A sports column about rape and torture? No, it’s not a joke.

When I first heard about it, I thought it was a joke. What columnist—especially one with 22 years of experience—would write a story about all of the sports events Jaycee Dugard missed during 18 years of captivity and rape by a sexual pervert?

But that’s exactly what Orange County Register sports columnist Mark Whicker did.

“She never saw a highlight. Never got to the ballpark for Beach Towel Night. Probably hasn’t high fived in a while.”

He then proceeded to list 20-some things Jaycee didn’t get to see while she lived in a hell-hole, from Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record, to the Anaheim Ducks winning the Stanley Cup.

He ended with “Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard.” Funny, huh?

To add insult to injury, after readers started sending in angry emails, Whicker issued a lame apology.

“For Tuesday’s Register, I wrote a column that clearly offended and outraged large portions of our readership. It was not my intention to do so. But it’s obvious that I miscalculated the effect the column on Jaycee Dugard, and the events that she might have missed during her captivity, had on those who read, buy and advertise in our newspaper.”

Yeah, and what about Jaycee and her family?

“For 22 1/2 years at The Register, I feel like I’ve had a good and direct relationship with our audience and I think most of the regular readers know how I go about reporting and commenting on sports. This column appears to have disconnected that bond with at least part of our readers. For that I apologize.”

He goes on to call it a “lapse in professionalism.”

How about calling it extreme bad taste, an outrage, an insult, arrogance, and a dozen other things I could think of?

At least the deputy editor, John Fabris, (one of many who should have stopped the column before it ran) posted an apology that seemed sincere and contrite.

“The past few days have been the kind that make an editor’s heart ache. We ache thinking about the hurt we have caused, and we ache knowing it was preventable.”

Maybe it’s time for Whicker to issue his own honest apology.

Open microphone nails another one

mn-duvall10_ph1_05005743281

Don’t you just love a good scandal? Especially one that’s so blatantly hypocritical?

Mike Duvall, a pro-family values member of the California Assembly, got caught talking with a fellow committee member about his extra-marital sexual exploits.

Duvall and the other Assemblyman, Jeff Miller, were waiting for a meeting to begin and apparently didn’t realize their mics were open. Duvall went into lurid detail (TMI) about his sexual activity with two women, including a lobbyist 18 years younger than him.

“So, I am getting into spanking her. Yeah, I like it. I like spanking her.”

“She wears little eye-patch underwear…the other day she came here with her underwear, Thursday. So we had made love Wednesday—a lot!” (Ewwwwww)

Another irony—Miller, the one who was listening, is a member of the Assembly Ethics Committee, which is investigating whether he should be punished for not reporting Duvall. Miller claims “he wasn’t really paying attention.” Ah, yeah, right.

Duvall is married (at least for now) and has two children. He resigned from the Assembly yesterday.

A tale of two press release quotes: One bad, one better

Chris Casacchia’s column in the Phoenix Business Journal on Friday, September 4 showed a striking contrast between a communicator who doesn’t know how to write a press release quote and one who does.

Alliance Bank of Arizona had great news about reaching a critical goal: $1 billion in total assets! The president and CEO, obviously excited by his bank’s achievement, was quoted from the press release sent to Casacchia: “Reaching the $1 billion dollar milestone in total assets, driven by our exceptionally strong deposit growth, continues to illustrate the value of having a strong capital position.”

Can’t you just see him spouting that gem while toasting his company’s success!

In another segment of the column, Jacob Gold was quoted in a press release about his book “Financial Intelligence: Getting Back to Basics after an Economic Meltdown.”

“You would think that with the abundance of readily available financial information, people would know which path to take with their money,” he said. “In reality, the exact opposite is the case.”

No, it’s not perfect, but at least it’s conceivable that those words actually came out of someone’s mouth.

So who cares? Both got the publicity they were asking for. Even the lousy quote from the bank got ink.

The problem is, many reporters will go out of their way to NOT use a quote like that. And even when it’s used by a journalist who doesn’t take the time to call to get something better, it bores readers. They either don’t understand it, or it they do, they’re so turned off, they stop reading.

At least I did.

Just because it’s a print story doesn’t mean you’re not doing TV

flipbacklarge1

A print reporter comes to your office to do an interview for a story she’s writing. When she walks in, she pulls out her handy Flip video camera and asks if it’s okay for her to record the conversation. “Sure,” you say.

