Protection racket

It's not often that you'll hear WXYZ investigative reporter Steve Wilson admit that he erred, but the Channel 7 news-hound tells News Hits that maybe — just maybe — he made a mistake in the way he handled one aspect of a recent story involving the wife of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

The thrust of the story, which aired a few weeks back, centered on Carlita Kilpatrick. The original issue reported by WXYZ-TV was that big guy's beloved had her security staff hold a parking spot for her in downtown Birmingham before she arrived one afternoon.

The whole thing got Wilson bothered, if not exactly hot. "If we have a mayor's wife who wants to go shopping, do we want to send people out to hold her a parking space?" he says.

So, what did he do wrong besides spend about six minutes of valuable airtime on a piddling issue?

Turns out his source was state Rep. Shelly Taub, a Bloomfield Hills Republican. Thing is, her name became part of the public record for the story because she complained to the Birmingham city manager's office about someone reserving a public parking space.

Should that kind of source be granted protection by journalists?

Not according to Matt Allen, a former television assignment editor and spokesman for Kilpatrick.

"She is an elected official, and if you're going to be a responsible journalist and tell the whole story, let's get it out there that she is a politician, lifelong Detroit basher and opponent of the city of Detroit," Allen says. "For her to be masked through the tactics of Steve Wilson? It's extremely unfair and unethical."

Considering Wilson's past run-ins with the Kwamster, though, its not like Allen's exactly an unbiased evaluator.

Wilson says he had to keep his promise not to identify Taub as his tipster. At the time, he didn't know about her report to the city and once he tells sources they'll be protected, he honors that.

"If we were to identify the source of every piece of information we get, we wouldn't get much information," he says.

Taub, for her part, says she noticed the police officer reserving the space when she was driving around looking for a place to park while getting nails done.

She told News Hits she wasn't worried about not being able to use the space. Her concern, she says, was the use of taxpayer dollars for Mrs. Kilpatrick's staff to guard parking spots.

"She's the only mayor's wife in the state of Michigan who uses city resources, taxpayer dollars to go shopping," Taub says. "I'm not sure that's how the taxpayers in the state of Michigan want their money spent."

Taub reported the blockage to city officials. Then she called Wilson. "My campaign manager said he would have an interest in it," she told News Hits.

Wilson attached the segment about the parking space to an already-underway report about two Detroit schools: one with police cars outside when students arrive, one without. The one with police cars is where the mayor's son goes. The result was a six-minute segment, an eternity in local, nightly newscasts.

"Both incidents involve the mayor's family. Both involve situations where members of the mayor's family were getting treatment or a level of treatment greater than what you or I could get," Wilson says.

The mayor's office is decidedly pissed.

Allen says the media should leave the mayor's children alone. Besides, other schools have police cars there during busy times, he says, not just where the mayor's 5-year-old son attends.

In addition, according to Allen, the Birmingham parking spot was blocked off for all of 10 minutes right before Mrs. Kilpatrick arrived. And she was not shopping — she was doing a photo shoot for a local magazine to promote the Detroit North American International Auto Show charity preview fundraiser.

Wilson says the debate is causing him to rethink how he reported it.

"If nothing else, this story is a good reminder to me and should be to other journalists as well that maybe sometimes and maybe in this case we too freely give protection to a source," he says. "I could have made a case for saying, 'Your name appeared in a police report. ... You're part of the story.'"

It's a good reminder to us that the mayor, Wilson and this column ought to find something better to worry about.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at [email protected] or
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