Under the Dome

NCDOT spokesman asks TV reporter to remove courtroom quote from report

Matthew Arnold, an attorney for Interstate 77 tolling opponents, made courtroom statements last week that an N.C. Department of Transportation spokesman said were false. NCDOT requested that a Charlotte TV station remove Arnold’s comment from its story.
Matthew Arnold, an attorney for Interstate 77 tolling opponents, made courtroom statements last week that an N.C. Department of Transportation spokesman said were false. NCDOT requested that a Charlotte TV station remove Arnold’s comment from its story. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

A spokesman for the N.C. Department of Transportation asked Charlotte TV station WBTV to delete a quote from its news report about a courtroom hearing.

The station reported Monday night about the request from Mike Charbonneau, a former reporter for WRAL-TV in Raleigh who now coordinates communications for the DOT. Charbonneau wrote that the courtroom quote from an opponent of tolling on Interstate 77 was “completely false” and that DOT would “respectfully ask that you remove this quote from the article and soundbite from the package.”

WBTV’s news director said he wouldn’t comply with the request. “In my 42 years of broadcast journalism, I can’t think of another time that a government official requested we remove something from a story that was said in open court,” Dennis Milligan said in his station’s report. “We fairly and accurately represented both sides of the story.”

Reporters occasionally get feedback from state government officials and political campaign staffers who suggest that stories published online should have additional information or a different headline.

For example, Gov. Pat McCrory’s press secretary, Graham Wilson, recently objected to a News & Observer headline on a story about a legislator objecting to a traffic stop. The headline read “NC legislator says troopers accused him of stealing car because he’s black.”

“I really have to take issue on the headline on your story on Rep. Brockman,” Wilson wrote. “If you watch the video no one ever accused him of stealing a car. ... Can we get that headline changed before you go to print?”

Neither Brockman nor the troopers mention accusations of a stolen car in the video. But one segment of the troopers’ conversation with Brockman, totaling about two minutes, isn’t audible in the video. Brockman says that is when questioning about a stolen vehicle occurred.

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