The local FOX television affiliate, known for its in-your-face style of ambush journalism, found itself on the other side of the media equation last week as it ducked questions about a Channel 2 news crew accused of hurling homophobic slurs and aiming a few swats at a gay Detroiter.
It appears that the self-described Problem Solvers aren’t quite so aggressive when they're the ones accused of causing a problem. The best station officials could muster was a limp “no comment” when questioned by Metro Times about the allegations — even though the station has filed charges of its own in the incident.
The controversy began Friday, Oct. 26, when FOX 2 TV reporter Charles Eric Leaf and cameraman Marcus Dion Myers ventured into the Cass Corridor to interview residents of the Blackstone Hotel on the 4400 block of Second, near Wayne State University.
The station has done several stories about the hotel, playing up the fact that some residents are angry about being kicked out and the lack of heat. And though it would be easy to peg this as a classic gentrification battle, which critics say is exactly the way FOX has portrayed it, the issue is actually much more complicated than that (see News Hits).
So when Sebastian Graham, owner of the nearby Flying Dutchman gift shop, saw the FOX news van roll in, he let them know his displeasure with the way the station has been covering the story, saying that only one side of the issue was being aired.
“I did yell at them,” said Graham. “I’ll admit it. I told them they were only looking for a sound bite for the evening news.” After making his point, said Graham, he went back into his shop.
Three other area residents, including 20-year-old Justin Mack, also wanted to express their displeasure with Channel 2. When the news crew had completed its interviews, Mack approached Leaf.
“I told him I thought his station was racist and bigoted,” Mack said during an interview a week after the incident, explaining that his anger stemmed from the station’s coverage of the war in Afghanistan as well as its coverage of the midtown-Cass Corridor area. “Leaf crossed his arms in front of him and said, ‘Is that so?’ That’s when I took an egg and tried to smash it on his head.”
Mack threw a second egg before running toward the back of the commercial-residential building that houses the Flying Dutchman.
Mack’s friend, Taryn Boyd, 18, said she threw two more eggs. A third friend, who would only identify himself as Steve, threw a fifth. Boyd and Steve said before they fled their eggs hit the heads of the reporter and cameraman.
“We would’ve used vegan cream pies, but all we had was eggs,” Mack said.
Graham said he was closing shop when he heard three loud bangs on the front door. He said he knew it was the news crew and thought they were going to ask him about his earlier remarks. He wasn’t prepared for what he alleges happened next.
According to the police report — a copy of which Graham provided to Metro Times — Leaf and Myers tried shoving their way through Graham’s door looking for one of the egg throwers.
Graham said afterward that a Blackstone resident accompanied the news crew, though that is not mentioned in the police report.
Graham, according to the police report, alleged that Leaf called him a “cocksucker” and a “faggot.” He also alleged that he was hit in the face by the news crew during an ensuing scuffle. Graham said he kicked one of the alleged attackers, and that was enough to get them to back off, allowing him to shut the door and call police.
Graham says he is pressing charges against the news crew, because he wants the incident to be on the permanent record of Leaf and Myers.
“They’re supposed to be investigative reporters,” said Graham. “All they had to do was act like reporters. I think they should be held to a higher standard.”
FOX 2 is pressing countercharges against Graham, according to police.
Leaf did not respond to messages from Metro Times seeking comment. Likewise, station management is refusing to answer questions about the incident.
“We have no comment, and it’s a company policy not to comment until the investigation is complete,” said Jeff Murri, general manager of Channel 2. He said there is no tape of the incident, and responded “no comment” when asked about the status of the reporter and cameraman.
At least one expert on journalism ethics says “no comment” is an unacceptable response for FOX to make.
“Journalists are in the business of finding information and asking people questions,” said James Carey, professor of journalism and ethics at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. “Just to say to another journalistic organization, ‘We’re not going to talk about it,’ is to violate the implicit contract that journalists have with readers and viewers. … How can such an organization expect people to feel under any obligation to answer their inquiries when they won’t answer themselves when charges are brought against them, in one sense or another?
“I really don’t have much tolerance for that, at all. And I don’t think any of us should.”
Without hearing FOX’s side or seeing the reports it made to police, the only thing certain at this point is that an altercation did occur.
“Most definitely, both sides agree there was a scuffle,” Detroit Police Det. Ronald Murphy of the 13th precinct said. “But they both blame each other.”
Although the complaint reports are public documents, the Detroit Police Department is refusing to release them.
Meanwhile, the egg throwers say they will come forward to give statements to the police, so that nobody could accuse Graham of being a party to the ambush.
“I’m not just some leftist drone,” said Mack. “I’m a concerned citizen and a concerned member of this community.” Murphy said he plans to deliver results of the investigation to the Wayne County Prosecutor this week.
Maybe then, FOX will decide to give us the news.Lisa M. Collins is a Metro Times staff writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org