Thursday, July 12, 2007

Career Suicide Blonde

If you have an IQ slightly above that of a toaster oven and pay attention to the news only when it's something actually worth paying attention to, you might've missed the ridiculous controversy that's been the talk of Chicago over the past few days.

It involves a (now former) local television reporter who was caught on camera by a competing station visiting the home of a missing woman's estranged husband.

In a bikini.

With her kids.

According to Amy Jacobson -- who up until two days ago was an investigative reporter for WMAQ, the NBC owned-and-operated station in Chicago -- she was invited to come over to the house by the sister of Craig Stebic while she was on her way to the beach with her children. Stebic's wife has been missing since April 30th.

Since no reporter had yet landed an interview with Stebic, Jacobson made the necessary detour and just happened to be on the patio deck while a camera crew from WBBM, the CBS owned-and-operated station in Chicago, was shooting.

WBBM's news-director Joe Ahern, purportedly sensing impropriety afoot, immediately decided that the video was "newsworthy" and by that afternoon pictures of Amy Jacobson -- standing by Stebic's pool, sans full clothing -- were splattered all over WBBM's air.

Since the incident, Jacobson has embarked on a round-the-clock contrition tour -- apologizing to anyone who will listen for what she admits was a monumental lapse in judgment. It hasn't, however, been enough to save her from the axe; WMAQ fired her within 24 hours of the tape's airing, leaving the 11 year veteran (an eternity in local news incidentally) devastated, according to friends.

I'm not going to delve too deeply into whether Amy Jacobson deserved to be fired for her admittedly stupid mistake; she didn't, and the fact that she was no doubt encouraged to do whatever was necessary to get the story and was then unceremoniously kicked to the curb when the tactics she employed left egg all over WMAQ's face -- well, that's just par for the course from the gutless wastes who run NBC these days. (They were willing to can Don Imus, a guy who was irrelevant to be sure -- but an irrelevant rainmaker; there was no way a local nobody like Jacobson was safe.)

What's truly offensive though, insofar as it assumes a spectacular level of stupidity from the rest of us, is WBBM's sanctimonious assertion that it had only the noblest of journalistic intentions in airing the video of the Stebic/Jacobson pool party in the first place -- citing the public's supposed right to know and employing the ubiquitous defense wherein its managers purport to have "thought long and hard" (no pun intended) before making a decision that they no doubt figured would almost certainly increase ratings exponentially.

If you believe for a second that Joe Ahern, when presented with salacious pictures of his competition's star reporter, ran it to air faster than you can say "Sweep the leg Johnny" because he truly believed that his little exclusive was newsworthy -- congratulations, you're just about as bright as the average local news station needs you to be.

There's an unspoken "gentleman's agreement" in most news markets that the scandal and gossip of one station won't become fodder for another. The reason for this is obvious; it's the same reason that mistreating POWs is an entirely ill-advised endeavor -- it's only a matter of time before the tables are turned. Traditionally, local TV stations are populated with the largest group of drunks, drug-users, sexual-deviants, and generally dysfunctional misfits and lost souls not also confined to 6-by-10 foot cells.

I have yet to work in a newsroom that isn't bursting at the seams with amoral behavior -- the kind that would make the sickening, secret undercurrent of Blue Velvet look like an episode of Leave it to Beaver; the kind that would make for the most titillating of prurient headlines were someone actually willing to report it.

But rarely is anyone, and often with good reason. There have been times when I've marveled at how an honest news item involving a competing local anchor or reporter can be swept so quietly under the rug, but likewise, I have -- on rare occasions -- watched the line between the legitimate and the frivolous blurred to the point where the dignity of that same anchor or reporter can be gleefully sacrificed on the altar of ratings-driven Schadenfreude.

Like now.

I concede that to the average person, it's probably difficult to feel any kind of sympathy for Amy Jacobson. Make no mistake though -- a shark's sudden willingness to rip its own kind to pieces, as opposed to innocent people, in no way makes the shark a more honorable creature. This would be particularly true were that shark to suddenly stand up and begin attempting to justify its actions through self-righteous bullshit.

WBBM ran the video for one reason and one reason only, and it certainly wasn't that Joe Ahern felt he would be shirking his journalistic responsibility by choosing not to run it. The video was aired because it was an almost surefire ratings grabber.

Except that it wasn't.

On the evening that Ahern decided to air a piece of video which had no actual story to back it up -- merely innuendo and a call for the audience to "make up its own ending" -- his station, WBBM CBS 2, finished where it always does in the ratings: Dead last.

A pathetic and desperate gamble -- one that cost a woman her job and surrendered what little journalistic integrity WBBM may have had in the first place -- paid out absolutely nothing.