The next day, you go to the publication’s web site to see if your story is posted yet. Not only did the reporter write about what you said, but she also posted the entire video of your interview.

This has happened recently to a couple of my clients. The good news is they got more visibility and publicity. The bad news is they did the interviews as if they weren’t being taped so they didn’t come across as well as they could have.

What’s the difference? The first is how they sat. On my clients’ videos, they were hunched over a conference table with what looked like sloppy posture. One was wringing his hands during part of the interview.

When you’re on video, you want to sit with good posture, leaning about 15 degrees forward and using the front 2/3 of the chair. That way you look engaged and in control. And yes, use gestures, but don’t play with your pencil or wring your hands.

Second, they rambled with unfocused, lengthy answers. If it were just a print interview (or even an edited TV interview), the reporter could boil it down for her story, just using a quote or two. But on video, it was there for everyone to see and hear.

Third, they lacked energy and enthusiasm. They seemed bored with what they were saying. It might not have come across that way in person, but because TV absorbs energy, we have to be a little more animated than we are during a normal conversation (especially one done at the end of a long, tiring day).

Today, everybody is a journalist, TV reporter, and photographer. And, you always have to be “on.”

Yes you may have a right to lose your temper, but when you do, you lose

alg_david_paterson_court1

Funny thing about anger. We all have episodes of it, unfortunately not always in private. We all know it’s part of the human condition. Yet, when we witness someone else losing their temper in public, we tend to judge them harshly: “what a loose canon,” “what a hothead,” “gee, he/she has a real anger problem.”

We all have certain buttons that are easier to push than others. Often, the media (and our significant other) is adept at pushing them. New York Governor David Paterson is a recent example.

In an angry rant during a radio interview last week, Paterson seemed to say that his political problems and the media’s attacks of him were due to racism. “The next victim on the list—and you can see it coming—is President Barack Obama, who did nothing more than try to reform a health care system,” he said.

The reaction wasn’t good, even from other African Americans. The President’s aides were so upset that Paterson had dragged Obama into the issue that they sent him an angry message.

Yesterday Paterson took it all back, claiming that what he said wasn’t what he really meant. The root of the problem, he said, was anger at something else (kind of like when you have a bad day at work and you come home and yell at your husband or the kids).

Paterson says what he was really upset about was the accusation by a local TV reporter that he was a bad parent because he let his underage daughter (who in reality is 21) stay out late clubbing.

Major button pushing for a person who views himself as, and prides himself as, a good father. But then you cool down (and get scolded by the President) and realize your mistakes: Letting anger prevail over reason and criticizing the media. Bad combination.

National Media Drop the Ball on Tennessee Disaster

Where is the outrage?

One week ago, an estimated 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash and water burst through a retaining wall at a TVA coal plant in Tennessee. Of the 15 homes damaged by sludge as high as 6 feet, at least three have been called uninhabitable. Much of the ash flowed into the Clinch River, a tributary of the Tennessee. Environmental damage to the area will likely be severe and long term.

Some experts are calling this catastrophe the largest environmental disaster of its kind in the US. Others say that the 10.9 million gallons of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska pales in comparison.

Remember those days in March, 1989, when the national media pounced on Exxon, criticizing the company for its arrogance and slow reaction to the spill? The story went on for weeks, with the public and the media continually attacking the company. Exxon’s reputation still bears the scars of the crisis.

But this latest disaster in Tennessee has hardly registered on the importance scale of the national media. There were a few stories initially, but little ongoing reporting as people continue to be homeless, dead fish line the banks of the river, and area residents worry about ongoing health effects.

Where are the investigations into how something of this magnitude could have happened? Where are the questions about how the early estimates of the spill could have been so wrong? Where are the reports about why the TVA wasn’t more prepared to handle a crisis of this size?

What is the difference? Are we becoming so used to disasters that it’s old news? Are media organizations so bare bones these days they can’t cover anything beyond the presidential transition, Governor Blagojevich’s latest press conference, and Sarah Palin’s daughter? Or is because this disaster happened in Appalachia, a poor area not worth reporting on?

Greed and Corruption Abound; Who Can Stop Them?

