Coverage You Can’t Trust

Look at this Facebook post from NewsChannel 13.

The post includes a photo of a person sitting outside an Albany police station that was the scene of a recent clash with protesters. It’s excluded here because we don’t know if she did anything to warrant this kind of attention, and the police won’t say why they’re looking for her. However, that doesn’t stop WNYT from blaring in all caps with an exclamation point, ONE SHARE CAN HELP POLICE!

This is disturbing and irresponsible. It’s not unusual for the media to share a photo to identify someone who is clearly a suspect in a crime, but this steps over the line.

The accompanying story says, “Police aren’t saying why they want her, or what she might have done.” Don’t ask. None of your business. All you need to know is that we are the police and we want to find her. Take our word for it, she’s a bad one. Just look at her.

Maybe there’s a very good reason for the police to be looking for this woman, but if that’s the case, tell us why — and shame on WNYT for posting this without questioning the cops or asking for a justification. They not only skipped the basic journalism part, they then jumped into the fray to whip up their audience. Remember, ONE SHARE CAN HELP THE POLICE!

It stinks when these TV stations do the bidding of the authorities without considering what they may be up to. What happened between protesters and police was unfortunate, but it’s the job of journalism to question those in power, not become their lapdogs.

Nevertheless, ONE SHARE CAN HELP POLICE! Paging George Orwell.

Oy, Albany!

Oh, please, come for a visit to Albany! We’ll sit by the Waterway canal on Broadway and have a beer as we talk about old times. Then, maybe we can stroll to the Hudson through the park that used to be 787. Can you believe there was a six-lane highway here once? Then, let’s climb aboard the gondola to Rensselaer as the sun sets — because after all, that’s the best way to take in the skyline of our majestic capital city.

Yes, that sounds grand, doesn’t it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to dream big dreams, but these and other transformative ideas to improve Albany will never be more than that: dreams.

Here’s a city that can’t even figure out what to do with the parking lot district or the gloomy old Central Warehouse building — and you think they’re going to dig a canal through downtown or knock down an interstate? Yeah, right.

Maybe the city needs to aim lower. Instead of spending on pipedream projects, how about we put money into building home ownership in struggling neighborhoods, a proven strategy for urban renewal and growth. Create incentives for businesses to locate in the city and provide good jobs to local people. Maybe spend some money on the schools, perhaps.

Big fancy schemes will do nothing for this town, unless you think that making it a theme park for suburbanites will solve a lot of problems. It won’t.

Albany doesn’t need gimmicky development, it needs sound ideas and inspired leadership. And that’s harder than digging a moat or ripping down an overpass. It’s fun to dream of flying cars and hoverbikes, but to stay in touch with reality, always keep one foot on the ground.

You Can Leave Your Beard On

Brandon Fellows was having an awesome 2021. He got to to participate in the historic riot at the Capitol. Had his picture taken sitting on a police motorcycle. Was interviewed on CNN. Sat back and took a smoke in a U.S. Senator’s office. And it didn’t end there. Bloomberg News did a big feature on him a week later, giving him plenty of space to air his views.

Yes, it may have been his best year ever — until he was arrested on federal misdemeanor charges* for his role in the the January 6 insurrection. So much for having a moment.

You’d have thought we were done hearing from Mr. Fellows — but then WNYT got the chance to interview him on February 13, and boy, did they make a fucking mess of it.

For some reason, they allowed Fellows to appear in the same Yukon Cornelius-looking disguise he wore on January 6 in Washington, with a knit hat, sunglasses, and an absurd red beard made of yarn.

Sometimes there’s a very good reason to allow an interview subject to hide their face. It’s not uncommon to shield the identity of whistleblowers, sexual assault victims, and witnesses of crimes who may be harmed or intimidated — but someone who’s been criminally charged after such a high-profile incident? Not that I’ve ever seen. At that point, you’re sort of a public figure.

If Fellows insisted on wearing that getup, WNYT reporter Dan Levy could have ended things right there, but he didn’t. Actually, he didn’t even bother to explain in his story why Fellows was disguised. But what do you expect? Levy also didn’t press Fellows on his claim that he and other Trump supporters were being persecuted, “just as Hitler did with the Jews.” Hey, Dan Levy — were you even listening?

