Friday, May 14

A Small Malignancy

I DON'T generally single out local teleprompter readers by name, because a) it seems unduly harsh, and b) it's like choosing the whitest alto in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Now and then, though, one volunteers.

We've actually met Karen Hensel before, back in '07, when she threw an ice-cream and softball party for Fred Dumbo Thompson's 45-minute Presidential campaign. Channel 8 has decided to style her an Investigative Reporter, which is Happy Talk Newspeak for "someone who covers stories we might get complaints about". This has the added benefit--or, perhaps, the only benefit--that they're free to sensationalize to their hearts' content, making for damn good teasers.

Which is what caught my eye last night--I'm not made of stone, Your Honor!--and led me to assume the Big Panhandling Exposé being teased involved 2009's Anti-Panhandling ordinance, not to be confused with 1999's Anti-Panhandling ordinance. The 2009 law, reluctantly rewritten, for Constitutional reasons, to include everyone, not just the unsightly and odiferous, had gone unenforced while the police sought "clarification"; said clarity almost certainly will illuminate all of Downtown just before Super Bowl 2012. (It's, well, amazing how periodic tax-appropriation-funded Big Events spur draconian efforts to keep the skinned and scorned out of sight for a while. That 1999 law preceded the 2000 Final Four; the practice dates to 1986, when then-Prosecutor for Life Stephen Goldsmythe--you're welcome, New York City--used the upcoming Pan-American Games to try to run all the massage parlors and adult bookstores out of business. This did not noticeably improve public morals, or anything else besides Goldsmythe's campaign treasury, but it did make you drive all the way to Clermont for a handjob.)

The major violators of the Ordinance, at least as far as I can tell by touring the Midwest's Largest Continuous Strip Mall as infrequently as I can, are fast-food joints and fly-by-night storefront scammers who send minimum-wage-earning and shame-free young people to the street to dance in stupid costumes, thus, apparently, convincing passers-by that this is just the spot to fulfill their gastronomic longings or turn their unused jewelry into cash. Or just a great location to take their eyes off the road while driving, assuming they hadn't already. This, of course, presents a major dilemma, as the sort of person who finds panhandlers an unspeakable nuisance is almost guaranteed to be the sort of person who finds any behavior, no matter how loud, annoying, ceaseless, disquieting, or insulting, to be sacred protected speech provided it's in the pursuit of Profit. With the possible exception of handjobs.

But the 8 Investigation neatly sidestepped any tricky ethical considerations by simply focusing on panhandlers themselves, and following them around with hidden cameras.

And, as disturbing as that might sound, what grabbed me by the sigmoid colon was Hensel's apparently unself-conscious announcement in the intro that she'd noticed these people while driving in to work each morning and begun to wonder if they really were Homeless and in Need of Food, or whether they truly did beseech God to bless donors. Maybe they weren't even monotheists at all! There's nothing like a reporter's nose for a story, even if said nose has been surgically reconstructed three or four times.

Oh, you can throw in the proud declaration that the following is the result of a Six Month Investigation, if you like, but that was more of a garnish than a turd sandwich.

Okay, okay; these people are scofflaws at best. News flash. I'm not quite sure who was supposed to have believed otherwise, or how their behavior is distinguished from the Makers of Airborne™, Emeril Lagasse™ Signature Cookware, or the Daniels administration. But, sheesh, a six-month investigation triggered by something which disturbed your view out the SUV windshield one morning? It's the local business paper, not the considerably better-funded local network affiliates, which exposed Tim Durham and his connection to sleazy Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi (a man you people gave nightly face-time to so he could flack his political career); we have to wait for them, or local bloggers, to fill us in on Brizzi's contributors and business partners getting questionable deals in murder and drug cases. You stovepiped the Ur-Teabagging Property Tax Protests without ever identifying the Governor, and the state Republican party (the primary beneficiaries of all that "grassroots" anger) as the people who'd fucked the system up in the first place. You missed the Capital Improvement Board losing $45 million tax dollars per year, but you didn't miss the free buffet at the new Football Barn. The Goldsmythe-era New Main Library Palace nearly had to collapse into a heap of substandard concrete and insufficient support before you stopped touting it as an architectural marvel, and you never did show much interest in just who wasted millions of tax dollars by not hiring a general contractor. The Simons demand an extra $15 million/year lest they find some other city which wants the Crappiest Product in the NBA; Indiana Barrister suggests the "renegotiation clause" in the Pacers' lease agreement doesn't actually exist; you people seem too busy calculating how much Simon Malls spend on advertising to get around to looking in to it.

Hey, by all means: scammers don't deserve a free pass just because they're small. My point is that we deserve news reporting which also looks up, at least once in a while.


R. Porrofatto said...

It really is a stroke of genius that Tom Tomorrow depicts these creatures as talking clip-art. Jeezuz, a six-month undercover investigation of fucking panhandling. I wonder if even old Izvestia hands could learn a thing or two from our modern hairheads about the art of institutionalized distraction.

(Lest you think this is a Midwest phenomenon, local teevee news is as mindlessly stupid in the Big Apple, only with slicker production values.)

Gary said...

The Simons demand an extra $15 million/year lest they find some other city which wants the Crappiest Product in the NBA...

As a semi-interested observer of the Washington Wizards, I may have a bone to pick with you, sir.

77south said...

Well, generally speaking panhandlers do not buy advertising on TV or golf with those who do. Owners of major local contracting firms or NBA teams on the other hand...

Fiddlin Bill said...

Maybe y'all need a bum certification association which will issue nice laminated Certified Panhandler cards, each with a unique number which can be filed on the computers in Indianapolis. Here in NC the Dept. of Transportation apparently mis-engineered the concreek in about 40 miles of I-40 around Rawleigh to where they had to jackhammer it all up and repour. As a result, we still are using those computers that come in small skyscrapers, and have no space for such identification work as of yet.

TM said...

I like how, at the end of the segment, she goes into that scary place that no camera has gone before, or in her words, "The Hole." She then casually notices that people "have been making camp back here" without any apparent acknowledgement of it as evidence that at least some of these people, at least some of the time, live outdoors.

But no, she blows right past that and glories in her dramatic discovery that these folks are mostly drug addicts looking for their next fix, which apparently absolves us of feeling any sort of pity for them.

I mean, sure, it's a bad idea to give them money. Who doesn't know that? And Misty has a home (if flopping on someone's couch counts). But must we put her in some modern version of the stocks (even announcing the street she lives on) and shame her like that?

And what, after six months, you found enough material to humiliate just one junkie? Seems our newsdoo should have had found more.

desertscope said...

I was a little steamed about Brooks' aricle in the NYT today. It explained why the average Joe hates irresponsible people that couldn't get jobs or bought houses they couldn't afford.

Like you say here, my argument was that these "news" organizations spend inches of ink and minutes of camera time on small-timers, where the vast majority of panhandling dollars goes to huge corporations as "bailouts." And they have the added blackmail feature of saying, "If we go down, we're taking the economy with us."