Weekend at Bernie’s

February 13, 2011 - Leave a Response
There are some stories we in TV call “newspaper stories”: worthy, interesting stories that  just won’t translate well in a 75-second broadcast.  They may be too complicated to be properly told, too lacking in video, or, as in the case of Bernard Wright, just not complete without the main character.

 And so, we haven’t aired the story we’ve been working on for days about Bernard Wright because, well, we just can’t find him. 

Why are we looking for Mr. Wright? 

 Bernard Wright is the so-called legal guardian of Bryan Delancy, Krop High School’s basketball player at the center of a fight over eligibility.  

Quick backgrounder: Just as Krop’s championship team headed for state playoffs, the Florida High School Athletic Assocation yanked Delancy’s eligibility citing a technical issue with his student visa.  The FHSAA voided almost all of the Krop basketball team’s winning season because of it. Delancy’s supporters pleaded and cajoled, pitched it to reporters and took it all to court, arguing an immigration technicality shouldn’t matter in the face of the team’s hard work.

What they failed to mention was, Delancy‘s visa is probably not the biggest issue here.  That title may fall to his “legal guardian”  Bernard Wright, whom you haven’t seen on the news.

Turns out, Wright is not Delancy’s “uncle”, as his supporters described him, as they spun a tale of how Uncle Bernie invited 19 year old Delancy to live with him when he came here from the Bahamas for a good education.  And because Wright lives in the Krop school district boundaries, they said, Delancy – who happens to play basketball pretty well – is a perfectly valid Krop student.

Delancy’s attorney confirmed Wright is not his uncle in a call last week that ended up with a curt hang-up when I pressed whether the teen really does live in Wright’s home. 

And where is Wright’s home, anyway?

He apparently does not live in the Miami Lakes-area apartment listed on his Florida driver’s license, nor at the Northeast Miami-Dade home where he gets mail. 

He also doesn’t seem to live at the address in the Krop district that Bryan Delancy has on file in school records.  And neither does Delancy, himself, according to the guard at the gate who appears in the photo from our video.

But those pesky residency requirements may also not be the biggest issue. 

Turns out, legal guardian Bernard Wright, definitely not an uncle, is a former basketball coach.  And he coached at the very school in Miami where Delancy first registered on a student visa from Bahamas three years ago.  That small private school housed at the site of the Miami Rescue Mission was known for its basketball program, according to an administrator there.  We saw the trophies that prove it. 

Did Bernard Wright recruit Delancy, bring him here from the Bahamas as a basketball prospect? … Then fudge records so he could play for Krop and help take it to the championships? 

That would be the biggest no-no of all.

Recruiting is one of the FHSAA’s most serious offenses.  The association’s spokesperson told me, it’s about fairness and equality for all students, to ensure schools are not “importing seven-footers from some other country to come” and win championships.  

A little Google-ing around leads to information that indicates Bryan Delancy would not be Bernard Wright’s first international recruit.

In an article in the Birmingham (Alabama) News last summer, a sports reporter chronicles the history of two college prospects who came to the United States from Ivory Coast with – guess who? - “uncle” Bernard Wright as their legal guardian; they lived with him, and they played for him at that same Miami private school.

Coincidence?

Oh, and Wright has long ties to Krop’s current basketball coach; they’ve worked together at other schools over the years.

Another coincidence?

Not to the FHSAA.  The association people have heard all this evidence, as circumstantial as it may be at the moment.  And they plan to investigate it all as soon as they finish with the visa issue that opened Pandora’s Box on Krop’s basketball court. 

Maybe, by that time, we’ll actually find Bernard Wright, and we’ll have the main character on camera so we can broadcast our story.

If you talk to him, please tell him to call me.

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor

November 7, 2010 - Leave a Response

The gazillion-dollar campaign that made Rick Scott Florida’s Governor-elect is a testament to the power of television. 

Just not the news part.

In the case of Tuesday’s election, the plug was pulled on the power of the press.

The so-called fourth estate, the government watchdogs, the voice of the people, seemed to have little effect on voters.

Scott, very strategically, ran a campaign without it.

Instead, he spoke to voters on his own terms, through his own scripted messages on television time he bought and paid for, more than $70 million worth.

The candidate, himself, was always gracious and pleasant with reporters (unlike some of his staffers who were known to literally shove reporters out of the way, as in elbow-to-the-sternum shove).  But he was hardly forthcoming. He flat-out did not answer detailed questions.  Not about what he knew and when he knew the company he captained was perpetrating fraud on the federal government; not when pressed for details of how he’ll create jobs he promised, or how he’ll pay for services if he cuts one-fifth of property taxes. 

