News - WSB-TV

For behavior that's earned it some karmic justice

The right to privacy is one Americans hold dear, so it wasn't surprising that there were strong reactions to news that DeKalb police had run unwarranted background checks on at least a dozen local politicians and journalists. "Alarming," said one victim. "An abuse of power," said another. The publisher of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where two reporters are apparent victims, said he was "deeply troubled." Many suspect the hand of embattled DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones, who has denied any involvement and called for an investigation.

Among the growing list of the spied-upon is Richard Belcher, an investigative journalist at WSB-TV, which is owned by Cox Enterprises, the parent company of the AJC. But where the AJC bosses have loudly condemned the unauthorized background checks, management at WSB has been conspicuously quiet on the subject. That makes sense; if WSB officials spoke out against conducting improper background checks on private citizens — even its own reporter — it would be the height of hypocrisy.

Why? Because WSB itself blazed the trail in improper background checks two years ago when it asked one of its part-time security officers — a full-time Atlanta cop — to run the tags of a car that had been parked in front of the station with signs reading, "Shame on WSB." The car belonged to Barron Segar, who was protesting WSB's firing of a gay reporter. WSB even called Segar's neighbors to check up on him.

In May, Segar sued the station, claiming it had violated his right to privacy. In July, lawyers for WSB asked a judge to throw out the case, saying that "it is well established that an individual enjoys no right of privacy in his license plate information." That is disturbing, coming from a news outlet supposedly looking out for our civil liberties. While license plates are, by definition, designed to identify the car owner, that's something for police to do on legitimate business, and not at the whim of some private citizen or business. Let's hope the case goes to trial, and that a judge agrees that what WSB did is no better than what has happened in DeKalb.

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