Amy Jacobson did what has, sadly, become expected of today's news reporters.

Joe Ahern did what is, infuriatingly, becoming all too common for today's news managers.

Both should've done better.

(Update: As of Friday morning, Craig Stebic is regarded as a "person of interest" in the disappearance of his wife. In other words, he's a suspect; the half-assed "person of interest" designation rose to prominence immediately following the whole Richard Jewell debacle. Since Jewell's investigation in the aftermath of the Olympic Park bombing back in 1996 -- a crime with which he was never charged but was nonetheless tried and convicted of by a frenzied and irresponsible media -- police are now careful to rarely name an official suspect in high-profile cases.)


Jim said...

This guy is a person of interest in the disappearance of his wife - therefore he is most assuredly under a wiretap.

It's likely a reporter covering the case for CBS2 has developed a "relationship" with one or more members of the local constabulary - If you get my drift.

I do have a serious problem with the way they edited the tape to suggest a sexual relationship. Either that was done out of pure malice or they wanted to convey information that they can't confirm... Hmmm.

Harris said...

Ha-ha. I work at a newspaper. Nobody gives a shit what I do.

Lorenzo said...

I can honestly say it's none of my business. Just like it was none of my business who was orally pleasuring Bill Clinton. It didn't become my business until the media made him treat it with more importance than doing his job of running my country.

And I still don't care who Paris Hilton fucked. But I'm sure you'll save a lot of time by listing who she didn't fuck. Me. And it'll stay that way, because she's repulsive.

mrmook said...

In addition to the shaky ethics at play in almost every aspect of this "story" there is, if one is to believe what one reads, a personal history/rivalry between Ahern and staion manager Larry Wert of WMAQ.

Chez, it IS difficult for non-pros to put Ms. Jacobsons' lapse into context (the bikini is completely forgivable-a female reporter using whatever limited tools she has at her disposal to get her scoop- but taking her kids along for the ride, NO SALE!) and impossible to grasp Ms. Jacobson's motivations given the circumstances but not too very difficult to understand what was going on with the broadcast of that edited videotape.

Unfortunately until the missing woman turns up either dead or alive this one has got legs.

Stay tuned......

Al said...

Is the missing woman white? Ohh..then it IS a story. ;-)

the sieve said...

I may have the intelligence of a local news consumer, but what did this Jacobson woman do wrong?

I don't get it. Are they implying an improper relationship between her and Stebic? Or is it that she showed up for an interview dressed inappropriately? Someone please explain. I've heard nothing of this before reading it here, so I don't know the context/background.

Nate said...

I just don't understand how CBS can justify sitting outside this guy's house 2.5 months after his wife disappeared. How does a company go, "Shit, let's pay a camera crew to sit around and film a hous for a few months. It's totally worth the cash." And how is a missing person this big a deal in the first place? I never understood that whole runaway bride thing from a couple years back. This is why I hate people. I stopped watching the news years ago when I realized that they were reporting on the stupidest possible stories in the laziest possible way. I don't know how Chez can stand that business without getting physically sick all over his bosses/colleagues on a daily basis.

jane said...

after seeing you "judging amy" post on the myspace, i thought this might be about miss nj. thank you for making it about something else.

TK said...

al - that's a terrible thing to say.

A terrible, incredibly true, thing to say.

Emily Blake said...

Didn't reporters used to call the subjects of their stories and give them an opportunity to comment before they ran the story?

Or have I just seen too many movies?

Chez said...

Sieve -- EXACTLY. Without knowing it (or anything about the story) you made the point perfectly. WBBM knew as much about what was going as you now do. All it had was a piece of video with no real story and zero context, so yes -- it ran the video and simply figured that viewers would draw the same "conclusions" that BBM's idiot managers did: Something untoward was going on. Reporter at source's house in bikini -- with kids no less.

Nate -- I don't get sick anymore; I get really fucking angry.

the sieve said...

Thanks, Chez. Now I get it. *light bulb appears over head*

And she lost her job over this? Wow. You'd think, at worst, WMAQ would have issued the requisite hollow apology and sent her to rehab or something. But to fire her...?

It's a cutthroat business you work in, man.

Marjorie said...

I didn't know she was fired. That sucks. For some inane reason I was watching Bill O on FOX while he was making a remark on that fact they had to block out her bikini because it was to revealing but the video was actually blocking out her kid. Basically saying she stopped there for some sex or something. Then he made the point that she should be fired. Didn't Billo recently get into trouble over some lewd behavior? He still gets to pour endless bullshit out of his mouth on a daily basis.

otownkid said...

It's unfortunate she got axed for her "transgression", but Amy will be fine, because she is fine. Hell,she doesn't even need to be a news reporter any more with a body like that.