Ah, sweeps. That magic time of year when our local television stations pull out all the stops to get us to tune in. Four times a year, local news programs roll out their best stuff in the scramble for Nielsen ratings and supremacy in the viewing market. For some, that means sending out the investigative team to scare up some actual, er, news, as opposed to the steady diet of live standups in front of car wrecks. For others, sweeps bring out their worst, as they kneel shamelessly at the ratings altar.
Record-breaking temperatures in the 30s! Hot Nordic athletes in skimpy outfits! Tiny sick puppies! The world suddenly becomes a much more fascinating (though threatening) place.
In the most recent sweeps, WFOR-TV (Channel 4) reached high and reached low. The CBS affiliate rose above the muck with reporter Mike Kirsch's excellent exposé of rude cops. Kirsch sent an undercover operative into 38 different police stations around South Florida, and a hidden camera rolled as the young man asked for a form to fill out a complaint about a police officer. With a few rare exceptions, police were uncooperative and intimidating, even threatening to arrest the young man. And Kirsch also distinguished himself in a tough interview with Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne, who looked like a perp caught with his feet in somebody else's Cole Haans while trying to answer some of Kirsch's pointed queries.
But just as the 'Pipe started to think Channel 4 had turned over a new leaf, the news team whored itself out on February 10 for a two-minute-long infomercial starring pop singer Ashanti and a new skin powder she's promoting. With entertainment reporter Lisa Petrillo listening intently, Ashanti made it sound like her balm was going to bring about everything from glowing skin to world peace, and did she mention the website address? Not that we expect much from a TV entertainment reporter, but the way Petrillo nodded sweetly without raising a single question about the product or its maker to Ashanti directly made us wish the station had sent Kirsch instead.
Surfing through a tsunami of eyewitness news, news you can use, and the ever-popular action news, this battered cylinder, armed only with a bottle of ibuprofen, let himself be tossed around like a badminton shuttlecock. Notable entries:
WPLG-TV (Channel 10), the ABC affiliate, used a computer program to identify 536 sex offenders living inside the 1,000-foot buffer the state mandates that they live from child-care centers. One even had a bedroom window overlooking a playground. Amazingly, the station managed to overplay it, with anchor Kristi Krueger (a former stalking victim herself, granted) saying the station found "more than five hundred sex offenders just steps away from your children." This apparently ran in place of another hard-hitting investigation into the bogeymen under your children's beds.
WSVN-TV (Channel 7) forsook the fancy computers for a story about environmentally conscious eaters Dumpster-diving for meals. Since the Fox station's piece aired, the 'Pipe has been trying hard to avoid cracking open the occasional Publix trash bin.
The four-part "Puppy Heartbreak" series about Pembroke Pines pet store Wizard of Claws that NBC affiliate WTVJ-TV (Channel 6) touted wasn't bad but it did air a week after New Times ran a similar story ("Puppy Love," Julia Reischel, January 26). At the same time, the station website was blaring "Sexiest Olympians: The Foreigners," stirring both jingoistic defensiveness and raised-eyebrow interest. "SPECIAL REPORT: Athletes from other nations are getting a lot of attention for more than their medals!"
Yowza! Bring on the slideshow of Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, Russia's Irina Slutskaya, and more!
And Tailpipe could scarcely turn away from "Your Ghost Photos Revealed!" on NBC's website. The station has been inviting surfers to submit blurry snapshots of the supernatural as it appears in backyards, in front of Christmas trees, in breakfast nooks. Oy, Tailpipe has a vision. Decent news coverage. There's a switch.
Clean Air Kills
Tailpipe knows emissions the way most people know the shapes of their toenails or the disturbing little wrinkles that accumulate in the corners of their eyes. Dirty air is a dirty business, and it should stop. It's a notion that even prominent evangelicals, sometimes known for their close ties to pollution-producing industries, are beginning to accept.
Last month, 86 prominent members of the National Association of Evangelicals issued a call for federal legislation to combat global warming. Could this be a breakthrough, a shift away from the Bush party line about global warming being not so bad for the health of the planet?
