Archive for October, 2007

Can’t We All Just Get Along?
October 24, 2007

Now might be a good time to bring up the sheriff’s deputy who snatched my cell phone, in mid-use, right out of my hand. That was his way of ending an interview I was doing with a man on a street that this deputy thought had gone on too long. Because we were transmitting that phone interview live, as a report during our noon newscast, the last thing viewers heard was my voice yelling “Hey, what are you doing!” Click.

Back in the studio, the anchors explained to viewers that somehow the cell connection was lost. Back out on Pembroke Road, I was dogging the deputy up the street to get his name for some future action. The incident is all on videotape, as happens when news photographers are present.

That deputy’s action was not law enforcement. It was bully behavior.

And in the bigger picture, this guy with a badge, a gun and the power of the law had just trashed the First Amendment.

Later that day, a spokesman for the Broward Sheriff’s Office graciously apologized for the deputy’s behavior (though the offender never did). I tried to be equally gracious, and chalked up his behavior to an emotional reaction in the hours after a colleague had been shot.

End of story.

Except it’s not the end.

That incident was part of a continuum of law enforcement officers acting on some preconceived notion that news reporters are public enemy number one. And I bring it up now because of what happened Tuesday afternoon.

A school police officer arrested my colleague Jeff Weinsier, because Jeff did not move from a sidewalk in front of a high school. This would have been a perfectly acceptable command, had the sidewalk been part of a police action, had the officer also ordered away the dozens of people on the sidewalk with him. But he didn’t. More officers showed up, and when Jeff stood his ground, they cuffed him, then charged him with trespassing (on a sidewalk?), with resisting arrest (by asserting his right to be on a public street?).

Jeff was carrying a revolver, for which he has a permit, and showed that permit to the officers. Not that those officers even knew he had the gun when they arrested him. And not that it legally matters.

Been there, done that (minus the arrest). Different school, different police officer, same command to get off a public sidewalk, move here, stay there.
Crash course in freedom of the press: as the “voice of the public”, news crews are permitted to be anywhere the public is permitted.

When was the last time someone told you to leave a sidewalk in front of a school?

Allowing for two sides (and typically more) to every story, I make no judgments about Jeff’s arrest. The facts will come out in due time. The chances of that happening are good, because this incident, too, was videotaped – by news photographer Frank Debesa. Unblinking, unedited videotape provides an unvarnished, indisputable picture like no verbal account ever can. Without emotion or agenda.

Still photographs, as snapshots of moments, may also help. A freelance journalist named Carlos Miller is currently using his photos in his own legal fight. Earlier this year, in the course of shooting pictures for a story along Biscayne Boulevard, he managed to shoot a few frames while police officers arrested him. They had told him to go away. He didn’t. His photos show his arrest on a public sidewalk.

Why do they do it? Because they can? To show they’re in charge?

Badge on the chest, gun belt around the waist and chip on the shoulder?

Every reporter I know – EVERY one – has a deep respect for the law and the people who enforce it. Many count among them good friends and collegial professional relationships. No reporter I know would do anything to compromise an investigation or the safety of an officer or the public. News organizations that employ me have gone out of the way to assist officers and departments when asked.

So why this inherent contentious, combative demeanor? Aren’t we all on the same side?? Serving the people?

Taking Stock
October 20, 2007

For years, a yellowed newspaper clipping remained taped to my computer proclaiming “Black Monday was Not the End of the World” in stark white letters on a black background. It had been part of a newspaper ad from some financial house referring to the stock market crash of Monday, October 19, 1987.

That Black Monday also happened to be the first day of my first (paying) job in television news, which is why I loved looking at that quote every day stuck to my computer. Not only was it not the end of the world, it was the beginning of a whole wide new one for me.

So you know what that means …

Today marks 20 years! Yow…!

My, my how the news business has changed. And my, oh my, how so much of it remains the same. For better and/or worse.

There is no place quite like a broadcast newsroom filled with creative and critical thinkers and caricature-worthy egos. And there is no news town quite like this one. There are a million stories in the Magic City (and environs), and most qualify as “only in South Florida” stories.

Mom and Dad were quite convinced their daughter – who questioned their every statement and had an answer for everything – would become, quite naturally, a lawyer. The answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up” never did include television news reporter.

After 20 years, each day different than the one before, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Actually, I’m not sure I know how to do anything else.

Black & White
October 15, 2007

We were silent, mesmerized even, as that videotape fed into the newsroom that day, a year and nine months ago.

It was grainy, at times blurry, but there was no mistaking the crowd of uniforms and flying limbs. Every so often, the crush of uniformed men would part slightly to reveal the slumped form of the boy we would come to know as Martin Lee Anderson. He was listless, rag-doll-like. Eventually, he was unconscious.

