Ratings sweeps month usually brings out the worst in local TV news as the stations try to grab viewers with lurid and shocking stories. You get your sleaze ("What's it like to be a stripper?"), complete with meticulously edited backlit footage of naked hoochie mamas dancing badly to disco music. Then there are the shock value stories ("You could have something deadly in your bed!!"), which turn out to be a report on how sleep apnea might cause a stroke 30 years down the road.
They're a creepy part of an increasingly disappointing business, but they're basically harmless, except for the fact that they take time away from important stories.
Occasionally, however, a station crosses the line, as Channel 9 did last week with its little primer on how to avoid getting caught in "speed traps" in town. First of all, the report should have lasted five seconds, consisting of Guy Atchley standing up and shouting, "Slow your sorry asses down!!"
But instead they got up on some phony soapbox and acted like they were doing a public service, teaching Civil Disobedience against repressive laws which actually try to control the flow of traffic.
What's next, a three-part series on how to shoplift and get away with it? "Tomorrow on Channel 9 News, we'll tell you which stores in the mall have the weakest security and where the blind spots are in the video surveillance systems. And then, on Thursday, you'll learn how to remove those clip-on security devices without having ink splatter all over your purloined blouse."
(Note to Channel 9 viewers: That word is "purloined," not pearl-lined. It means "stolen.")
Actually, the shoplifting story would be better and less socially irresponsible because people hardly ever get dead from shoplifting (except maybe in Singapore). Speeding, on the other hand, kills people. And, more often than not, it kills someone other than the asshole who was speeding. This behavior should not be glorified, condoned or aided in any way.
I hate it when I'm driving school car pool in the morning and I hear listeners calling in to Mojo & Betsy on KRQ to warn drivers where the "speed traps" are. Sometimes when I get home I call in and give false information. That way some idiots will actually obey the law even when they don't face the imminent risk of having to pay for their illegal activity.
(Don't bother listening for my voice; I have friends doing it for me now. Consider it Counter-Civil Disobedience to the Self-Serving Dangerous Phony Civil Disobedience of speed-trap alerting.)
It's ridiculous. Every street, road and highway in America is a traffic-enforcement zone and should be considered as such by those exercising the privilege of using them. And a speed trap is a small Southern town where you get popped and have to call your cousin Vinny to get you out of jail. You want to call these things what they are, they're heavily traveled intersections with a high concentration of selfish jackasses who should've left for work 10 minutes earlier than they did.
(For those of you who are sitting down with paper and crayon, about to write a "people who live in glass houses" letter, be it known that in my 30-plus years of driving, I've never even been pulled over by a policeman. Boring, but true. I attribute this record to three main factors:
1. I'm white, meaning I'm less likely to be pulled over for nothing;
2. I don't drink, smoke or use drugs, and;
3. I don't really care what time it is. I hate to be late, but I'm not going to speed to get there on time.
Most of the time, Channel 9's feature would just be a medium-sized annoyance, but this year it's hitting closer to home. As some of you may know, I coach freshman girls basketball at a local high school. It's a labor of love, plus the district throws in two rolls of quarters and a free T-shirt at the end of the year.
I've got a kid on my team this year whose dad was run down and killed a few weeks ago by a soulless woman who was both drunk and high (and, according to the driver, asleep) while speeding along in her car one early morning.
The player's a great kid, sweet of heart and sad of face. The other day in a scrimmage, she airballed a free throw and immediately burst into tears. Everybody in the place knew it had nothing to do with the shot. It was the frustration and hurt and fear welling up from the inside of a kid whose life was ripped apart the same instant her father's life ended. A life snuffed out by a driver whose behavior was, until a few short years ago, winked and nodded at, not unlike the way speeding is today.
The kid shows up for practice every day almost like it's a refuge from the ugliness and reality that awaits her as she walks home. Imagine how she feels walking along the street, knowing that her father was doing the same thing when that driver came up on him and took his life. (I'd be happy to give her a ride home, but it's forbidden by school and district rules.)
I watch Channel 9 probably more than any other local TV news. They do an OK job. But they have to realize that it is their job—their public trust!—to gather and report the news, not to encourage scofflaws.
(Not being modern enough to have a modem, I have to put this on a disc and drive the disc down to the Weekly. Now watch me get a ticket!)