On Thursday, July 24, WGAC radio personality and Metro Spirit columnist Austin Rhodes and Jail Report publisher Greg Rickabaugh had a pithy exchange on Rhodes’ radio show over Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree’s short answer to a question involving Rhodes’ call for the arrest of the 16-year-old who threatened him after Rhodes discussed the drive-by shooting on Agerton Lane.
The question, which ran as part of the Roundtree’s weekly question and answer section in the Jail Report, was submitted by someone calling himself Harvey Hall.
“I want to know why pseudo celebrities can get threats documented and the perp arrested over FB threats, but us normal citizens have to wait until someone actually commits the act they threaten you with in order to get anything done,” Hall wrote.
Roundtree’s response? “Amen, brother Hall!”
Rhodes, as you might expect, was not amused.
“This is a type of leader that governs the way he wants to and not the way the law requires him to govern,” Rhodes said. “And it’s somebody like [former Ugandan president] Idi Amin, and that ain’t a good thing.”
After acknowledging that Rickabaugh was hardly in a position to criticize Roundtree, who is a columnist, Rhodes asked him what kind of comments he’d received over the story.
“The thing that I get from this – the Sheriff has been very kind, I think, in the last year and a half, to take the questions, as crazy as they get.”
Really? That’s what he takes away from this? That the Sheriff is being kind?
This is Roundtree – unfiltered and without his spokespeople – and however you interpret it, it’s a long way from being kind.
But it gets better. Rickabaugh follows this up with the following gem: “I think you’re reading a lot more into this, and it’s really hard for him to say ‘Amen, brother Hall’ because the question is so lengthy you don’t know what he’s amening.”
In a way, in a small way, you’ve got to feel bad for Rickabaugh. Thursday should have been a banner day for him. Later that night, on an episode of Investigation Discovery’s Southern Fried Homicide, he was interviewed about the Reinaldo Rivera case. Though Investigation Discovery is kind of an off-Broadway version of the Discovery Channel, it’s still national TV recognition, yet instead of basking in glory of that, he was dealing with a series of embarrassments that started with his handling of the Scott Hudson story, where he published the former independent on-air personality’s extremely self serving explanation of his arrest on July Fourth for operating a vessel under the influence and not wearing a personal floatation device.
Why was this an issue? Because Rickabaugh has long argued that his paper, which publishes mug shots and makes fun of criminals, does not give preferential treatment to anyone.
Then comes this, an on-air tussle with Rhodes, who has done nothing but funnel traffic Rickabaugh’s way. Of course his only other choice was to throw Roundtree under the bus, which would not have been easy for a number of different reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Roundtree’s column is pretty much the only place the Sheriff actually speaks directly to the public. That elevates the stature of his paper even as it lowers the stature of Roundtree.
“I will say – and I wrote this in a column soon after he was elected – you didn’t give him a chance from Day One,” Rickabaugh added.
Rickabaugh was certainly right about that. There has been bad blood between Rhodes and Roundtree since before Day One. For one thing, it makes for good radio – and make no mistake, all of this makes for good radio – and for another, Rhodes is simply putting public words to what many have said, and continue to say, privately.
And Roundtree’s flippant buddying up to a critic of Rhodes’ handling of the threat against him and his family is a perfect example of what Roundtree’s opponents feared. This is the same Richard Roundtree that basically told the black community early in his campaign that they could either get on his train or stand in front of it.
So why is Rickabaugh defending him, and to Rhodes, who has been such an ally in promoting his business?
Rickabaugh tried to make things better later in the interview by saying that his wife’s worries about the safety of their family prevented him from posting a page of Facebook photos featuring Augusta kids with money and drugs and guns.
Rickabaugh and his paper are certainly playing a dangerous game, but if you think the only people he’s putting at risk are himself, his family and maybe his employees, think again.
Last week, in a rush to regurgitate news of Stephanie Harris’ arrest at GRU Hospital for taping closed the mouth of her 2-year-old son, who was born with Down syndrome, Rickabaugh not only published the name of the little boy, preserving in the long, perfect memory of the Internet the fact that he was abused and that his mother – his own mother – taped his mouth closed, he published the name of the nurse who brought this incident to light.
Rickabaugh did remove the nurses’ name after it was pointed out to him – two hours after he was notified and only after explaining that defendants and their lawyers have easy and legal access to reports that would include their accuser’s name.
One more time, really?
Of course the defendant and her lawyer will eventually have that information, but in the heat of the moment does it really make sense to hand over that information just because you’re not prohibited from doing it?
The mother is a woman capable of taping her child’s mouth shut, after all. And what about her friends, who might have a knee jerk reaction against her accuser similar to the one the 16-year-old boy had against Rhodes?
Is it really responsible journalism to give them a place to vent their anger?