The editorial boards at the newspapers?  Those inner-sanctum think-tanks where top-tier editors carefully craft their papers’ opinions and endorsements?  Scott refused to even meet with them.  So no wonder why across the state, every one of Florida’s newspapers gave their endorsements to Scott’s opponent Alex Sink.

Those endorsements that were once coveted by candidates were, this time, worthless. 

So now the strong silent one is headed to Tallahassee.

Let’s send a crew!

Discovering Dust Bunnies

October 17, 2010 - 2 Responses

I never thought to look under their beds.

More than 16 years muddling through the sometimes wild, always wondrous, most profound job of raising human beings, I’m fairly confident I know my girls pretty well. I know what is in their rooms, their drawers, their closets, their backpacks. I know their friends, their teachers, their passions, their strengths and their weaknesses. I think. I respect their privacy, but feel free to breach it every once in a while to make sure they are safe and happy.

But I never thought to look under their beds, until a few days ago, when we covered the case of 17-year old Jose Torres from Deerfield Beach.

Jose was showing his stash of weapons to his 12-year old friend Anthony Alejandro, when a bullet from the 9mm Ruger tore through Anthony’s face and spinal column. The detectives assigned to the case discovered Jose had an arsenal of guns, knives and exotic militaria, including a Beretta, a Tec-9 automatic, a shotgun, samurai swords and ninja throwing stars.

The boy’s parents say they never knew about the stash. Why? Because he kept it all under his bed!

My immediate reaction was probably the same as your’s: “How could his parents not know their son collected deadly weapons and kept them in his bedroom in their home”?

And that’s when I realized I had no idea what was under my daughters’ beds.

So, I got low… hands and knees… lifted the edge of the comforters. And was relieved to see …

Nothing. (Ok, a few dust balls. But small ones.)

So now I’m back to wondering how two people, two parents raising a son for 17 years in their home, could not know he had stashed enough weapons to stage a small-scale revolution.

Where did he get the money to buy them?

Who vacuums his room?

Bonfire of the Insanities

September 12, 2010 - 2 Responses

Can I add just a few more paragraphs to Terry Jones’ 15 minutes of fame?

The media, collectively, sure is taking some heat for giving international attention and importance to a nobody Gainesville pastor and his on-again, off-again bonfire of the insanities.

Seriously. This is a preacher whose congregation is smaller than a week-night audience for a B-list movie.

But what if the press ignored him, instead of putting him in the glare of scrutiny? And what if Terry Jones got to quietly foment a plan to burn hundreds of copies of the Qur’an, and whip up fear and hate against a religion of our neighbors. What if we didn’t check the pulse of the community, and nobody wanted to be the first to speak up?

And then…

What if that book-burning and hate and discrimination eventually turned Nazi-like or KKK-like?

For news-doers and journalists, it’s sometimes hard to tell up front whether a story or a person we’re covering is history-in-the-making worthy of documenting and examining, or whether it’s just a YouTube-worthy nutcase.

The fact is, the media had to cover Terry Jones. And now we can stop. Please.

Art Appreciation 101

December 6, 2009 - One Response

Have you heard the one about the 95 cent cucumber?

That’s not really what I was expecting from our Sunday Art Basel outing, but it was in one of the first galleries we happened upon.  It’s not possible to walk by the Richard Prince acrylic and silkscreen without a visual smack in the face of orange and the joke written in text.  And Alyson is right up in there, reading it.  She’s 12.

It goes like this: “A housewife selected three small tomatoes and was told by the grocer they were 75 cents. ‘What!’ she exclaimed, ‘75 cents for those small tomatoes? Well, you can just take them and you know what you can do with them!’  ‘I can’t lady,’ replied the unhappy grocer. ‘There’s a 95 cent cucumber there.’ “

Aly didn’t quite get it until I filled in the R-rated details.  And then she asked a question that she had no idea was as brilliant as it was: Why would a joke written on a square orange background qualify as art?

You don’t have to be an artist, collector, critic, investor or marketer to be moved by a painting or sculpture or photograph.  Like good novels or transcendent films, visual art elevates, evokes, provokes.  You see it and you feel it, sometimes without being able to verbalize why.  

But art is also a reflection and a tutorial about a culture and society.  When you study a country and an era, mining the artwork of the time reveals the values, interests, priorities, political, social order and general zeitgeist of a culture.  It’s a visual archeological dig, a narrative arc coded in creative expression.  Which means contemporary art, the subject of Art Basel, is, well, us.

