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.)


tamara said...

Re: Reading the above link and the unprovable assertions: Not to mention numerous typos throughout...who's their editor?

slouchmonkey said...

Was the Subway sandwich product placement? "Now watch as I spray the high powered hose at this delicious Subway sandwich containing just 130 calories." (smash cut close up, wink to camera."

VOTAR said...

When my sister and I misbehaved (well, mostly my sister), my mom would count to three first, then if we were still unrepentant, the big wooden measuring stick would get pulled out from behind the toaster oven in the kitchen. That sound (which I can still hear in my head to this day, and which makes me shiver to recall), much like that of a sword being unsheathed from a scabbard, was usually enough at that point to frighten us into line, because we both know from experience that that heavy wooden ruler hurt like a bitch when applied liberally to the flesh of a child's butt cheek or leg, or wherever it connected (and it always connected; my mom was like a ninja with that thing -- if the sword was drawn it must be fed before returning to its place behind the toaster). That was in the early 70s. Today, if someone caught sight of my mom dispensing Justice with her +5 Vorpal Ruler of Righteousness, she'd be forced to turn herself in to the sherriff's department too I guess.

Anonymous said...

harkens back to the wonderful Rodney King episode.

Blacks = he was beaten endlessly like a lynching

Whites = well he did resist. And the police were maintaining order.

mexicans = those stinkin pigs

Anonymous said...

FUCK! Can I take the How to write the best blog titles, like, evah class??

Fuck. That hurt. Seriously, just stop.

Anonymous said...

She wasn't a co-ed, but the current Student Body President at UNC.

Chez said...

I certainly don't mean to diminish her death -- co-ed, student body president, whatever her status; it's incredibly sad.

Unfortunately, the coverage of it proves the point many make about the way the news media responds to tragedies involving pretty, young, white women.

Believe me, this isn't a soapbox -- it's just a fact.

b80vin said...

I spray my four year old grand son with my pressure washer whenever he's around and I'm washing the car. Of course I do it on low and he laughs...until he doesn't and I stop.

There's a lot of holes in the car wash manager's story on the Fox site. But more to your point: just because an alleged crime is caught on tape is it bigger news? We know that children are abused every day, there just isn't video. Not to mention in Florida wasn't there a scandal involving child services? Wouldn't journalists have done a greater service investigating that rather than spending six minutes on a video that may or may not show a crime? And all that righteous indignation, do they feel that all the time knowing child abuse is endemic or just when they see it?

js said...

Chez, I know you are blogging on the TV coverage of said incident but you seem to be saying that spraying a child with a power hose as punishment is not abuse. I disagree. We supposedly live in a civilized society and civilized humans do not punish children in this manner.
The mother should be investigated for child abuse and or neglect. She should be forced to take parenting classes, seek psychological counseling to deal with her own issues, and read some good books on child development.
Obviously, you do not have children or you might have a different perspective on this story.
IMO it is a good thing that the media is making a big deal of the incident, perhaps it will save the child's life. If the mother gets away with punishing the child with whatever she has in her hand at the time, the next time it could be a hammer or a knife. Someone needs to look out for the kid and if it is the News media, good for them.

Anonymous said...

I'll not go so far as to condone the spraying of a little kid with a hose for any punative reason, but I will comment on the facts of the video. There is no fucking way that thing was on high. Have you ever tried to hold one of those spray guns with one hand when you are trying to wash something off of your car? You'd end up looking like a cartoon chracter losing control of a garden hose, and it would knock a kid that size across the wash bay. So before anyone says anything at all, lets take a look at what the video even shows.

Chez said...

JS --

First of all, that's not what I'm saying -- in fact, I actually said as much in the post. Florida's DCF is a mess, and you can't really be naive enough to believe that the media is "looking out" for kids. They're doing it for numbers -- because it stirs up a hornet's nest that translates into ratings and money. Neither entity will truly serve the best interests of a child -- any child. Trust me.

And although you certainly seem like a very smart person, I'm not sure it's your place to demand that a parent conform to your standards OR ELSE. I agree that since anyone can have a child there will always be parents who are completely unfit, but I need to learn a hell of a lot more about this case -- meaning more than a knee-jerk, uninformed reaction to an iffy piece of video -- before I start charging a mother with child abuse. That, by the way, was my overall point.

Oh yeah -- and I do have a daughter and another child the way. Just because I'm a father -- and a caring one -- doesn't mean that I shut my brain off. Parents like that do more harm than good.

Sheriff Bart said...

You said "trusted news professionals."

Anonymous said...

Chez, I am hardly media savy, like you, however, I do know they report for ratings and money. However, calling attention to this issue at least makes someone investigate.
Everything happens for a reason and this mother needs to be outed for her treatment of this child. Chez, if a mother gets this angry at a child she needs help.
I know I am idealistic when it comes to mothers and children and that also colors my view. I have six children and 10 grandchildren and it would break my heart if one of my children treated their child in this manner.
By the way, I really enjoy this blog.

Anonymous said...

Remembering my important contribution supra:


VOTAR said...

There's a Peter North joke in this somewhere, somehow... I just.... hmmm. I'll get back to you. You guys go on about your business.

winged unicorn said...

why the fuck did i move OUT of new york and into orlando?
was i on drugs?

Mac McFadden said...

If they wanted a story about someone being abused with water it's too bad they couldn't find the missing video of CIA waterboarding.
Of course that might have made some people lose their breakfast.

Mac McFadden

Anonymous said...


Oh puhleeze. You really need to get your head out of your ass and use your eyes to look around at society today. Who do you think you are, telling anyone how "civilized society" should treat their children. A DOCTOR checked her out and said she suffered NO abuse. You may have a couple of stepford children to your credit but you obviously have never dealt with any uncivilized children. And yes, I blame small-minded, judgemental, busy bodies like yourself for the problems with the foster care system in our country. People like you who want to overload our system trying to teach your standard/type of parenting skills to people like this (while it may not be the most desirable form of parenting it was at the least effective) while all you are really doing is telling children that you don't have to listen to your parents and if you don't and they force you to suffer some consequences well don't worry the good ole government will come in and let you charge them bad ol' parents with child abuse.

And as for FOX news just let me say congratulations on teaching a whole new generation of young parents that's it better to put your kids in front of the idiot box ten hours a day rather than take any proactive role in their disciplining 'cause the minute you do something that holier than thou journalists (who probably screwd and screwed over dozens of people to get where they are) might decide to condem you as an abuser on the news in front of the whole world even before they know any facts or even your name. Great job there FOX.

BV said...

When you catch something like this on video you turn it over to the authorities (local police, not local news station). Then the authorities investigate. They come to a conclusion and justice is served. There was no need for that to be shown on television.

Sensationalism. Pure and simple.

I was a little bratty child, hell I still am, who deserved to be hosed off every once in a while. Anybody out there who is a parent and tells you they haven't even thought about hosing their child down because they are being snotty little brats is lying. Is it the best solution to the problem? No, but neither was airing this tape.

Anonymous said...

child abuse/not child abuse, inappropriate, mean, acceptable....meh.

you know what i don't get? why would any parent hose their kid down only to have to put them in the car minutes later? sopping wet kid is like soggy dog, only wet kids get cranky when they don't dry fast enough.

now that's angle i wanna see!

Anonymous said...