Friday, March 07, 2008
It Does What It's Told or It Gets the Hose
So this morning, the Today show devoted six minutes of airtime to a story about a woman who was caught by a surveillance camera using one of those high-pressure car wash hoses on her young daughter.
The incident happened in Orlando, Florida -- because, well, of course -- and the mother has now turned herself in to police to face possible child abuse charges.
Although I don't mean to single out Today -- as I have no doubt that every other TV news organization in the country ran riot with the story as well -- this kind of thing really requires that one or two newsroom managers be publicly executed as a sort of shot across the bow to the media in general. The Bad Parent Caught on Camera story is second only to the Missing or Dead White Girl story (see today's co-ed murder memorial at UNC) in the pantheon of items that make ratings-hungry news directors cry tears of joy. It's really the easiest television there is -- a shifty little end-run around responsibility that basically deflects news judgment onto the audience: All a station or network has to do is play the tape and let viewers make up their own minds. Is what they're witnessing a crime? Is it much ado about nothing? Literally, we report, you decide.
The problem of course is two-fold. First, the fact that a good amount of airtime is devoted to a single piece of videotape automatically indicates to the audience that what it's seeing on the tape must be pretty distressing, otherwise why would trusted news professionals bother with it in the first place. Second, anchors and reporters can't simply let the thing run in a vacuum; they have to say something about it. And when there's even the slightest whiff of potential child abuse in the air, how do you think they're going to handle it?
Put it this way -- during this morning's six minute Today show segment, there was more contrived shock, horror, indignation and, oh yeah, irresponsible speculation than I've seen in one block of news in a long time.
Neither the anchor nor reporter could say with any certainty what the tape shows, only what it seems to show. Each assumed the worst and took it from there. For the record, the surveillance video clearly proves that the woman at the center of all this outrage sprayed her daughter down with a high-pressure hose which, on its highest setting, might cause serious damage (a fact illustrated, in somewhat comical fashion, by the reporter using the jet from the hose to tear apart what appeared to be a Subway sandwich). But here's the thing: Anybody who's ever been to a self-serve car wash knows that the low setting on one of these hoses yields no more pressure than your average garden hose. I'm not insinuating that spraying a child with even a mild shot of water is justifiable, but it's a far cry from the legal definition of abuse.
When you consider the fact that the young girl, the supposed victim, has been checked out by doctors and seems to have suffered no injuries whatsoever -- the stern posturing on national television of everyone from the local police, to a car wash clerk, to the Today show personalities themselves just reeks of bullshit theater.
A note to the Orange County DA's office: Do not pursue this case -- you'll lose.
I've actually mentioned this sort of thing before, highlighting what I think is the worst case of you-be-the-judge, caught-on-camera reporting I've ever seen.
Feel free to take a look.
(Career Suicide Blonde/7.12.07 )
I'm gonna go now though. Al Roker is sitting next to a glass case filled with live scorpions.
This could be good.
(Fox Orlando: Video Captures Car Wash Abuse of Child)
(Do yourself a favor and read the above link to laugh at journalistic irresponsibility as only a Fox affiliate can do it. Even the headline convicts the fucking woman, and the story itself has all sorts of unprovable assertions.)