Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

October 17, 2012

The ‘Sins and Secrets’ of a snowy morning brush with reality television

— It should have been a beautiful spring morning. The alarm clock was set for bright and early — much earlier than I would normally get out of bed. But I knew I had to be at work much earlier than normal on this particular day, and sharp and alert. I also needed to look professional and dress well.

It was one of those mornings where nothing went as planned. Although the calendar said April 23, it was snowing outside when I opened the door. In fact, it was snowing pretty good. Not the way you want to start the morning when you are already stressed. I’m normally pretty good with a razor, but on this particular morning I also cut myself while shaving. I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. Perfect — considering the fact that I would be facing a television crew in a matter of hours.

After finally deciding upon a suit jacket, I exited the house. It was still snowing — and the snow was showing no signs of letting up. Keep in mind that the temperatures were in the low to mid 70s back in March. And now it was snowing in April. Typical spring weather for southern West Virginia or another sign of global warming? It’s hard to say at this point.

When I finally made it to the office, the parking lot at the newspaper was relatively empty. It appeared as if I was one of the first people to make it into the building. But that comfort didn’t last long. No sooner than I had sat down, and logged onto my computer, the elevator opened. It was the film crew. They were looking for me and Editor Samantha Perry.

It was the first time I had a chance to meet Micheal Rogers in person. Rogers, a television producer for the Tennessee-based Jupiter Entertainment, had initially made contact with me via email, and we corresponded back and forth by email a couple of times.

Rogers works for a documentary company that produces a number of shows for cable television, including “Snapped” for NBC’s Oxygen Network and “Sins and Secrets” for the Investigation Discovery channel. And, for whatever reason, the network became interested in the 2005 homicide investigation into the death of Ebb Keister “Doc” Whitley of Iaeger, a former state lawmaker and the former long-time chairman of the McDowell County Democratic Party. My name flagged with the network because I was the reporter who covered the initial homicide investigation, and the subsequent prosecution of two men in connection with his death.

From the beginning, I tried to encourage the production company to interview Samantha, and not me. After all, she is the editor. I’m only the assistant editor. But they didn’t buy my argument. Nor did Samantha. So I reluctantly agreed to be interviewed. From the episodes of “Sins and Secrets” that I’ve seen to date, the primary focus is normally on the prosecutors, law enforcement officers and other public officials who investigate and prosecute such crimes. And that’s the way it should be. We news media people are simply used as window dressing. And that’s fine with me. With hope, Samantha — and not me — will play a big part of that window dressing when “Sins and Secrets: Iaeger” airs on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 9 p.m. on the Investigation Discovery channel. She, too, was interviewed by the film crews, and she helped to set the scene, or describe, southern West Virginia and McDowell County for Rogers and the film crew. (Of course, I think she, too, is hoping to end up on the cutting room floor.)

For the record, we haven’t seen an advance copy of “Sins and Secrets: Iaeger.” So we have no idea how this is going to turn out. But most of the programs produced by the Investigation Discovery channel are professionally done. So it is our hope that the McDowell County segment will turn out OK.

After all, it’s another shot at national publicity for McDowell County. When you tune it on Oct. 21, you will not only see McDowell County, and the town of Iaeger, but also familiar faces such as Prosecuting Attorney Sid Bell, and local law enforcement officers with the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department, as well as local attorneys, who will tell the story of the Whitley investigation. You may also see copies of the actual articles of the Whitley case that appeared in the pages of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph a couple of years ago.

But I hope the episode does do a good job of telling the story, and showing McDowell County to the world. You never know how things like this are going to end up. Remember the Australian news segment on McDowell County and Iaeger? That, of course, didn’t work out very well. But the motion picture “October Sky” was beautiful and the best type of publicity a region can receive even though a single scene was never actually shot in McDowell County.

So here we go again. The national spotlight is once again set to shine upon McDowell County this weekend. I — like the rest of southern West Virginia — will be watching the episode for the first time Sunday night. It will be interesting to see how “Sins and Secrets: Iaeger” turns out.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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