more than just about selling some newspapers, being the South’s largest newspaper, or giving folks something to talk about. This is about common human decency and morality. More importantly, this is someone’s life you’re screwing around with. Michael’s not just a name. He’s a human being just like the rest of us. Never, ever, ever forget that. I urge and respectfully request the AJC, especially the above-referenced AJC reporters and their supervising editors, do a gut check, act like human beings and treat Michael like one too.

With printed newspaper publications on the brink of extinction and the plethora of other more reliable, fairly balanced news sources, both locally and nationally, I am going elsewhere for my news and am not renewing my AJC subscription until the AJC corrects its imbalanced news coverage of Michael. I realize I’m only one person. However, I am also encouraging my family, friends, and others to do likewise, which may not prove difficult given the many grumblings of discontent with the AJC, both internally and externally.

Cordially yours,

Yolonda L. Cameron
Atlanta Falcons Season Ticket Holder
and Former AJC Subscriber


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PostPosted: Fri May 25, 2007 10:39 pm 
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Very well written letter. Raises a ton of good points.

One thing Mrs. Cameron forgot to mention is that perhaps the AJC's "personal vendetta" against Vick is football-related.

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