Morning Rundown

"John Doe" Leader Smith

It may have taken the recent spate of senseless killings to awaken the ancient art of deadline murder reporting in South Florida. The Miami Herald's David Ovalle, Nicholas Spangler and Evan S. Benn give a veritable tutorial on the craft in this morning's newspaper.

They tell us of the shooting death of 24-year-old Kenneth "Covie" Smith, the nephew of notorious former "John Doe" gang leader Corey Smith. As usual, the power of the piece lies in its detail. These guys tracked down the sources and got them to talk -- which is what crime writing is all about. And it led to passages like this one:

Covie Smith's girlfriend said she was on the phone with him when he was shot Monday night.

''He was telling me to bring him down his food,'' said Lacquette Monique Wiggins, adding she is three weeks pregnant with Smith's baby. 'Next thing you know, he got quiet. I heard somebody yelling, 'Call the police! Call the police!' ''

As Wiggins shouted into the receiver, someone picked up Smith's phone and said, ''I got bad news for you: He is dead,'' Wiggins remembered.

Great stuff, redolent of Edna herself, but unfortunately the composition of the article didn't live up to the stellar reporting. That passage should, by all rights, have been the lede of the story (as Ms. Buchanan would have done). Instead we got this as the first sentence:

"The nephew of an infamous Liberty City gang leader was fatally shot Monday night while he stood on a corner in the Liberty Square public housing community, according to Miami homicide investigators."

It's not so much the straight lede that's bad, though it was a boneheaded decision. What's unforgivable is the unnecessary attribution. These reporters were at the scene and they spoke with relatives of the dead man. The idiotic "according to" just clunks it up. And this line, in the middle of the story, really got my goat: "Police asked witnesses to anonymously call Crime Stoppers, 305-471-8477."

Throwing a plug and a phone number into a story has all the grace and art of a Hezbollah rocket strike. Put it at the end of the story in italics if you must, but never, ever put phone numbers in the middle of compelling copy. It's the editor's fault. For God's sake, get out of the way with your journalistic conventions and imagined responsibility and let a damned story tell itself.

-- Also in the Herald, John Dorschner tells us of how Shaq is doing his part to make China the most dominant country in the world. The big guy signed a shoe deal with a Chinese company called Li-Ning. The most interesting part of the article is that the company first signed Shaq's good buddy Damon Jones to get into the giant's good graces. Yeah, those red bastards are cunning.

-- Rochelle E.B. Gilken tells us about Fred Van Dusen, who trained police in Iraq for 13 months. It's a story that not only delves into the way the war zone follows people long after they've left it, but also gives some insight into the challenges in training police. For one, the recruits are operating on Iraqi time:

"They start at 8; nothing gets going until 10," Van Dusen told Gilken. "They go to lunch at noon and don't come back until 1:30. At 3:30, they would just leave. They went home. Take three generations of 'Do this or I'll kill you' and all of a sudden they have all this freedom. No one's telling them what to do, and they don't know what to do. That was my job: to try to keep people in order."

-- In a lackluster Sun-Sentinel, Jon Burstein's article on the acquittal of Pompano Beach "adult game room" maven Gale Fontaine stood out. This was yet another Michael Satz disaster -- a case that the State Attorney's Office never should have brought to court. Let's see, Broward County is rife with con artists and thieves, some of whom haven't been elected to political office yet, and Satz is muscling a mom-and-pop softie gambling outfit that caters to retirees? Seriously, he's got a half-dozen open corruption investigations that he's been sitting on for years (literally) and Satz and his prosecutors find the time to act as the personal investigation wing of the established gambling industry. It's unbelievably repugnant -- and classic Satz.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman