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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

Thoughts & Views: Running with a story – and stumbling

On Monday, April 15, being otherwise occupied and not one of those people who tweet or Facebook, I had not been online, or near a TV, all day, so I was oblivious to what had happened in Boston.

I returned home and flipped on the television, and there on the screen was President Obama addressing the nation and stating, “We will find out who did this and bring them to justice” (or words to that effect).

Did WHAT?

Of course, the story was all over the news and I soon found out about the bombings, the coverage of which I followed all week.

On Friday, I awoke to the clock radio and a live feed from a press conference, with some official stating, “The entire city of Boston is in lock-down. People are being asked to shelter in place.”

WHAT? Apparently, I had gone to sleep the night before just prior to when the news broke about the shootout between police and the terror suspects.

For much of the day, I was glued to the TV, following, as best I could, the dramatic events unfolding in Watertown, Mass. I flipped from channel to channel and was struck by the same thing I had thought during the week: How misinformative much of the coverage was.

This is partly due to the desire to scoop the competition (something I touched on in last week’s column about the feeding-frenzy for sound bites). But it is also because, when you’ve got nonstop coverage, you’ve got to fill the airtime with something. So straight, factual reporting can take a backseat to the “yadayadayada” of the talking heads. And, worse, to errors.

A prime example was CNN’s now-infamous report Wednesday that “sources” had informed them of an arrest of a suspect in the bombings. It took them about an hour to confirm this was not so.

On Friday, Scott Pelley on CBS started to report that Connecticut police had issued a BOLO for a green Honda sedan with Massachusetts plates. But before he went any further, he interrupted himself. He was getting new info. And he immediately made a correction: No such alert had been issued. Good for you, Scott.

At least a half-hour after that, another network announced that Connecticut police were looking for a green Honda . . . which still was not true. Disgusted, I changed the channel, so I don’t know how long it took them to correct their mistake. I might be wrong, but somehow I doubt it was immediate.

This is dangerous territory because we all make mistakes (which is why The Observer puts corrections on this page when warranted), but mistakes are most egregious when they involve a high-profile story about which the entire world is awaiting accurate information.

Too often, in the race to be first, what is sometimes reported as fact, isn’t fact at all. There has long been an in “joke” among journalists about how bad the reporting can be when someone not completely on the ball is covering a breaking story. We’re aware of it. You should be, too.

This is not deliberate carelessness. It is explicable. But it is still not excusable. Suggestion: You might consider keeping a few grains of salt next to your remote.

– Karen Zautyk

Thoughts & Views: Sportsmanship? ‘Show me the money!’

So the sword has fallen on the head basketball coach and athletic director at Rutgers, our premiere State University, in the wake of the release of videos showing abusive actions and homophobic barbs by the coach toward his players.

Should we be shocked that (a) nothing happened until the videos came to public light, (b) that higher-ups knew about the coach’s aberrant behavior well before we did or (c) that lawsuits (whistleblower and otherwise) are resulting?

Nope.

Maybe y’all may remember a little scandal, not so long ago, that happened at Penn State University. A different scholastic sport, a somewhat different alleged behavior pattern by a coach, but the facts were known beforehand.

Welcome to America, boys and girls.

Maybe some of you watched the recent CBS’ “60 Minutes” episode and caught the segment on “Linsanity.” Remember the former Harvard hoops standout and later, New York Knicks guard, who exploded as a scoring star and, not long after, abandoned Madison Square Garden to blast off with the Rockets for a more lucrative deal in Houston?

It’s all about the money.

Lin told interviewer Charlie Rose that he had the support of his parents to go for the gold, rather than pursue a career as an engineer or doctor – an anomaly among more traditional Asian-Americans. And the adulation adoring fans from both the U.S. and China shower on him Lin seems to take as validation of that pursuit.

Of course, the big bucks he’s getting from Rockets’ management is also comforting, no doubt.

For American student athletes intent on edging their way into Division 1 colleges and universities, with the expectation of being scouted by pro teams, no matter what the sport, the insidious pressure – self-imposed or from outside sources – is enough to corrupt even the most pure.