That videotape from a surveillance camera at the now-closed Florida boot camp in Panama City was shocking, even to a newsroom filled with people accustomed to a daily roster of humans behaving badly. In hindsight, the most unsettling scenes included the white-clad nurse who just stood and watched the beating, the knee-ing, the punches and body blows. Seven against one. Seven camp guards against one 14-year old who had collapsed after a mandatory jog.

Much has been written about last week’s acquittal of those seven boot camp guards and that nurse in the manslaughter death of 14 year old inmate Martin Lee Anderson, and the confused outrage that followed. Did racial prejudice impede justice? Maybe. Did God-fearing and Law-respecting jurors side too easily with law enforcement and against a kid whose joyriding got him a stay at boot camp? Maybe.

Here’s the part that sticks with me: 90 minutes.

That’s how long the jury deliberated after hearing three weeks worth of testimony: a little longer than a lunch hour. Each of those six jurors spent less time considering the evidence in Martin Lee Anderson’s death than they would spend watching a movie in a theater.

The video was black and white. But legal cases rarely are, especially when the defense introduces experts and theories that raise a reasonable doubt. You can’t tell me six people drilled down, discussed, debated and analyzed all the conflicting evidence they’d heard in just 90 minutes.

That day in the newsroom, what unfolded on videotape sure did look like a crime. If that jury in Panama City could not find the evidence to call it one, maybe a federal jury can? We’ll see.

Hopefully that jury, should there be one, will consider Martin Lee Anderson’s life worth more than 90 minutes of its time.

Smackdown
October 5, 2007

If there is a parent out there who has never had a burning desire to smack the sassy attitude out of a disrespectful, badly-behaving child, sainthood nominations are officially open. Thankfully, we Homo sapiens have the ability to control instinct and desire.

A 30-year old single dad from Coral Gables who took a belt to the butt of his eight year old son as punishment for bad grades is now charged with aggravated child abuse. The boy had complained at school of a sore behind, school officials called police and state social workers (as they are mandated by law to do), they deemed the boy’s bruises excessive, and the arrest of dad came soon after.

But then came the first court appearance. The judge tasked with setting bond first did a little bonding with defendant dad. The judge then verbally high-fived the dad’s choice of lesson-teaching, welt-raising butt bashing with a leather belt. Gotta raise some welts, he said, or else the kid won’t learn to do his work….

That raised a few eyebrows right there. But more than that, the arrest of that Coral Gables father has started a community conversation about discipline, child abuse and the difference between the two. Usually, it’s obvious. But there are instances when even police officers and child welfare workers who are trained to tell the difference admit they cannot.

Which brings me to this question: Does anyone think the whipping has taught that eight year old boy to bring home better grades?

Interestingly, I believe some people do. More than a few people in my impromptu unscientific survey called it acceptable discipline. One woman said that’s how she was raised, and felt like a better person for it. Me? I’m skeptical.

No doubt a whack on the arm or a belt across the butt teaches a child something. Fear? I guess that achieves the goal, in a warped way. I think it teaches a child that physical violence is an acceptable way to teach a lesson. That’s not what I want my kids to think. I’d be concerned about living under that form of Golden Rule.

Say the word “discipline” to a child old enough to know it, and chances are he or she will think “punishment” or “grounded” or “boy, am I in trouble”. But in its purest form, the word and its Latin roots mean learn, teach, lesson, impart knowledge and responsibility. Isn’t there a way to do that with brains over brawn?

So, did that dad criminally abuse his eight year old? Tough to tell at the moment, without knowing the details of intent, context and the like.

But I sure would like to see that next report card.

OMG! SFSG…
October 3, 2007

A little diversion from news musings today to share a little personal breaking news…

Today, I officially become the mother of a teenager! (I’m still wondering how that’s possible, when I still feel like one.)
My seatbelt is duly buckled for the expected bumpy ride.

A friend of mine once told me, “Boys wreck your house; girls wreck your mind.” So, with one daughter an official teenager and one an official pre-teen, I hover daily on the verge of a nervous breakdown, somewhere between mania and catatonia.

Ok, not really.

Ok, sometimes. But I try not to let it show.

Here’s my headline of the day, one that will not be news to those who have been doing this parent-thing far longer than I have:
Raising good, happy, healthy (body, mind AND soul) children is not easy in the current culture we’ve created.

I’ve learned, am still learning, some of the most profound life lessons in my effort to be a good parent.
I’ve learned that they will talk if you listen.
I’ve learned they will listen if you talk, even if they appear not to.

On my auspicious occasion, I raise a glass to all who are muddling through parenthood, figuring out day-by-day how to mold a human being while still becoming one in the process.

Oh and in that glass, cabernet would be good.