Monday, January 10, 2005

Smelly Stuff

(I started writing something completely different here today...then got sidetracked...and I think after reading this over I simply got lost...but I'm posting it anyway...because, well because I want to go to sleep).
The other day I was contemplating a bowl of some high protein cereal Amy had bought and rejected as "tasting like wood" and I gave the milk in the refrigerator a didn't smell quite right to me.

Amy on the other hand said it smelled fine.

I opted for a small amount of half and half instead, thus negating any health benefits of the cereal.

This morning I had been at the office for about 30 minutes when the phone rang and a man who said he was a local cab driver told me, "Every cabbie and cop in the city is looking for a missing taxi driver." He wanted me to broadcast the story on the news, telling me the driver had last radioed his dispatcher saying, "Help I'm being robbed!" and then no one heard from him again.

I asked a few questions but made no promises about running the story. I made a couple of follow up calls to police and to various creatures of the night I know and none could confirm the story so I decided it was better to sit on it, even though it was a possible such a crime could have fallen off the normal radar of my sources.

It's a decision I've made many times and in all honesty it is a little dangerous...because it could easily be mistaken for laziness which could result in unemployment.

I mentioned the facts as I knew them to a co-worker upon her arrival and asked her to follow it up later in the morning. She did and came back to my desk saying, "I think it's true!" She was concerned we had missed a story because of my judgment call, so we went over the facts and she told me after some prodding police were able to find a police report about a missing cab driver, but that the cab company itself would not confirm it to her.

The aroma was starting to become stronger to me. I've covered missing cab drivers before; in fact I've seen murdered cab drivers. It's been my experience that taxi companies act like mothers of lost children in times of distress - they wail loudly and seek help from every possible source - as well they should. I told the reporter the story was bogus and we wouldn't run it despite the police report. A short time later a panicked official from the cab company called to tell us it was a case of "miscommunication" with the driver. There was no one was missing.

Some years back, not long after the Columbine tragedy, I heard a scanner call of "shots fired" at a local elementary school. I was writing a newscast at the time and my boss heard the call on the scanner too. He rushed out the door to the scene. Two news organizations in the city (one television, one radio) went on the air immediately and announced the name of the school, and that 11 to 13 children had been wounded. That resulted in the school being swamped by manic parents and every phone line in my office ringing with calls from angry listeners asking why we weren't broadcasting the story.

I put nothing about the story on our air. I couldn't confirm any injuries or even a shooting...and I worried about the Columbine jitters. I also worried I was making the wrong call.

My boss arrived on the scene at almost the same time as EMS and quickly called me pleading that I NOT run any story because there was no shooting. A janitor driving to work thought somebody shot at him miles away as he was leaving home and when he got to the school he called police to report it. EMS units 8 - 11 and 8 -13 had been dispatched as a precaution. That is apparently what the other news organizations heard and mistook for a body count.

We did eventually have to run a story, simply to tell people there was no story with the exception of shoddy journalism.

Like every member of the media I've been accused of being biased. Unlike some whenever that accusation has been directed toward me I've always said, "Yes, I am." That's not a revelation I had or a defense I adopted, it was literally one of the first things I was taught in journalism 101 and it's an obvious truth.

I carry my biases with me everywhere - they taint my viewpoint on life. I am white. I am a Christian. A stepfather. A homeowner. I am a former drunk and drug abuser. All of these things give me a different perspective on life than you, and thus you and I may both look at the same event and see two different things.

I guess what I'm saying is you have to put everything to your own smell test...and maybe we should be doing that more often.