So much so that many are willing to overlook the kinds of abuse foisted on them in the belief that it’s a necessary evil to make the grade.

If they can manage to do that, then it’s all worth it.

Bottom line: It’s not the value of learning to be a team player and using your talents for the best interests of you and your teammates. No. It’s all about ME and breaking the individual basketball scoring record or busting the quarterback’s head or slamming a record number of homers to attract the cheers and cashola.

Win one for the Gipper? Hell no, bro’. I’m winning this so I get picked among the top 10 in the draft.

Sure, you hear professional coaches talking all the time about “teamwork” but, to me, that’s just “trash” talk.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: A story at any cost? No thanks

There is one aspect to a job in journalism that I have never quite understood, and with which I have never been comfortable.

I’m talking about the ghoulish pursuit of a) crime victims, b) accident victims, c) the families of crime victims or accident victims, and the worst d) the families of murder victims — done with the ignoble desire to get a quote. Read more »

Correction!

Last week’s story about neighbors up in arms about a development proposal that would replace a vacant Belgrove Drive dental office with a two-family home incorrectly reported that the dentist who occupied that office had passed away. Dr. Charles Bridges is alive. We regret the error.

Thoughts & Views

‘Haunted by these numbers’

Editor’s note: Last Friday, March 29, marked 40 years since American combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. A friend who is a Marine veteran and a former Saigon war correspondent emailed me what appears below. I thought it would be an appropriate commemoration, and I have tried to find out who wrote it — but to no avail. I asked my friend, and his response was, “It has been forwarded so many times that I doubt you could find the origin.”

Therefore, I cannot give the writer credit, nor can I vouch for the accuracy of all the data, but I truly doubt anyone would make it up.

– Karen Zautyk Read more »

WE’VE GOT MAIL

From the desk of Mayor Massa

North Arlington Mayor Peter Massa

North Arlington Mayor Peter Massa

To the Editor:

Last week, the voters of North Arlington approved the expenditure of $3.3 million in repairs for the Rip Collins Memorial Field located on River Road. Twenty-five percent of the electorate agreed to support the referendum that will result in the construction of a new playing field, running track, bleachers, lockers and other items.

As mayor, I rather questioned the practicality of renovating a facility that has flooded on numerous occasions including the past two recent hurricanes that ravaged not only North Arlington, but many parts of New Jersey. As mayor, I have a fiduciary responsibility to question a proposal that in my view did not address the central issue of flooding as well as parking for that specific site plan. Read more »

Thoughts & Views

What’s cooking? In my kitchen, not much

Elsewhere in this week’s issue of The Observer, you will find a story I did on a gourmet dinner served to Kearny senior citizens by Kearny High School culinary students.

It was a lovely event, but I was not completely at ease. Gourmet food frightens me. And I am intimidated by the people who can cook it.

I cannot cook at all. I do not want to learn. I have survived this long on take-out and eating out and microwave tasties and I am not about to change. Read more »

Correction

In last week’s issue, for Franklin School Honors, the names of two students were omitted: Jason Marshall & Crystelle Martins, Grade 5

Thoughts and Views

Pontiff can help shape discourse of world
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

So there’s a new head man sitting in the Vatican.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Argentina, has been elected to the papacy.

Pope Francis is the first pontiff from the Western Hemisphere to be selected to run the Catholic Church in the centuries that the Church has been thriving around the globe.

In part, picking the Argentinian signals a recognition of the significant growth of the Church in Latin American countries. Read more »

CORRECTIONS!

• Last week’s story on Family Food Distributors in Kearny contained a photo that misidentified one of the visitors to the facility. The person mistakenly listed as Deborah Smith should have been identified as Elizabeth J. Mackay, senior policy advisor for the New Jersey Business Action Center. (Deborah Smarth also attended as a representative of N.J. Small Business Development Centers.) The Observer regrets the error.

• A headline in last week’s story about “Once on This Island” being performed by the Kearny High School (KHS) players gave the wrong location for the upcoming shows. They can be seen in the KHS auditorium. The Observer regrets the error.