Our story begins last Friday, with my Poor Wife and I watching the local news. The CBS affiliate starts off its broadcasts with a teaser of Tonight's Top Stories. It's a sentimental favorite of mine, for a number of reasons. It's the Top Eight Stories because it's Channel 8, an idea so remarkably free of cortical event (Channel 6 has weather at :06, :16, :26, etc., of the hour) you have to wonder if they're trying to attract the "pets who can operate the remote" demographic; it began a year or two back when 8, once the venerable news leader in the market but now fallen behind the even more idiotic NBC affiliate, went into full panic mode and paid some consultant several large for something called the "Working News Hour" concept, in which news hairdos walk around the studio and newsroom while trying to read and avoid furniture; because that idea lasted about eight months before they mostly sat back down again; and, particularly, because it's a quick way to see just how screwed up what used to be called "news judgment" really is these days, in convenient ordinal form.
(In fairness, this is the only local channel with a daily segment reporting on Iraq.)
So, we're sitting there at the end of our 1551st week of marriage, sort of, and one of the Top Stories concerns "a 16-year-old student who was robbed at gunpoint" outside my wife's school. I give her a look, and she gives it back. She knows nothing about it.
Now we're both on alert, my wife because she naturally wants to know the story, and me because I'm unusually sensitive to what I consider to be the racist local media portrayal of our city school system over the past thirty years. We don't have to wait long; it was the first or second story.
The toss is something about how a local mother is demanding Indianapolis Public Schools do more to protect students after her son was robbed at gunpoint, and not for the first time. My antenna began to twitch. Then it's over to the field reporter, the field in this instance being the outside of the school, where we learn...well, we actually learn very little besides the fact that Channel 8 has decided to see how much sensationalism they can milk from the story, plus the added minor detail that the robbery occurred "outside the school" only if by that you mean "somewhere else in the state". In fact, he was robbed--let's add "allegedly" to that--at his vehicle parked on a side street. Bzzzzzt! Our lead now amounts to a mother's demand that the school patrol the streets? With what, exactly? Perhaps this is a job for, I dunno, the police? Let's hear what they have to say. I'm sure a savvy reporter would have sussed out this basic tenet of our civic life. Bzzzzzt! Nothing from the police. I feel the start of a tic coming on. We close the remote with "officials at the school were unavailable for comment," with the hint of sneer that always accompanies that statement, despite the mitigating circumstance that it's 5:00 on a Friday. If you imagine that school administrators are still sitting in their offices at that point, waiting for phone calls from reporters, you...well, you're mistaken, that's what.
The exact viewing sequence gets a little fuzzy here, because my wife had the remote and her natural inclination to change the channel every fifteen seconds was magnified by her devout belief that she 1) can suck up every last detail of a story from all three channels if she switches fast enough; and 2) that the coverage on some channel other than the one she's watching will be any different than what she's already seen. I do recall watching another remote, this one from a different side of the building.
At some point, though, we get the story from the young man himself, speaking at his home with his mother in the background. He says he had a bad cold (remarkably free of symptoms, now; probably the excitement) and went to the nurse around noon and got a release from school. He left by a side door, and when he got to his car he was jumped, relieved of his money, jewelry, and car, and left in fear of his life. His mother adds that he was robbed twice at his previous school before being given a transfer for safety's sake. By now we have been informed that the young man is "a nationally-known rap artist", and there's some suggestion that jealousy is the motive.
Bzzzzzt! Bzzzzzt! Bzzzzzt!
The kid is carjacked, and so far we've seen the outside of his school and the inside of his house. No police? No discussion of the potential threat to the rest of the motoring public? Just a kid claiming he was robbed because he's a nationally-known rap artist? When was the last time they checked the batteries in the bullshit detector over there?
My wife sees the Saturday morning news on 8 (and no doubt every other channel), and reports that the robbery now took place in the school parking lot, and there's no mention of the car being stolen. So in one rather swift action we have 1) placed the criminal activity on school grounds; and 2) removed the carjacking and the responsibility to report a major felony to the authorities. Hmmm.
Only problem is, this is almost certainly bullshit, as there is a severe shortage of parking spaces, such that only seniors get a lottery chance at one. There's no special Nationally Known Rap Act section. The area is patrolled.
Naturally this was the end of the story arc as far as the locals were concerned (it never did turn up in the newspaper). And somehow my wife missed the phone call relay that was supposed to inform her of the special teachers' meeting they called about it, so she missed that, too. She did learn that the school found out about the incident because an assistant principal was returning to the building and saw four young men dash out a side door at a high rate of speed and run off up the street. He gave chase and caught them hiding in a vehicle, presumably the one which was later stolen on the news. It was our respiratory-challenged young rapper and the posse he'd rounded up after the stick-up. Maybe that's what cured his cold. Maybe that's why the school ducked comment.
She gets this story later. In the meantime she's grilling her Seniors about it. (It's art, remember; her students aren't garden-variety high school wiseasses, they're self-aware cynics.) You've got to watch the video, they tell her. Finally she relents and lets them use her computer (the unblocked one) to call up the clip.
"Look! Momma sure had time to get her hair done first!" says one. I love my wife's students.
Someone points out the mysterious white man sitting in the living room the whole time. Lawyer? PR man for nationally-known rappers? Who is this guy? How'd this story wind up on that evening's news with no police involvement?
Lesson two, straight ahead:
"What's the deal with that?" my wife asks them. If you were robbed, would you call your mother? Wouldn't you call the police?"
The look of wonderment on her face as she told me the story was more of the "why didn't I see this coming?" type than shock at the response:
"Every last black kid in that class said No," she tells me.