Bathroom or Bath House?

Park bathrooms are where the action's at, according to a KGUN story that has some in the gay community fuming

The setup for the sweeps-month story on KGUN Channel 9 was ridiculously hammy, even for local TV news operations.

"The Internet: You take one wrong turn, and you have gone from looking for a puppy to straight-up pornography involving women and men," warned anchor/reporter Jennifer Waddell on a Thursday, Feb. 1, newscast.

What constitutes a "wrong turn" on the Internet? Is that when you google "fisting" when you meant "new puppy"?

Something also seemed amiss when Waddell noted that the porn involves "women and men." It was a weirdly specific statement in a story that ends up being full of generalities.

She meandered through a sordid tale about men allegedly using Craigslist to find gay-sex dates in public places. At one point, Waddell held up some folded papers and claimed they were last year's police reports for "sex acts in public." There was also a shot of someone flipping through a stack of supposed reports resulting from a sting operation at the appropriately named Greasewood Park, near the Pima Community College westside campus.

But she never disclosed how many reports there were last year or from the sting, which seems critical to understanding how widespread this problem is. (The Weekly contacted the Tucson Police Department and was told the sole person with that information was off until after this issue hits the streets.)

Waddell, however, did have room for alliteration.

"Something kinky happening at construction sites, shady screenings at the airport and public promiscuity in Tucson parks," Waddell soberly stated at the start. Later, she said, "X-rated photos. Men posting porn--some married, some not--trying to snag a hookup with other men. Trading photos for dirty deeds in the desert."

In her closing remarks, she once again brought up women.

"Well, as you heard in our story, men and women obviously have been busted for sex acts in public, and obviously, not all men meeting in parks are there for sex," Waddell said.

Gay-rights groups, such as local LGBT community center Wingspan and the national Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), protested the piece before it even ran, for stigmatizing gay men. Kent Burbank, Wingspan's executive director, said he took his concerns to Waddell. Awkwardly bracketing her piece with assurances that, yes, both men and women can get off in public may have been KGUN's way of trying to deflect the gay community's concerns.

"We had received complaints," Burbank said. "I called Jennifer. She was very defensive and said, 'You know, you haven't seen the piece.' And I said, 'You're absolutely right--I haven't seen the piece, so I will withhold judgment. But here is where my concerns are: It's sweeps week; this has been done for over a decade, these stories. There have been news articles done by the gay press about how the mainstream media during sweeps week likes to pull out these stories, because they are lurid and sensationalistic.'"

Burbank said Waddell assured him that "it wasn't really about gay people."

"They were going to be very careful to make sure they weren't stereotyping," Burbank said. "I feel like they did a pretty poor job, and what she said to me doesn't match what the story looks like."

The Weekly was unable to get Waddell's take. She eventually returned our messages, saying she wasn't ignoring our calls but had been off work. Waddell wasn't sure if she was supposed to speak to the Weekly and said she would find out.

KGUN News Director Lena Sadiwskyj said the same thing, and offered to call back when she had discovered who was authorized to talk. She did, and told the Weekly to phone Journal Broadcasting Group's Jim Thomas, a PR vice president at KGUN's parent company in Milwaukee.

"He'll have everything," she said.

Getting straight to the point, the Weekly immediately asked Thomas why a man who had nothing to do with the Waddell piece was fielding questions about it.

"I'm the company spokesperson, and we don't have any additional comment on the story," he said. End of conversation.

It should be noted that Thomas is not the company spokesperson when others in the local media--including our own Media Watch columnist--want to talk to KGUN about noncontroversial topics, such as personnel changes. Sadiwskyj has gushed about new hires, but is apparently unwilling or unable to address serious questions about Waddell's train wreck of an investigative piece.

KGUN may have clammed up, but Wingspan's Burbank is still looking for an apology.

"I think Jennifer Waddell should apologize," he said. "She clearly told me one thing, and I feel like what came out in the story was very different. I feel like she owes our community an apology."

Just before signing off, KGUN anchorman Guy Atchley wondered aloud what the reaction to Waddell's story just might be.

Because the station isn't talking, however, the Weekly headed back to Craigslist to see if there had been any response there. Judging from two warning posts dated Jan. 30--two days before the story ran--the news had come full circle.

"So all you guys who offer money for sex, you will be tracked down and arrested," one post, headlined "FYI--COPS ARE MONITORING CRAIGSLIST TOO," read. "You have to beware of the college boys that ask for funds for sex too. It may be a set up."