Yes It Is, It’s True: Media hype sometimes trumps the truth

Troubling true stories_1This is a true story about two instances in which broadcast media hyper-ventilated, got carried away and sacrificed the truth for what was thought to be a good story.

I witnessed both and was appalled by what transpired, but must be mindful of the old saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

The first occurred in the late 1970s when I was sports editor at the Albion Evening Recorder. Because I did sports, I often worked evenings in the newsroom. One night I received a phone call, not from a coach reporting results, but from a young reporter at the WALM radio station in Albion.

The young man was almost breathless when he asked if I had seen anything yet on the UPI wires about the big “story that we broke.” He then explained that a group of radical Hanifi Muslims had taken over a hotel in Washington D.C. and there was a tense hostage situation.

He went on to explain that Albion Mayor Charles W. “Chuck” Jones, Treasurer Millard Coleman and City Manager Neal Godby were in that hotel for some sort of municipal conference. He then told me the local officials were in grave danger because they were being held hostage by the terrorists.

I told him wasn’t seeing anything about it on wire services, but tuned in to listen to his squawking over the airwaves about how our mayor, treasurer and city manager were being held hostage in the nation’s capital.

I tried to do my job and kept tabs on what was going on. I did not call any of my colleagues, nor the editor. The next morning, when the smoke had cleared, we learned that the local officials were elsewhere, at the conference, when the brief, now resolved incident took place, and about the only thing held hostage was their luggage.

In the words of Emily Litella, “Never mind.”

A similar story occurred earlier this year in Wayland when WOOD-TV Channel 8 came to town to enhance a report about money missing from the City of Bangor. Armed with the information that Wayland City Manager Mike Selden and City Treasurer Cherie Parish formerly had worked at Bangor, the boys and girls at “First, Best, Live” leaped to the conclusion that somehow Selden and Parish were responsible for the shortfall in their past work lives.

They insisted that the FBI was looking into the matter and they had difficulty absorbing Selden’s explanation that he and Parish started at Bangor after the supposed crimes had been committed.

The “On Air, On Line, On the Go” gang spent a lot of time that day in Wayland, looking to track down Parish, who was more than a bit shy about going on camera. Their broadcast made a point to note that Police Chief Steve Harper moved her car during the day — as if she had something to hide.

The next day, and all days since, I have heard nothing from the Channel 8 crew about this incident, which leads me to believe that really didn’t have anything for the story they wanted. But rather than apologize to Selden and Parrish for their operation that came dangerously close to character assassination, they just dropped it.

Frank Zappa once declared, “I’m not black, but there’s whole lots of times I wish I could say I’m not white.”

My amendment — “I’m a community journalist, but there’s whole lots of times I have nothing but contempt for my brothers and sisters in the media.”

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