Swept Away

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."

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