There’ll be no chiding Fox5 News (WTTG) for pursuing the story of Michael Wayne Edwards.
Edwards is the area man who pleaded guilty in 2010 to second-degree assault charges, and not just any second-degree assault charges. His offense was spraying semen on two women in Gaithersburg — one at a Michael’s craft outlet and another at a Giant. He was sentenced to three years’ probation.
Maybe more supervision was necessary: Last summer, Edwards again surfaced with his news-of-the-weird act, as he was arrested by Fairfax County police after following a woman around a Reston Safeway. Here’s how a release from the Fairfax cops puts things: “The woman left the store and the person followed her to a location near Sunrise Valley Drive and Lakespray Way. The person appeared to be videotaping her and called out to her. She recognized that he was the person who had been following her in the store. The man then reportedly exposed himself to her and ran away. There were no injuries.” Edwards was arrested for “filming nonconsensual nude (taking unlawful images of another without consent), simulated masturbation and indecent exposure.”
Fox5 assigned chief investigative correspondent Emily Miller to the story. Not only did Miller do a spot-news piece on the arrest, but also another in-depth story for the Sept. 28 Fox5 broadcast. In the latter report, she pressed the cops for details and otherwise plumbed this most bizarre of crime stories.
Among the clues that Miller followed was Edwards’ clothing in his police photograph. The shirt appeared to bear a Batman logo. Seeking a connection, Miller checked photos and videos associated with Edwards’s former place of employment, the Fusion 360 gym in Reston. She presented her findings to viewers in the Sept. 28 news report. Here’s the relevant transcript:
This search warrant shows a Superman T-shirt recovered at Edwards’ home. Superman? There’s a superhero pattern here. Look at his mugshot in August: a Batman T-shirt. And this video from the gym where he worked until his arrest — jumping in a Spiderman shirt. And wearing his Batman shirt [group photo including a man in a Batman shirt].
Fusion 360 manager Maya Agha: “When we were watching, we said, ‘Oh my god, that’s not even him.'” The video and the picture that Fox5 represented as being of Edwards actually depicted another employee at Fusion 360, Joel Mayers. “I was watching the news and the videos that they posted of the exercises where there’s a guy’s wearing a Spiderman outfit and picture with a group of women with a Batman shirt — that was me, that wasn’t Mike,” says Mayers in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog. How could Fox5 possibly have made such a mistake? we asked Mayers. “They kind of did it because he’s a black man being there, and we’re just the same,” he says. The impact was immediate. “We had a lot of my clients and a lot of people around the area, they would come in and walk by and look in and point their fingers and stuff like that,” says Mayers.
A quirky overlap may have contributed to the problem. “Joel and Mike like Spiderman and Batman shirts,” says Agha. Aghast at the screwup, Agha told us, “So imagine putting Joel Mayers on TV — everybody’s watching that trainer and that trainer trains so many clients and he is very, very good.”
A Fox5 spokesperson emails the Erik Wemple Blog: “WTTG inadvertently used an incorrect photo and it was corrected as soon as we were made aware.”
The fossil record, indeed, suggests that Fox5 shrunk from its portrayal of Mayers. The Internet Wayback Machine snapped a shot of the web version of Miller’s story after it was posted. Here’s a key portion:
Note that the text includes a reference to the jumping Spiderman. Now sample the corresponding text in the updated version of the story:
No more jumping Spiderman guy.
This blog can find no evidence of a correction or editor’s note to alert readers to the change.
Mayers says that he contacted a Fox5 official about the matter. “He said he would get back to me but nobody did,” he says.