In December, I received a surprising e-mail from Beverly Isom, the mayor's press secretary. We'd just published the first installment of "BMF: Hip-hop's shadowy empire," a three-part exposé by Senior Writer Mara Shalhoup on the Black Mafia Family.
Isom argued that the story was "inaccurate" and "seedy." She accused CL of "creative writing." As it turned out, her anger hinged on the absence of one word that she, and presumably the mayor, believed should have been in a tease to the following week's article.
Among other things, we'd let readers know that the next story would recount "a double homicide with a connection to the mayor's son-in-law." Isom said that was wrong because since 2005, Tremayne Graham (who also is the subject of this week's cover story) was the mayor's "former son-in-law."
It's a point worthy of disagreement. As both the series' second installment and Shalhoup's story this week explain, Graham was at the time of the killings the mayor's son-in-law. So it's accurate not to use the word "former" in that context. On the other hand, one could argue that it's crucial for readers to know he's no longer the mayor's son-in-law – a point Shalhoup made clear in the article.
But the dispute over one word has more to do with a bigger issue: This is a case where a high-profile crime intersected with the family life of a public figure. It's a murky area for the press, as well as for that public figure. It's particularly difficult when that public figure is one who, in my opinion, merits respect, affection and even good wishes.
Read the article, however, and I think you'll agree that it's an unavoidably public story, both because of the severity of the crimes and because of, well, some lingering questions.
The mayor has had little to say about Graham, other than to unleash her press office to attack the messengers. The messengers in this case are CL and Shalhoup, who's among the most rigorous researchers of any reporter I've ever known.
This might be a good place to point out that Shalhoup's colleagues selected her last week as the Atlanta Press Club's Journalist of the Year for 2006 – the highest local honor bestowed on journalists in the metro area.
I'm immensely proud of Shalhoup's achievement. I also think her trademark combination of energetic reporting together with responsibility and restraint are evidenced in this week's story. But you're a better judge of that. After you read it, let us know what you think with a comment online to this story or to the cover story itself.