Friday, March 30, 2007

Gutter: Hype above facts

About eight or nine years ago I shared an apartment with several other college students who, like me, couldn’t quite afford the luxury of expanded cable service. In fact, we had to rely on an antenna, and our antenna was so cheap that it only picked up one station. That station was WPXI, Channel 11 in Pittsburgh. This limited access to television led to watching a lot of programs that I wouldn’t ordinarily watch.

But in addition to “Game Warden,” “Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict,” and a whole assortment of teen-based Saturday morning programming, a steady diet of Channel 11 also includes (features) local news. And during this period of single-channel isolation I grew to love the often-ridiculous nature of local news broadcasts.

Since that period of my life, though, I have become financially secure to the point where I can afford a higher-tiered cable service. As such, I haven’t watched local news with any degree of frequency for the past six or seven years. But with the ongoing saga of The Parkway West Rock Thrower, I have found myself drawn back into the sensationalizing web of local news, often furiously flipping between Channel 2, Channel 4, and Channel 11 for the latest updates. And with this return, I have also been reminded of why I used to enjoy ridiculing local news broadcasts (which is remarkable, really, when you consider how little I remember from that period of my life).

Anyway, as the case of The Parkway West Rock Thrower has developed, particularly with the advent of The Copycat Rock Throwers, I have watched as the local news stations have toyed with the truth, creating leaps of logic and making assumptions that challenge rationale thought. Such an example came with the reports that a van on the Parkway East had been hit with a wrench socket. As I investigated the available reports, I found that the incident appeared to be unrelated to The Parkway West Rock Thrower (aka Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, who was arrested last Thursday) or The Copycat Rock Throwers. I came to this conclusion based on a number of circumstances, as outlined in my post on the topic, and you can follow the logic I used.

However, while it seemed clear to me that this was an unrelated incident, Channel 2 didn’t agree. In fact, the staff at KDKA, particularly anchor Keith Jones and reporter Bob Allen, appeared to be convinced of the connection in their report from yesterday, repeatedly making statements that drew direct links between the incidents on the Parkway West and the singular accident on the Parkway East. As I said yesterday, I found Allen’s reporting and KDKA’s take on the story wholly sensational and under-investigated.

Turns out I was right. See this graph from today’s Trib:

[Trooper Robin] Mungo said investigators don't believe an incident Wednesday afternoon on the Parkway East is related to the other attacks. A man from Jeannette was driving near the Greensburg Pike exit when a ratchet from a wrench smashed through his windshield about 2:30 p.m. He wasn't injured. Mungo said the tool piece either fell from or was kicked up by another vehicle.

Score one for me, but don’t think the sensationalism is over. In fact, today’s dose of sensationalism comes from our old friend, Channel 11.

Seems that around the same time a wrench socket was falling on a van on the Parkway East, someone threw a rock at a taxi cab on the Parkway West, right near the Carnegie exit, which is the same general vicinity of the attacks of The Parkway West Rock Thrower. This comes just days after a taxi cab was one of three cars hit with rocks on Saturday night on the Parkway West.

Two cabs hit. I guess that it was probably inevitable that at least one local news source would lead with the following headline:

“Are Cabs Being Targeted on Parkway West?”

Quite frankly, Channel 11, the answer is probably not. Since the arrest of The Parkway West Rock Thrower (who never tended to any specific type of vehicle), four cars have been hit. Two of those cars have been taxi cabs. That’s 50%, and I wouldn’t exactly consider it a trend.

Channel 11 followed up on those reports with some very sensational language in today’s broadcasts, such as the “Channel 11 News On Demand – Midday Update”, where Newlin Archinal uses the phrase “rocks came raining down on cabs.” Then, on the noon broadcast, Bob Bruce used the exact same wording, again stating that rocks were “raining down on cabs.”

Raining down on cabs? Really? Two cabs get hit over a five-day period and now rocks are raining down on cabs? In Wednesday’s incident, it was never confirmed what actually went through the window of Earl McKnight’s cab. In fact, McKnight thought it could have been a BB.

Never mind the fact that the projectile went through McKnight’s driver’s side window, a rarity in recent rock-throwing incidents, which have all seen rocks crash through front windshields. And the object hit McKnight’s cab while he was driving to the airport, meaning that the projectile either came from another vehicle or ground level, which would be difficult considering that the thrower/shooter would have had to be positioned at least two lanes away, if not more, and with a highway divider in between, no less. I guess the rock (or whatever it was) could have come from above, but it would take a pretty good shot to hit a side window.

Now, I know that it’s not exactly a big revelation that local news broadcasts over-hype and sensationalize on a regular basis. But in this case, with the real danger posed by The Parkway West Rock Thrower and the subsequent Copycat Rock Throwers, I think it’s important that the media stick to relevant facts. As I said yesterday: spreading fear only plays into the hands of the evil-doers.


Bram Reichbaum said...

I know. Why does WPXI have a monopoly on broadcasting? I've lived all over the city ... the story's the same ...

Peaks and Gutters said...

I don't get it either. Maybe it has to do with geography, but Channel 4 is right outside of Wilkinsburg; do you think Channel 11 is closer than that?

What's even weirder is the stations that come in only with an antenna. Like that channel where they auction stuff on Saturday nights. That channel is pretty awesome, but I've only been able to find it with an antenna. I've looked for it on cable, but no dice, much to my dismay.