Rubin: Detroit councilman declares ban on Fox 2 reporter

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Detroit City Council member George Cushingberry Jr. has decreed that he will no longer speak to Fox 2 reporter M.L. Elrick.

Cushingberry never spoke to Elrick before, Elrick says, except once through a closed door. So what Cushingberry calls his "No Elrick Zone" won't change much.

It does, however, provide a unique glimpse into Cushingberry's understanding of the role of the media and the makings of a good newscast — both of which appear minimal.

And, it gives yet another politician the opportunity to inject race into a discussion where it has no bearing.

Elrick, 47, is in fact white. The son of a Detroit cop, he grew up in Grosse Pointe Park, close enough to Detroit to play street hockey within its boundaries.

He has been a newspaper or television reporter in the city since 1999 and was the co-winner of a Pulitzer Prize for stories that helped relocate Kwame Kilpatrick from Manoogian Mansion to a federal prison.

Not even Kilpatrick ever decreed that he would not talk to Elrick, though there were times the mayor was clearly not glad to see him. With Cushingberry, whatever the subject on which Elrick doggedly attempts to gain insight, he typically winds up chasing the councilman's car.

"I'm not looking for a particular answer," Elrick says. "Any answer is the right answer. This isn't a test."

Unless, of course, the topic is civics, in which case Cushingberry might need to crack a book.

Who's the Detroiter?

Cushingberry, 62, is president pro tem of the council and has previously been a Michigan House member and Wayne County commissioner.

His other accomplishments include losing two houses to foreclosure and leaving them to be stripped, going bankrupt, and recently having his law license suspended for taking a client's money and providing no services.

He announced his No Elrick Zone on Sunday in a blog called Friends of George Cushingberry Jr., which is usually about him and in this case appeared to be written by him, since there was a long segment about what "I will be working with my colleagues on."

The post referenced "buffoonery interviews" and suggested that "we do understand that Mr. Elrick needs a job," since "the last thing we want is another unemployed white man blaming a black man for losing his job."

It also dismissed Elrick as a suburbanite, the subtext of which needs no explaining: "Mr. Elrick is always welcome in Detroit like any other citizen to party, and work here."

As it happens, Elrick lives with his wife and kids in East English Village, where unlike the city council members he gets to pay for his own cars and insurance.

"The difference between George Cushingberry and me," he says, "is that I actually own a home in Detroit. And I pay my taxes."

Running from the media

Elrick says he found out about the No Elrick Zone on Facebook.

M.L. Elrick being push away from Cushingberry by deputies.

He says he wasn't distressed, and he clearly wasn't deterred; in a segment on Tuesday night's newscast, he once again pursued Cushingberry's red Chevrolet Impala through the council parking lot.

The topic was why the council voted itself a one-week recess in April at the same time it's requesting a pay raise in a city that just emerged from bankruptcy.

No one would sit down to talk, which is dull TV; instead, he wound up being ignored and losing a footrace, which is compelling TV.

Indoors, Elrick had asked a council staffer to find Cushingberry, who was running the proceedings that day as president pro tem.

"He wants to wear the big-boy pants," Elrick had said. "We'll get him a belt."

But as flippant as the reports can be, Elrick notes, he always requests an interview by phone or email first, he always says please, and he always addresses the councilman as "sir," "Mr. Cushingberry," or even "Mr. President Pro Tem."

"Part of his job," Elrick says, "is answering questions from the Fourth Estate. The Founding Fathers knew that."

The people don't always have access, so the press steps in to hold elected officials accountable. It's a fairly simple process, or at least it should be.

Cushingberry did not return a call from The Detroit News about the No Elrick Zone, apparently content to let the blog post speak for itself. But Laura Moore, Fox 2's assistant news director, shared a helpful thought:

"The quickest way to get a reporter to go away," she points out, "is to answer his questions."