Ambush Journalism: Davis, Baricevic Clash over Protocol

By Frohlichstein, Tripp | St. Louis Journalism Review, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Ambush Journalism: Davis, Baricevic Clash over Protocol


Frohlichstein, Tripp, St. Louis Journalism Review


Elliott Davis has done it again. One of his subjects is angry with him. It goes with the territory. This time, it is St. Clair County Board Chairman John Baricevic.

In early February, on a Sunday night broadcast, the KTVI (Channel 2) "You Paid For It" reporter confronted Baricevic wanting to know about the losses for St. Clair County since Pan Am moved out of MidAmerica Airport.

Viewers saw Davis' first tried to interview MidAmerica Airport Director Rick Hargrove. We saw Hargrove say, "Elliott, I'm not going to do this," as he walks away from the camera. Davis was told to see the director of administration. But he wasn't talking either. Davis then filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in Baricevic's office as he was told to do. But that didn't answer his questions either.

When Davis caught up with Baricevic in an elevator on his way to a public meeting, Baricevic told Davis, "If you'd call for an appointment, I can get answers for you." Davis' narration then noted: "But I had tried going through channels many times to get information on what you're spending for Mid-America Airport." Davis pursued the interview, asking another question. Baricevic responded, "If you would call me before instead of shoving cameras in my face, I could get answers for you, and I'll be happy to do that." Davis then said to Baricevic, "We went to your office and put in a Freedom of Information request so we've made formal requests for answers from the office, John." An exasperated Baricevic replied, "You have not talked to me. You haven't called me. I didn't know you were coming. You shoved the camera in my face. I don't have perfect memory of everything that happens in St. Clair County."

Then, the story took a twist as Davis' narration indicated: "What he said next surprised me considering I've been doing interviews with John Baricevic for at least 15 years and he obviously knows my name."

Baricevic says to Davis: "If you call me ahead of time and let me know you are coming, whatever your name is, Rufus or something, I will be happy to get you whatever information is appropriate. You are rude. You are obnoxious. You will not respond professionally. I will get you whatever information you want if you let me know you are coming."

Davis concludes by saying, "That exchange was more than a week ago. There is still no response." After giving Baricevic's phone number, Davis fires the final shot. "By the way Mr. Baricevic, my name is Elliott."

There are two stories here. One is Davis' tactics in attempting to get an interview with Baricevic and the other is the reference to Davis as "Rufus."

The tape shows the first two attempts failing. Davis is repeatedly told to get his information from Baricevic. But here's the problem. Davis was told to file a FOI request, which he did. But Davis never picked up the phone to call Baricevic directly.

"To this day, he has not called to ask questions about the airport. This guy was literally laying in the weeds," Baricevic said. "Before he opens his mouth, the camera is literally inches from my face with the light on. I told him I don't have the answer and to call me and make an appointment. He never has. The letter I got (from Channel 2) said he made repeated efforts to interview me. I am accessible. My home phone is listed. All you have to do is open the phone book. Why to this day has Elliott not called me? Because he doesn't want a story, he wants confrontation. I'm not saying he has to but a professional news reporter interested in facts is interested in positive relationships. He has made no attempt to do that. Ask him if he called and asked for an interview. If he says yes, he's a liar. From his first Freedom of Information request until today (Feb. 21), he has not asked for an interview.

Davis sees it differently, though he admits he never actually called Baricevic directly.

"I did not call John to do an interview," Davis said. …

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