The Union Recorder

March 10, 2010

Eye of national news brings headaches, disdain for locals

Jessica Luton
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — The reporters came in droves.

Beginning Friday, they trickled in, camping out in front of Capital City all weekend, talking with townspeople, businesses owners and students and digging for information and perspective on the town known to many as home.

By noon Monday, an expansive group of reporters lulled around in front of the Milledgeville Police Department and more than eight news trucks lined up in the parking lot next door.

Two to three MPD employees manned the front of the building for much of the afternoon, instructing news crews and reporters on where to park, and where to mark their spots for the press conference.

All the while, regular business carried on at the police department as normal as possible, as residents dropped by to pick up incident reports and pay parking tickets.

MPD Deputy Chief Richard Malone said he was glad to be back in his normal role, taking care of traffic issues and making sure the logistics of the Monday afternoon press conference went well.

“We’ve opened up some additional parking in the bottom portion of the parking deck for media, now that court is over, and they wanted to put cords across the roadway, which is not possible,” he said.

Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright said the events of the last five days have been chaotic, with the phone ringing off the hook and more than just inquiries about famed NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the focus of a local sexual assault allegation.

In the last five days, an onslaught of cases have proven to keep the district attorney’s office busy including an investigation into a murdered 3-year-old in Jones County, a federal game warden being shot and killed by a hunter in Jasper County, a local homicide investigation on Pennington Road Monday — not to mention — the Roethlisberger investigation.

“It’s been unbelievable lately,” he said. “We’ve been putting in at least 12 hours a day. We worked all weekend, but we will survive.”

At the end of the press conference, which proved rather uneventful as law enforcement is still in the early stages of the investigation, the media left town, with just a few lingering by mid-morning Tuesday.

Throughout the media ordeal, Milledgeville residents, local college students and downtown business owners have seen their faces on TV, their names in print and the city of Milledgeville portrayed in what many may feel is a less than desirable light by some media outlets.

Kyle Hood, a Georgia College alumnus and former local resident, was appalled by an article published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the weekend and felt the need to speak out.

The article at issue, titled “Roethlisberger has become talk of Milledgeville town,” was posted on Saturday and has since been removed from the Web site.

The article depicted Milledgeville with a description that referenced Piggly Wiggly, a sign advertising beer kegs and a man vomiting out of a moving truck as it cruised through downtown Milledgeville Friday night.

Hood’s lengthy letter to the editor went on to make points about the way the city was portrayed.

“There need be no mention of what passersby did while hanging out the window of their vehicle; there was also no reason to include the utterly slanderous description of the City of Milledgeville,” the letter reads. “This fine city and the people that inhabit it are more deserving than that. They are, despite what many in the metro Atlanta area think, not the drunken, redneck denizens portrayed in the piece.”

Hood stood up for the city, describing its many great qualities and historical pertinence.

Hood also requested that the AJC retract the story and issue an apology to the City of Milledgeville, businesses and residents.

Hood may speak for many locals who feel the same way and are fighting to keep Milledgeville’s reputation intact in spite of all the media attention, he told The Union-Recorder Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t think that what I did should be considered out of the ordinary, but it seems as if we have become numb to such disrespectful language in our society,” he said. “I was glad that I could be of assistance in spreading the good word about Milledgeville to the rest of the nation even though I have moved away. It is only right that someone stood up to champion small towns. I have had tremendous response from those that were made aware of my letter to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but I am only one voice in the growing crowd. The crux of my letter spoke to the fact that such poor taste in media coverage overshadowed a truly sensitive matter.”

Milledgeville MainStreet Executive Director Belinda Washlesky, said that the news blitz has created a lot of curiosity about Milledgeville.

“It seems to me that it has created a lot of curiosity,” she said. “While my heart goes out to the parties involved, at the same time, this man was not from our community, and I don’t think there was anything different that our community could have done to prevent this from happening. I have gotten several calls, but a lot people are hearing our name on the national news, and what I’m hoping is that the positive that may come out of this is that people will go online and decide to check it out and see what Milledgeville really has to offer.”

In addition, with the spotlight on Milledgeville, the AJC has retracted its article and plans to do an article on what Milledgeville is truly all about, said Washlesky.

“I don’t see it doing any long-term damage and I was told that the AJC has removed the article and they will be doing an article on the history of the city of Milledgeville.”