Undercurrents

Pity poor Dennis Des Jardin. After a New Times article ("The Fear of Living Dangerously") exposed unsafe conditions at Victory Living Programs (VLP), a residential campus for the mentally disabled that Des Jardin manages in Dania Beach, the embattled director spent an uncomfortable hour last month taking questions from the Dania Beach City Commission.

Expressing concern for public safety, Commissioner Bob Mikes put the VLP issue on the agenda. He opened by saying he was surprised that VLP had been in the habit of taking violent or mentally ill residents assigned to the program by the courts and placing them on the same campus with other, nonviolent residents. Mikes then cut to the chase: "Let me ask this. Since 1996, are you moving more into court assignees?"

Des Jardin -- who'd earlier characterized New Times as a "throwaway" that trades on "titillation, gossip, and scandal" -- answered by saying, simply: "No. No."

With the recent publicity, of course, it's an open question whether VLP will be taking on any more court assignees. But to imply that the program hasn't been moving in that direction at all over the last two years isn't quite accurate.

So New Times would like to lend a helping hand, and perhaps refresh Des Jardin's memory, by offering the following addendum to the director's rather uninformative response:

"Within the past 17 months, VLP has received 22 requests/pleas from [the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF)] to provide services to such [court-assigned] individuals. These 22 individuals, who are significantly more aggressive and disruptive, have been or are currently 'housed' within VLP programs.... These individuals are difficult to serve in our 'residential habilitation center' due to the threats that they pose to other residents, the disruption they cause, and the destruction they create."

The source of these passages? A memo from VLP to DCF dated August 1997.

Three times a year, TV stations go through sweeps, during which broadcasters nationwide scramble to produce programs that will yield the highest possible viewership. That way stations can rationalize the exorbitant fees they charge advertisers so salaries can be paid and programs televised.

But what it means for you, innocent viewer, particularly when it comes to local news programs, is an onslaught of so-called "lifestyle" segments, which supposedly keep you glued to the set but don't provide much in the way of actual news.

Those who stayed home two Friday nights ago were treated to one such segment on West Palm Beach's Fox affiliate, WFLX-TV. For almost a quarter of the news broadcast, viewers had the chance to telephone the newsroom for on-air psychic advice.

"I see this almost as a public service," Patti Tanner, the executive producer, explained later. "Because people got to call and talk to someone for free."

Our prediction: With that kind of logic, TV news hounds can expect the inanity to reach even greater heights in the future.

 
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