K-CRAPOut here in La-la land, the funniest half-hour on television isn't "Seinfeld," "The Simpsons," "Frasier," or "Moesha." It isn't one of the interminable syndicated sitcoms like "Murphy Brown," "Coach," or "Cheers." It's not the half- hour of "Profiler" where Ally Walker tilts her head and solves the crime. Nor is it the half-hour on "Melrose Place" when one of the beautiful people (or even Lisa Rinna) supposedly confronts a moral dilemma. It's not 30 minutes of movies of the week like "I've Been A Bad Mom," "Momma, Don't Shoot!," "What Kind of Mother Are You?," or "I'm Tiffani Amber-Thiessen... Look At My Breasts!" And it's not 30 minutes of Daphne Zuniga trying to be anything but Daphne Zuniga.
It's the KNBC) local news.
I can hear the questions coming already. "Wait a cotton-pickin' second, Pete," you're probably saying, as I use a cheap literary device to move this piece along, "What do you mean funny? How are they funny? Are they clowns? Do they amuse you? Do they make you laugh? Are they so incompetent that they're funny? What funny?"
Yes. All of those things. All of those things and much, much more.
KNBC is the local NBC affiliate and, to put the matter delicately, it's run by a bunch of gibbons. In the exclusive world of televised stupidity, the lords at KNBC rule with ham-fisted glee. How bad can it be, you say? Isn't all local news awful? What does KNBC have that no one else does? Is Ko just writing out of the back of his ass, so Michaels won't hog the spotlight and get all the fan mail? Or does he have any specific examples?
In short order: (a) Really bad; (b) Yes, but this is a special kind of awful; (c) Kelly Lange); (d) Hey, I'm the one with his picture and name plastered all over page 36, center column, of the December issue of MacUser), on sale at newsstands for $3.99 U.S. & Int'l, $4.99 Canada -- but to answer your question, yes; and (e) I knew you'd ask, so I took copious notes. Herewith, my findings:
Egregious Use of the Live Shot. The motto at KNBC seems to be, "If it ain't live, it ain't news"--even if it means making live that which is dead, dead, dead. (Alternatively the motto may be, "We worship at the altar of Brent Musberger," but for personal reasons, I prefer not to think of it like that.)
Take, for example, a story from a few weeks back. Reporter Doug Kriegel) is camped out in front of an ATM, solemnly reporting that he's live on the scene where a man was shot and killed while making a withdrawal.
Fourteen hours ago.
Not bad enough? You've seen worse, you say. Okay, take another story from a while back. Some poor schlep has been sent all the way out to the desert to report about a family of four that happened upon a giant mountain cat snoozing on the roof of their home--a story of questionable merit to begin with. As the camera zeroes in on the precise spot where the beast paused for its afternoon siesta--a spot, I'd like to point out, that is now empty, so the camera is essentially zeroing in for a close-up of shake shingles--the reporter breathlessly begins (and I apologize for making up the family's name): "Wednesday night, the Yokels came home...
"Wait a second," I think, grabbing for a copy of the newspaper. "Isn't today . . ."
Yes, it's Friday. KNBC sent a reporter hundreds of miles to do a live report on a non-story that wasn't even current. Still not impressed? We're just getting started.
Just Plain Lousy Reporting. A few weeks back, the KNBC helicopter managed to videotape a bank robbery suspect fleeing the scene of the crime. Ordinarily that in itself would be enough to make it news around these parts. But what made this story stand out was the suspect's behavior upon hopping a fence and spilling all his loot-- namely, with cameras hovering overhead and police hot on his ass, he stopped to pick up the loose cash.
Oh, how anchors Paul Moyer) and Kelly Lange chuckled about this one...
That might well have been the end of the story. But a few days after the robbery, KNBC began touting a "controversial new twist." What new twist? Was the suspect beaten? Had he recently escaped from jail due to an administrative mix- up? No, no, nothing like that. Turns out that two days after the incident, the bank fired the teller who was robbed. Okay, you're probably saying, that could still be "controversial" if they're faulting her for, say, handing over the money instead of leaping over the counter and disarming the deviant. Why was the teller fired? I'd like to tell you, but KNBC decided that information wasn't worth reporting.
Instead, reporter Patrick Healey) gives us a puff piece. Apparently what made the firing "controversial" is that the teller was a 62-year old Bulgarian immigrant who "loved her job." Indeed, "it was like a second home." She "never saw this coming." In fact, she worked hard and did her job well, as indicated by her "numerous commendations"--and just in case you don't believe it, they have video of the commendations to prove it.
