M.L. Elrick has a Pulitzer to his name for his coverage, with the Free Press’ Jim Schaefer, of Kwame Kilpatrick’s illegal exploits. When it comes to local TV news reporters, there usually isn’t much to celebrate beyond the timeless hairdos and gimmicky headlines, but Elrick isn’t exactly a normal TV news reporter. He’s, you know, smart, and an actual working journalist. We’re fans, so we grabbed the Fox 2 reporter for a few minutes to talk about covering Cushingberry and the rest of the low-level criminals that make up Detroit’s political ranks.
Metro Times: Glad we could finally hook up to chat. It’s been awhile to get this cleared through corporate Fox PR. [A delightful Fox PR representative named Cindy is on the call with us from New York, listening to our dumb inside jokes to, ostensibly, make sure we don’t say anything too nasty about Roger Ailes.]
M.L. Elrick: You ever wait to get your taxes back? This is fast.
MT: We’ll take what we can get.
Elrick: That’s Detroit’s motto.
MT: Is there a better time to be a journalist in Detroit covering this city?
Elrick: Given that it’s a time when they’re laying people off and cutting salaries, I’d say there are better times. This has always been one of the best news towns in America. You could build a silver and gold city on the news here.
MT: What about the coverage of the bankruptcy? It’s such a huge, sprawling, complicated topic. Something monumental seems to happen every day.
Elrick: I think the coverage of the bankruptcy has been a shortcoming; there’s too much conventional wisdom, too much acceptance of the status quo, too little of the media challenging the orthodoxy of what we’re being given right now. It’s utterly outrageous. City workers are being told to accept less pay and fewer resources to make up the difference of their idiot employers. There was a contract between them and the people, and the city isn’t holding up their end of the bargain. I kind of feel like it’s the newspapers and reporters who need to speak for them. There’s a kinship with those people. My dad’s a retired cop who I don’t want living in my basement.
MT: What do you think of the national coverage and the national narrative being told about Detroit? It seems like on one hand they’re finally paying attention, but on the other that there’s this doom and gloom that’s cherry-picked from the pile.
Elrick: I think it’s interesting. They don’t care. They really don’t. If it doesn’t cost them anything, if the Feds said there’s no bailout for Detroit, the country just fails to care. We’re that poor slob with four flat tires and no jack. They might stare and be mildly amused, but then they are going to go about their business. I think that the true Detroit story comes from Detroiters having to help themselves. If you’re looking for people we elected to help out, you’re looking in the wrong place.
MT: Speaking of elected officials not helping us out, you’ve been on the Cush train for awhile now.
Elrick: Cush is interesting. With the move to districts, it was supposed to be that you know your constituents better. I run into people all the time who say they can’t believe he got elected. I have no problem with him being elected. The notion that the media didn’t do their job on background on him, that’s a fair complaint to make. At the same time, I’ve found dozens of former clients and colleagues who knew that he had problems and none of them ever called us before he was elected. It’s a democracy. The responsibility is not just on the media to hold them accountable. But the people … this election has caused some people some concerns very early. This is looking a lot like the Detroit that got locked up in federal prison.
MT: Where do you keep your Pulitzer?
Elrick: It came with a pay cut, so I’m not necessarily all that excited about it. The Pulitzer people were jerks. They wouldn’t even put our names on it. It’s in my living room. My other awards are in a box somewhere. I’m glad we got it. It’s like every award: Every award is bullshit unless you win it because it’s all subjective. There’s some great work that doesn’t get recognized. To think that the work is only important because someone gave you a piece of shit crystal from Tiffany’s, that’s ridiculous. The important thing is the work Jim and I did — city hall was exposed, people went to jail. Having people say, ‘I didn’t know this was happening and I want to do something about it,’ was gratifying. I don’t think we go to the second part where people say, ‘I don’t want this to happen again and I want to do something more.’
MT: Who would you point to among Detroit politicians or leaders as someone doing yeoman’s work amongst the crap?
Elrick: I would say no one I can think of, and we should be looking at all of them more without exception. I say this as a guy who for the first year of his administration thought Kwame was going to be the greatest mayor of my lifetime. I’ve learned not to believe anything I haven’t had a chance to verify myself. Fortunately, I now work for employers who encourage me to do this. You hear that, Cindy?
MT: Why do you say ‘now work’?
Elrick: My current employers support the work that I do unequivocally. They’re not afraid of who I’m going to anger. They might be afraid the story’s too long and won’t be ready on time, but I can’t think of any news operations I’d rather work at. If you want a comparison of some, you can look at my résumé.
MT: Why do these guys always end up wanting to punch you? Lots of physical altercations here.
Elrick: It’s not that scary. Most of the politicians and bully boys in this town are play gangsters. They want the massages and the money and all the first-class treatment, but they’re not doing the work to get it. And they’re certainly not doing the hard work it would be to kick my ass.
MT: You could probably hold your own.
Elrick: Everyone tells me I’m taller in person. I don’t know how short they think I am. But I’m not looking for any fights. People who are afraid of reporters probably should be; that means trouble for the rest of us. All we’re trying to do is get answers from them. To not answer a reporter’s question — how big of a coward are you?
MT: What do you think of the current bankruptcy agreement beyond what you mentioned before?
Elrick: I haven’t looked at it so I can’t say. I’ve learned over the years that unless you look over something very closely, whatever you’re going to say is just a burp. I’m too polite for that. It’s one of my rare graces.
MT: What are your others?
Elrick: I don’t know. I guess it’s my only grace.