So what does a frat house groaner of a joke say about our times?  That vegetables are getting pretty pricey? That we have so little respect for each other that we tell each other where to stick it? 

The galleries of Art Basel had us wondering more than a few times what the future archeologists will deduce about our global culture circa 2009.

We walked and looked and absorbed some breathtaking works.  For the last eight years, Art Basel has brought to the 305 an in-your-face tutorial on art’s place on our planet. 

Plus, it has become a Sunday-in-December tradition for the art-loving Milberg girls – and, bonus! no mall involved.

Just Curious …

December 3, 2009 - 3 Responses

… so I thought I’d pose the question to you multiple choice style.  It’s your turn to muse:

Tiger Woods’ actions/issues/ordeal have me   …

a)     … mesmerized, riveted, communal voyeurism at its best – can’t wait to see surveillance tape!

b)    … convinced the bigger we build ‘em up, the harder they fall.    

c)     … sorry for Tiger and his family, and can we now move on?

d)    … bored. Been there, seen it.  Someone please give a heads up when he’s back on the links.

Feel free to give your answer in essay form.  The most creative wins a personalized answering machine message from Tiger Woods.

How do you say “Sue!” in Spanish?

October 1, 2009 - 2 Responses

The day of the funeral, we just watched Anais Cruz from a distance, cried for her, hurt for her, as she walked into the service.  I wanted to take the cameras away, to allow her the privacy she deserves as she deals with the profound and bottomless grief of losing a child.  But the school yard stabbing at Coral Gables High that killed her son is legitimate and important news.

So now when notice came into the newsroom that Anais Cruz would be speaking in public for the first (and only) time, of course we’re covering that.  But when the cameras arrive, Cruz is seated in a law firm’s conference room, flanked by personal injury attorneys who announce “Lawsuit”.

Lawsuit?       

Yes, lawsuit.  The accusation is negligence:  “The School board has not provided safe premises for kids to learn and be on their property,” said the lawyer.  

No one mentioned suing the boy who decided to bring a switchblade to school.  No one mentioned suing a society that allows kids to marinate in a culture of violence until the thought of stabbing a school rival is an actual viable option. 

I have some questions.  How did Anais Cruz decide to sue?   This is a citizen of Cuba, who sent (or at least allowed) her son to live in South Florida, to be looked after by his abuela, be educated in the public school system.  Miami-Dade’s school superintendent and a U.S. congresswoman paved the way for her trip to South Florida, helped obtain her emergency humanitarian visa. She can stay as long as she needs, as long as it takes for the trial of the teen accused of killing her son.

How did she know which lawyer to hire?  As it happens, the firm representing her has, for years, called newsrooms with some regularity.  They announce lawsuits they’ve filed and multi-million dollar judgments they’ve won for their victim clients.  (They do not call news conferences when those judgments are overturned by higher courts, but that’s a subject for another time).

And we show up, we cover those announcements, because generally the stories are compelling and important to the public interest.  There have been faulty pool drains, broken locks, crimes at businesses without security.  The hurt, the wounded, the scarred, the wronged – the lawyers have them there to speak, coach them about what to say, how to say it.  We as human beings naturally react with support, with a desire to see justice done. 

“Justice” is the always the press conference focus.  And you know big justice has been done when it’s calculated by a multi-million dollar jury award (and a multi-million dollar lawyers’ fee).

The day Anais Cruz arrived from Cuba, news crews were at Miami International Airport, where she fell into the arms of her family, a gut-wrenching scene of a mother who will never get to see her son grow up, never hug him again.  Some of the more jaded reporters were already asking “Will she defect?”  Not even the most jaded thought to ask, “Will she sue?”

Candid Camera

September 23, 2009 - One Response

Memo

To: Beverly Gallagher, Suspended Broward School Board Member/Accused Criminal

Cc: Other Arrested Public Officials

South Florida watched you run from news reporters today after your arrest for extortion, wire fraud and bribery.  You covered your well-known face while someone held up papers in front of the camera lenses.  That was a slap in the face to your constituents (and, ironically, a surefire way to attract even more attention in a newscast).

So In the spirit of public service, we offer some reminders of the fundamentals, certain basic truths that may have been lost in the gravitational pull of power and authority of elected office. 

Your arrest and the charges against you are big news.  Valid, relevant, important news.  Because you have offered yourself up to represent citizens and oversee their money and their interests, everything you do and every decision you make on their behalf and with their money is subject to public scrutiny.  And the business of news is public scrutiny.  That’s why we showed up.

You are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and you may well be innocent.  But your arrest raises questions among your constituents and they deserve answers.  An answer may be as simple as, “I cannot comment at this point” or “I look forward to my day in court”.   The point is, your constituents deserve your respect and your attention.

