Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lord Of The Rings: The Sorry State Of TV News And The American Criminal

Regular readers of this blog, both of you, may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything here for more than two months now. That’s what happens when your home gets burglarized and the little shit stain who broke in steals, among other things, your computer.

For a little more than two weeks, the only computer I had was my iPhone, which I had with me at the time of the break-in. My laptop, iPad and iPod Touch all were stolen, along with several peripherals, including an external disc drive for the laptop and a nice pair of headphones for the iPod. He also swiped seven very well-publicized championship rings that I earned during my 18 years in the NC State University Department of Athletics.

I’ve always heard that the vast majority of burglaries go unsolved and had no illusions that the police would ever solve this one, either. It turns out, however, that my burglar is an 18-year-old punk with an extensive and violent criminal record, and absolute shit for brains. Hence, he got caught.

A good burglar takes your stuff, discreetly sells it for whatever he can get for it, and never says a word to anyone. Then there’s the doofus who broke into our house. Seems he thought those rings were so cool that he had to show them off to his friends. When two of those friends got nailed for breaking into another house, however, they rolled over on our guy. Both of his so-called buddies, in separate interrogations, told the police that our burglar had shown them the rings. Look what I stole! Ain’t I the shit?


Police issued a warrant for my burglar’s arrest, but he was long since on the run by that point and it took a few weeks for the police to track him down. In fact, he came to them. He got caught in a stakeout while robbing a student at knifepoint on the NC State campus. Caught in the act, he took off and was caught after a brief pursuit.

Once our burglar was in custody, the police ran his name through their computer database and the warrant for our burglary came up. And was put into the public record of his arrest. And picked up by the local media, mainly because of the seven championship rings.

I got a call the next day from a reporter from The News & Observer who wanted to know about the rings. I explained that as part of the support staff for those seven teams, I also got a ring when they won their respective conference or regional championships. He understood completely, no problem.

The reporter from WRAL, the top TV station in the market, wasn’t quite as sharp. First of all, he couldn’t come up with my phone number, which is unlisted but not that hard to find, proof being that The N&O found it right away. So he called my former supervisor in the media relations office at NC State instead and asked her several times why I would have championship rings. She said it sounded like he thought I must have stolen them. The notion that support staff also get rings when their teams win a championship just didn’t seem to penetrate his cognitive mechanism.

For those of you who don’t know, the coaches and athletes aren’t the only ones who get rings when a college team wins a championship. At the discretion of the coach and/or administrator, rings also are given to support staff. At the professional level, every employee in the organization gets a ring when a team with the World Series, the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals. It’s not just the players and coaches.

The difference in the competence of the two reporters was evident in their respective stories. The N&O story mentioned the rings and said they belonged to a retired NC State athletics official who lived in North Raleigh on such and such a street. The WRAL story said I was still employed at NC State, which is incorrect, and used my full name and street address, which was utterly unnecessary. That pisses me off and will for a long time to come.

Why were my name and address used in this story? For the record, WRAL, I was the victim of this crime, not the perpetrator. Yes, the rings are stolen, but they weren’t stolen when they were issued to me by the coaches of those seven teams. I noticed that WRAL didn’t use the name or address of the victim of the knifepoint robbery on the NC State campus. So why use mine? Why did The N&O get that right and why did WRAL fuck it up from here to Sunday and back?

I think I can answer that one pretty easily. The fact is that most local TV news reporters wouldn’t know a news story if they tripped and fell over one. They wouldn’t understand the notion of protecting the victim of a crime even if it was tattooed on their forehead. You want to put a local TV newsroom in a panic? Simple. Disable the police scanner and have the local newspaper go on strike. End of TV news. Most of them couldn’t find a news story on their own if their life depended on it.

WRAL’s botched handling of this is just one more piece of evidence that journalism in the 21st century is dying a not-so-slow death. Newspapers, always the standard of journalistic quality and integrity, have been on life support for more than a decade and can’t have much time left. Television news, at least at the local level, is so pathetic that they print the names and addresses of crime victims on their websites. When Comedy Central becomes the best source of news on cable TV, the profession is in serious trouble.

There still are plenty of legitimate news sources out there, especially on the internet, but good luck finding them amid the avalanche of disinformation the digital age has unleashed. Any fool with a computer can start a blog (let me raise my hand here and now) and say whatever the hell he or she wants. That, unfortunately, may well be the future of news in the 21st century. In that environment, printing the names and addresses of crime victims makes perfect sense.