All I can figure is that since this story ran on a Saturday, the people who should have stopped it from airing had the day off.

But hold up, what am I thinking? Making Brandon Fellows take off his disguise or asking a tough question might have ruined the chance to have a “First on 13” exclusive, and we can’t allow that to happen.

*Since this was published, Fellows was hit with five more charges, including a felony obstruction count.

Blowin’ In the Wind

I’ve never been part of a protest like the ones we’re seeing around America lately. It’s not that I don’t care about important social issues, but I think it makes more sense to pay attention to the circle immediately around you and the things that you can personally affect.

A lot of people who walk around with a cardboard sign never do anything to improve their community, like commiting their time or treasure to make a real difference. But hey, protests are fun and they make you feel good about yourself. And they’re probably great if you’re single, too.

But I do like those leaf blower dads.

They’re a contingent of activists in Portland who have been showing up at protests to fight tear gas with lawn machines. When gas is deployed they muster up and deploy it back in the other direction with their leaf blowers. Nifty. It was such a good idea, that the cops started carrying their own leaf blowers to blow the fumes back in the intended direction. It’s a Mexican standoff of sorts. Sorry — is that culturally insensitive?

So, yes, maybe I could be persuaded to join a protest if I can bring a leaf blower. Waving around a sign is not my style, but a leaf blower? Now your talking.

Build that Paywall

It’s not a surprise that the Times Union has shoved it’s popular staff written blogs behind the paywall. Steve Barnes addressed this in an apologetic post in his Table Hopping food blog, explaining that the paywall also applies to Capitol Confidential and Kristi Gustafson Barlette’s blog.

Hey, I get it, content has value.

I subscribe to the digital edition of the New York Times and get the Times Union delivered, which also gives me access to their online content. I may joke about the TU, but I still like reading an actual local newspaper — even though it may infect me with COVID-19.

And it’s all good — mostly.

But here’s the thing: if I pay for your newspaper, I should not be subjected to a barrage of trashy click-bait advertising, like what’s found on every page of the Times Union’s website. It’s full of garbage ads for nonsense websites, celebrity news, slideshows, unwanted videos that auto-play — if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go to any story on their site and scroll down.

I believe in advertising, and legitimate ads from local and national advertisers are welcome — even targeted ads that prey upon the instincts and desires tracked by my browsing habits. What the Times Union is doing, however, is destroying the user experience for those who visit their website. Period.

Advertising is a social contract, of sorts. I’ve pointed out the relationship we agree to have with a lot of television content: I watch your ads in exchange for being informed and entertained. When the ads are intrusive and onerous? Then the contract is broken — and if I’m actually paying and still seeing all those shitty ads, shame on you.

Guns and Drugs

Petersburgh, New York is only about four miles from both Vermont and Massachusetts. If it weren’t for the road signs, you might not know where one state starts and the other one ends. But even if the borders are invisible, there are profound differences when you cross them.

Two examples.

People in Vermont are very much like the people in Petersburgh, except they can very easily buy guns. In fact, Vermont has fewer gun laws than most states in America, and Vermonters can buy as many handguns as they like with no license, permit, or waiting period. Then they can carry concealed with few restrictions.

In the time it takes you to buy a gun in Vermont, you couldn’t even complete the application in Petersburgh.

A short way south, in Massachusetts, ordinary people can walk into a store and buy marijuana. Recreational sale is still in it’s infancy, so it’s not quite as easy to buy weed in Massachusetts as it is to buy a gun in Vermont, but give it time. People are standing in line to buy pot in Mass, but there are no lines for guns in Vermont.

In Petersburgh, marijuana means you need to know somebody —- or know somebody who knows somebody.

It’s true that there are more important measures of freedom than guns and drugs, but to many people, these are meaningful symbols of personal liberty. Both can be misused. Guns, sometimes, in terrible ways.

Petersburgh, so close, yet so far. If the wind is blowing right, you can smell the marijuana, and hear the sound of gunfire drifting over the hills.

Blackout

So, Governor Ralph Northam’s of Virginia had a tough couple of days.