Not as far as the blowhards who dictate evangelical policy around Fort Lauderdale are concerned. Stepping into the breach was E. Calvin Beisner, whom you may remember from the 2004 presidential campaign, when he fulminated publicly about the stewardship of Earth's environment. "Policies that kill people are fundamentally bad policies," wrote the bespectacled professor of social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale. "We need to bring honesty, ethics and humanity back into our environmental debates."
If you think the good prof meant reining in toxic smokestacks and gas-guzzling SUVs, then you're not familiar with Beisner and his friends at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Led by televangelist D. James Kennedy, they're the folks helping to "reclaim America for Christ" by bringing the Republican Party and its big-business agenda to Congress and the White House.
With all the zeal of a cigar-chomping CEO, Beisner has led the charge (with plenty of support from the likes of Fox News bloviator and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas) against new restrictions on fossil fuels.
The 'Pipe gets it. Global warming ergo opening the gates of hell ergo apocalypse ergo the imminent assumption of a seat next to Jesus for Beisner, Kennedy, and the rest. Pity the poor sinners driving low emissions cars.
It's time to buy, buy, buy! See that guy on the street corner hawking condos with a sandwich board? That means boom times for real estate, readers! Get in while the market is hot! A 1/1 condo conversion for $300,000? What a steal!
You say you're selling your own condo? Hold on, let your equity grow like a big soufflé. Maybe there won't be the double-digit increases of the recent go-go years, local real estate sages (and the daily newspapers) concede. But look for a "soft landing."
"It's not a case of the sky is falling," West Palm Beach housing analyst Brad Hunter told the Sun-Sentinel recently. "It's just a case of slowly coming back to a normal market."
Gotcha, Brad. But what's that loud leaking sound, like air seeping out of a balloon? The numbers are worrisome:
Lovin' the Small Time
Around this time last year, Matt Doherty watched in a television studio as his old team rose through the NCAA ranks to seize the national basketball championship. That would have been the University of North Carolina, whose five starters were recruited by Doherty during a couple of star-crossed seasons as the team's coach. By the time Doherty's alma mater reached the top (as Doherty himself had done as a player 23 years earlier, alongside Michael Jordan), the former AP Coach of the Year had stepped down, turning over the reins to Roy Williams.
Feeling burned by the national spotlight, burdened by the high stakes of major college sports, and bruised from harsh criticisms coming at him from all sides, Doherty took a job coaching unheralded Florida Atlantic University, a program that could pay him a salary only 20 percent of what Carolina had. The Owls were just 102-234 at the Division I level, and they were coming off a 10-17 season.
What's not to like?
"I get to coach and do what I believe is right and not feel the scrutiny and the second-guessing," Doherty told the 'Pipe recently.
The results so far have been good, though not scintillating. The team's record of 14-6 is strong enough to land a No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Sun tournament after FAU was projected to finish sixth. A recent ESPN.com column named Doherty among the ten most successful first-year coaches nationwide. Home attendance is up 125 percent, to 1,210 a game. Of course, that means fewer people saw FAU at home all season than attended any single game at North Carolina. But Doherty gets to be his same old hyperactive self. At FAU's penultimate home game, the squad held off a late charge by Eastern Tennessee State University; Doherty, who sounded hoarse from the opening minutes, could be heard all over the gym, calling plays, shouting encouragement, literally jumping off the ground a sight to behold, considering he's six-foot-eight and in his mid-40s and has a bad Oreo cookie habit.
When a team loses, as Doherty's often did at Carolina, histrionics make a coach appear unglued. When a team wins, they make a coach look energetic. Even in the relative obscurity in which FAU toils, the team looks more and more like the product of a turbo-powered maestro.
"The thing here that's been nice is the parental support," Doherty says. The coach benched players Paul Graham and Brent Crews during the season, he says, and both times, the parents met him after the game to thank him. "Some of these players haven't been as spoiled" here the coach catches himself "er, pampered at a young age, and the parents value more the opportunity that the players have." Win three games in three days this week in Johnson City, Tennessee, and those opportunities will include the program's second-ever NCAA Tournament berth. Otherwise, it's back to the recruiting trail, taking tall kids to the beach to convince them to attend school in Boca.
As told to Edmund Newton
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