Or, put another way: How dare those fuckers fire grandma!
Now, sloppy, one-sided reporting, I suppose, is hardly an uncommon occurrence. But this next story is positively Collieresque. (For those of you who don't have any idea who Collier is, just take my word for it: It's not good.)
Election night. One of the hotly-contested local races is for L.A. County District Attorney, between incumbent Gil "I Lost O.J.!" Garcetti and John "I Didn't!" Lynch. Pursuant to local ordinance, KNBC dispatches its reporter, Furnell Chatman), to Garcetti central.
"What's the mood there?" inquires million-dollar talking head Paul Moyer.
"Well, Paul," says Furnell in so many words, "the current feeling seems to be that you're a jackass."
At which point KNBC launches into a canned piece on Señor Garcetti's re-election prospects.
It starts by pointing out that under Garcetti, the L.A. County District Attorney has one of the highest conviction rates in the country. Not a bad bit of information, since recent exit polls show that voters are under the mistaken impression that People v. Simpson was the only criminal case tried in Los Angeles last year. That simply isn't true; Garcetti also lost the Snoop Doggy Dogg case.
Soon, however, the piece takes a decidedly anti-Garcetti turn. As Furnell opines that Garcetti carries considerable political baggage, a picture of Garcetti pops up on screen next to the words, "POLITICAL BAGGAGE."
"First," says Furnell, "the local district attorney's association gave Garcetti a vote of no confidence." The words "NO CONFIDENCE" appear on screen.
"Then," continues Furnell, "the L.A. Times endorsed his opponent." The words "L.A. TIMES ENDORSES OPPONENT" also appear on screen.
But Furnell has more. "Garcetti has also lost a number of high profile cases," he says as three pictures appear on a new screen, "like Rodney King, Michael Jackson, and O.J. Simpson."
Admittedly I've had my head buried in legal texts for almost three years now, but last I checked, Michael Jackson has never been placed on trial, let alone acquitted; for that matter, if I recall correctly, he's never been charged with a crime. Of course, none of this even gets to the point that really caught my attention--namely, to the extent there was a criminal investigation, it was conducted by the Santa Barbara District Attorney. Garcetti, for all his sins, didn't have a damn thing to do with it.
Ordinarily that would be the end of our tale, but this is KNBC, and where folly is concerned, it knows no bounds. So caught up was I in KNBC's egregious slandering of Garcetti and Jackson that I didn't even realize the report's other colossal screw-up until, while ranting to fellow curmudgeon Philip Michaels), he cut in with one of his trademark incisive observations.
"Wait," he said, "wasn't Rodney King on Ira Reiner's watch?"
Indeed, he was. In fact, not only did Garcetti not lose the Rodney King trial, he actually benefitted from it, since that loss was the main reason voters chose him over then- incumbent Reiner.
Suffice it to say, I could go on for days. I could elaborate on the special investigative report KNBC ran called, "Walking Time Bombs"--or, as anchorwoman and resident knucklehead, Kelly Lange, said in so many words, "Everything you need to know in case someone next to you goes completely scooters and starts firing from a church tower with a high-powered rifle." A story that must be told, I'm sure. Alternatively, I could wax rhapsodic about KNBC's expose on "Dirty Hotel Beds," but I don't even want to think about what inspired that. Or, I could pull out my Brett Rhyne Memorial Lecture on Objectivity, and explain why it's not really good news practice for that noodlehead Lange to announce, "Now, what you've all been looking forward to. 'ER' heartthrob George Clooney himself brought us this sneak preview from his new upcoming film with Michelle Pfeiffer called 'One Fine Day'..." Or, I could point you towards Howard Rosenberg's piece in the L.A. Times, whereby the nation's leading television critic derives nearly an entire column by reprinting a verbatim transcript of KNBC's eleven o'clock news the night the station learned it finished first in the local sweeps. (If you must know, that "story," and video of the station's party, led off the newscast and included, among its more memorable moments, the fathead Lange remarking, "You love us!" Yes, yes we do.)
But I won't. Because, frankly, I don't believe in punishment without due process, and the only thing I know all of you to be guilty of is reading to the end of this piece. Is there a lesson to be learned here? Trust me, I've thought about that long and hard; in fact, I've been mulling over that very point for nearly a month now. I think there is. I think there's a very valuable lesson, one with great ramifications for us all, one we'd all do well to take to heart. And it is this:
I really, really need to learn how to change the channel.
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