Interesting, because it brought back memories of painting my own face on Halloween. Wore a robe once, too. As a matter of fact, painted the face and wore a robe on the same day.

But unlike with Governor Northam, my face was painted white and my robe was black.

The getup was supposed to be some sort of phantom druid or something, who the hell knows. What do you expect from a weird teenager who’d seen too many 60s British horror movies.

But it’s easy to remember doing it — and that’s why this Ralph Northam thing’s so strange. It seems to me that you’d recall wearing blackface or a Klan robe on Halloween when you were in college.

Fast forward to 1986. The Mets had just won the World Series, and the legendary Mookie Wilson/Bill Buckner play in Game 6 was a very big deal. So this guy — a friend of mine — showed up at work on Halloween in his Mookie jersey and his face painted as black as coal.

Think about that, walking into work in blackface. Pretty crazy. And I don’t think the boss did anything about it, except maybe tell him not to go see any clients dressed that way. He was in sales, and God forbid his Mookie costume cost the TV station some money.

Today he’d be fired on the spot.

Halloween’s a funny thing.  How far is too far when it comes to costumes? Or is Halloween like stand-up comedy, where anything goes and no topic is taboo or too offensive?

Either way, it’s a different world out there. If pictures of me in whiteface emerge, I could be in hot water with the phantom druids.

Anthrax Shed

Back in my TV days, it always worried me that the station could be targeted by a nut. We kept the place locked down pretty well, but now and then somebody would show up in the lobby with a messy folder stuffed with paper and demand to see a reporter. The receptionist had a panic button to push in case of trouble, but honestly I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one sitting out there.

I don’t remember anything like this:

Bomb threats are usually bullshit, right? But today, our president is telling his nutjob followers that the media is the enemy of the people — and some of these nutjobs are listening closely.

In 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, there was a spate of incidents where media outlets and politicians started receiving letters containing anthrax. This was no prank; people died and businesses were disrupted as their contaminated buildings were cleaned up. The best defense against an anthrax letter was to keep it isolated and away from the facility.

That’s when we got the anthrax shed.

It sat at the edge of the parking lot and looked like the shed behind your house, but this was where the mail would be sorted and opened before coming inside. Was it some highly trained specialist checking the incoming letters? Nah, they just gave the maintenance guy some dust masks and a letter opener and wished him good luck. Nice.

In a strange way, it was a more innocent time. The pain and trauma of 9/11 was still fresh, and the fear was very real. And we all felt something that today is all but forgotten. We stood together.

On Gravity

Wednesday was the perfect day for a visit to Thacher Park, but not if you wanted to walk along the Indiian Ladder trail. The trail is closed and it’s not clear when — or if — it will reopen.

The iconic Indian Ladder trail is one of the most popular spots in the Capital Region. It was shut down last summer when a boulder came loose from the cliff above and struck a local woman, leaving her gravely injured. The sad story of how the accident left her permanently disabled was told in a recent Times Union story. Near the end of the story was this sentence:

The family has retained an attorney, who has filed a lawsuit alleging negligence on the part of state parks officials and seeking undisclosed damages.

OK. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know all that much about cliffs and such, but I’m struggling to understand the negligence part. I’ve been on that trail more than I can remember, and there wasn’t a single time when I didn’t think of what would happen if boulders started tumbling down. I’ve stood under huge outcroppings of rock on the trail and pondered being squished. All this rock will fall some day. Hope I’m not the one standing here when it happens.

Did the park officials know rocks might fall? I don’t know, but anyone who’s ever been there can see there are huge boulders scattered around near the trail. They didn’t get there by rolling up the hill.

Now, in other parts of the park, I’ve seen where huge trees came down across trails. Fortunately, they haven’t hit anyone. I can’t say whether they made a sound, but I can say this: outdoor activities involve risk, even in a tame place like Thacher Park, bad things can happen.

I don’t know what we expect the park to do, send teams of climbers up and down the cliff looking for boulders that might break free? Is that even possible to detect? Then we can have teams that roam the woods looking for dangerous trees. And of course, there will be dozens of signs warning people that the trails may be dangerous.

Or maybe something else will happen: they’ll shut down the Indian Ladder trail forever, and that would be a damn shame.