These days I’m even more cynical than when I was a reporter. Greed and corruption seem to be everywhere. Politicians say they are honored to serve the public, but many, if not most, of them really want to serve the interests of numero uno. Corporations and other organizations say they care about the public good, but for many, the public good is only important if it’s good for profits and bonuses.

I’ve been on vacation in Mexico for a week and in that time I’ve watched the governor of Illinois get arrested for trying to sell President-elect Obama’s senate seat; I’ve seen the highly respected and trusted owner of an investment firm rip off his clients and friends with an elaborate ponzi scheme; I’ve heard reports of a Los Angeles hospital CEO and the operator of a homeless facility conspiring to cheat Medicare by performing unneeded medical procedures on homeless people.

And that’s just the stuff we know about!

I fear the demise of the newspaper. Not only because I relish my moments with my morning coffee and paper, but also because I wonder who will fill the role of watchdog. Not that the press is always on top of things, flushing out the bad guys, but at least they catch the occasional politician, government employee, or executive with his hand in the cookie jar.

Sure, newspapers will still exist on line, but staffs have already been reduced to the point where something like investigative reporting is an unnecessary luxury. Can bloggers do the job? Will they have the resources and desire to accurately expose government and corporate excess, greed and corruption? We can only hope someone fills the vacuum.

Empathy for Layoffs? Not Phillips

Why pretend you’re concerned about laying off workers? After all, it’s all about profits. We don’t want to let a couple thousand jobs and families get in the way.

Phillips plans to cut five percent of its 32,000 member workforce in its medical division worldwide. That means 1600 people are out of work.

So what does the company spokesperson say about it?

“We want to take all possible measures despite the sluggish economic scenario at present to maintain our profit levels and even improve them if possible,” said Arent Jan Hesselink.

And what did CEO Gerard Kleisterlee say earlier this month?

“Given the limited scope of the present economic scenario we have taken certain measures to maintain our profits.”

My, how heartfelt!

The Nerve of Some People: The Big Three and Spitzer

“It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high-hat and tuxedo. . . . I mean, couldn’t you all have downgraded to first class or jet-pooled or something to get here?”

That quote from Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York sums up the idiocy of the chief executives of the Big Three automakers arriving in private jets to ask Congress for a $25 billion handout.

The worst part is, they probably didn’t and still don’t think they did anything wrong. After all, it’s one of the perks of the job.

Not to mention that on top of that perk and others, GM’s Richard Wagoner pulled down $15.7 million last year. Ford’s Alan Milally made $21.7. Chrysler’s Bob Nardelli only made $1 million, but don’t feel too sorry for him. He left Home Depot with a $210 million golden parachute.

Here’s hoping these clueless CEOs didn’t get the okay from their PR advisors before doing something so breathtakingly stupid and arrogant.

Speaking of arrogance, let’s talk about Elliott Spitzer, the disgraced former governor of New York. Rather than skulking off into the shadows of humiliation, he actually had the nerve to write an op-ed in the Washington Post offering advice on how to re-regulate Wall Street.

And, one week after he skirted a jail sentence by finding out he wouldn’t be prosecuted for soliciting prostitutes, Spitzer portrayed himself in the article as a wise sage and victim who was “scoffed at” for raising red flags about what was going on in the marketplace.

Elliott Spitzer a victim. Now that’s rich.

Who Can We Trust — Not the News Media

It was too juicy to resist—and MSNBC couldn’t and didn’t. Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country, not a continent.

Problem is, it was a hoax. The so-called McCain advisor quoted, Martin Eisenstadt, doesn’t exist. He’s the creation of a pair of filmmakers who say they perpetuated the joke to help them pitch a TV show based on the character.

Their motives aren’t as important as the fact that MSNBC aired the story without checking it out. Spokesman Jeremy Gaines admitted, “It had not been vetted. It shouldn’t have made the air.”

But it did. As consumers of news, whether Republican or Democrat, I think we should be concerned. As the pranksters said, the blame lies with the shoddiness of the traditional news media and the blogosphere.

It’s also a result of the bias of so-called “news” stations, whether conservative (Fox) or liberal (MSNBC). If the story had been about President Elect Obama instead of Palin, you can bet MSNBC would have checked it out before broadcasting.

And as for corrections or retractions — I haven’t heard near as much about MSNBC being fooled as I did about the original story. I bet half the country still believes it was true. Check out the MSNBC web site. Not a mention.