News You Can Lose

You're at home catching some z's after a rushed, super-busy morning, and the doorbell rings. There stands a crew from Channel 7 News, with a pushy field producer telling you that, hey, you've been singled out as a "rotten neighbor." Say what? Yeah, says Danny Cohen, it's right there in an anonymous posting on a website called "Loud loud loud, two noisy dogs and late night parties. No going to bed early here."

This did not make sense to Isabelle Harrison, a Fort Lauderdale stay-at-home mother of two teenagers. No neighbor ever complained to her about loud parties — probably because, except for a once-a-year early-evening Halloween bash for the kids, there were none. Yes, the Harrisons have a yappy, overexcitable little Westie named Buddy, who in his 12 years has gotten progressively testier about strangers in the vicinity. But his yappiness is pretty much kept indoors.

So what's the point of spreading trivial trash on the internet?

"The chances of my ever seeing that posting online were zero to none," Harrison says (though 200,000 people a day check the website, according to its founder). "What ever happened to the old-fashioned idea of knocking on somebody's door to complain?"

The point of Harrison's role in a "news" story, though, was to play a character in a News 7 narrative, with reporter Patrick Fraser making sanctimonious commentary about how contentious and unfriendly neighbors are nowadays. You know, out there in the wilds of Broward County, it's not at all like Mr. Rogers' neighborhood used to be (a clip of Fred Rogers here, putting on the old cardigan).

"Mr. Rogers never met these nasty neighbors...," Fraser notes.

Nowadays, adds anchorwoman Belkys Nerey, it's about "turning an old adage upside down, choosing to Loathe Thy Neighbors."

So, Isabelle Harrison, defend yourself. What do you have to say to an anonymous poster whose comments don't even make sense?

She did the best she could that morning two weeks ago, awakened from a nap, buttonholed at her front door. But on the news broadcast that evening, her comments got edited down to a cranky one-sentence protest about the mindlessness of posting a complaint on the web when it could be delivered firsthand.

Complain in person? Not so smart, intones Channel 7's know-it-all community resolution specialist. Face-to-face complaints often escalate to acts of vandalism and violence.

Harrison rolls her eyes at this. "Yeah," she says sarcastically to Tailpipe, "that [the escalating hostilities] would be from negative thoughts like mine, of course."

The way News 7 relegated her to the ranks of people who normal folks cluck their tongues over, she adds, has left her feeling socially abused. "They made me look deranged," she says. (Au contraire, says Channel 7 reporter Fraser. "I thought she came across as a very nice lady who wishes her neighbor had the courage to knock on her door to make her complaints...")

Adding insult to injury, Harrison has since determined that, when the complaint was posted, she and her family were out of town.

Worst consequence of all this, as far as Tailpipe and his colleagues are concerned: The next time some reporter comes calling, Harrison will slam the door.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Edmund Newton