Running from news cameras is akin to running from the public you promised to serve. 

Many of them are children.  You know, the kids who go to class in Broward schools every day where teachers try to instill responsibility, courage and honesty.  Imagine what they think, seeing one of the school board members scurrying away from all three.

This is a tough time for you, no doubt.  It’s also pretty tough for the constituents who feel betrayed by you.  So please regain your sense of responsibility to those who elected you, and – bonus – regain your dignity.

Sauced

September 23, 2009 - One Response

I tried it.  I had to.

We are covering the case of a (now-former) Miami-Dade teacher charged with child abuse, accused of giving two of her autistic students hot sauce-spiked soda.  She took the stand in her own defense today and said that the spiked soda was her soda, she loves to drink her soda with hot sauce, and those children took a sip of her soda by accident.  Here’s exactly what she said on the stand:

“I love it… That’s our culture. We eat hot sauce a lot…  My soda, my food, my salad…”

After hearing that, how could I hope to offer a full and fair report without the essential understanding that comes from first-hand experience.

Admittedly, this was not scientific.  I have no idea just how much hot sauce she put in the can of soda, how much of a gulp the students may have taken.  I didn’t have Luzianne, her sauce of record, so I had to go with what was in the fridge, which was Crystal brand.  I aimed a few shakes of it into a half glass of Mountain Dew, the only soda I found in the house, which was all but flat since someone didn’t twist the cap on the two-liter bottle all the way.

“I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink.”    

Full disclosure: I don’t like soda, never drink it.  And I love the more gringa versions of hot sauce, thanks to years of training by my husband, who has been known to throw a challenge to chefs at the Thai restaurant to make dinner too spicy for him.

And the verdict is…

… Not as bad as I expected.  I wouldn’t recommend hot sauced soda, mind you.  But I can see why, if you are the kind of spice-addicted pain-as-pleasure gastronome that I have met in some BBQ, Tex-Mex and/or Thai circles, you might like the little kick that a few dashes of pepper sauce adds to counter the sweet syrup of soda.

I can also see why a special needs child whose ability to communicate is challenged might freak out a bit if the soda he expected to taste left a slight but sudden burning sensation in the back of the throat.

Did teacher spike the soda to teach the kids a lesson, modify their behavior?  Would that meet the legal definition of child abuse?

And the verdict is…

Metal or Mental Detectors?

September 15, 2009 - 8 Responses

If you haven’t seen Coral Gables Senior High School, let me describe it to you. 

It’s the kind of architecture I’d describe as Tropical Mediterranean.  Aside from obvious Spanish influences, the school that first opened for the class of 1954 has lots of windows, breezy walkways and sunny courtyards, nothing like the prison-chic architecture of later school years, the monolithic concrete windowless boxes that so many South Florida schools are.

The architecture of CGHS is important to note before you answer this question:

Should schools have metal detectors?

That question was among the first to be knee-jerked back into the spotlight even before the body of 10th grader Juan Carlos Rivera was removed from the sunny Gables High courtyard where another student had stabbed him, ended his life, during a fight between classes Tuesday.

“Where was the security, the metal detectors?” parents asked, reporters asked, students asked.

“We do not believe in turning the schools into prisons,” said Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade’s School Superintendent.

As far as I can tell, South Florida schools are without metal detectors for several reasons.  The first is likely money.  The machines and the people to run them cost far more to install and operate than cash-strapped school systems care to spend.

But I sense they would spend it, if there were valid data to suggest that a metal detector deters violence in school.  But there is not.

Sure, it could pick up a metal weapon on a body that passed through it.   But it could not pick up something more telling and more dangerous. 

Metal detectors can’t detect state of mind, can’t detect disregard for human life, and can’t detect a psyche sensitized to violence and its permanent affects.

People who bring all that with them to school can get around a metal detector fairly easily.  So many school campuses are wide open to tropical breezes and surrounded by acres of chain link fence. 

The point is, the real issue with school security shouldn’t be keeping weapons outside the school perimeter, it should be keeping the kids who are inside morally equipped enough, clever enough, confident enough to deal with the kind of conflicts and issues that have been around since long before Coral Gables High School was built.  You know, long before a generation grew up watching violence become a game on a screen, long before thug culture got cool.  

The superintendent had this to say:  “We need to ask parents in the community, ‘What are we teaching our kids?  What is their level of personal and civic adequacy?  How do they respond to criticism from others or stressful situations?’”  

Those are much better questions than, “Where are the metal detectors?”.

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