T Dog’s Think Tank: Idiocracy strikes local news again

Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges participating in "pointergate" (KSTP.com)
Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges participating in “pointergate” (KSTP.com)

Twin Cities’ KSTP makes gaffe, but has nothing on CBS 2’s history of making them

If there’s any doubt local news is sometimes a joke, this item should cement the fact.

Hubbard-owned Minneapolis-St.Paul ABC affiliate KSTP, a once-proud beacon of journalism, is involved in “pointergate”: a photo of Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges was shown in a photo joyfully exchanging pointing fingers with a supposed gang member – and reported it as the two “exchanging gang signs” (which, you can see clearly in the photo, wasn’t.) Turned out the person in the photo was a volunteer in the Neighborhoods Organizing For Change and it was a simple point, regardless of what the police says. (the person in the photo, Navell Gordon, does have a criminal record.)

The story attracted [cliche alert] “national attention” and burned up social media on Friday, with people on Twitter with the tag #pointergate, criticizing the station for jumping to conclusions and using racial overtones. Others posted celebrities using the pointing gesture, sarcastically saying they were gang members.

By the standard KSTP is using, even Garth Brooks is a gang member, rollin’ in the hood with the Country Crips. And look! Minneapolis’ own Prince is rollin’ with the Puffy Shirts:

Not surprisingly, KSTP and the “journalist” who reported the story (Jay Kollis) defended themselves, saying the photo jeopardized public safety and putting their officers at risk. The station also quoted a retired police officer and the head of the Minneapolis police union as saying the gesture was inappropriate.  Kollis unwisely took on some of his critics on Twitter, certainly not helping his station’s already battered image with the public.

Indeed, there has been a surge in gang violence in Minneapolis, though it is nowhere near the crisis stage it has reached in Chicago, where many of the homicides and shootings here are gang-related. But this story seems to be an overreaction, and even worse, KSTP’s defense of its story was totally ridiculous, telling its viewers they were the ones who were wrong, a suicidal stance to take in this business.

This reminds yours truly of the time Fox News described an innocent fist bump gesture President Obama did as a “terrorist fist bump” – a gesture Howie Mandel also does because he’s a germaphobe.

Howie Mandel…a terrorist? Oh, the horror. Since he wasn’t photographed pointing, KSTP doesn’t consider him to be a gang member.

This is kind of a shock given Hubbard is one of the industry’s most respected broadcast companies; their radio division has been praised for its stability and business sense. In Chicago, Hubbard owns Hot AC outlet WTMX-FM; Adult Alternative WDRV-FM; and AC WILV-FM – all three enjoy ratings and revenue success.

KSTP was an NBC affiliate from 1948 to 1979.
KSTP was an NBC affiliate from 1948 to 1979.

But the story is different for its Minneapolis TV station. An one-time NBC affiliate, KSTP was one of the first stations to sign on west of the Mississippi in 1948 and one of NBC’s strongest stations. KSTP dominated local news ratings in the Twin Cities, and was a major blow for NBC when the station jumped ship to ABC in 1979. By 1988 however, KSTP was dethroned by CBS’ WCCO-TV as news leader and by the mid-1990’s fell behind NBC affiliate KARE-TV. In recent years, KSTP has often finished in fourth place behind Fox-owned KMSP-TV in several time periods.

During the week of September 22*, KSTP’s 10 p.m. newscast earned a 3.9 household rating and 9 share – far behind WCCO’s 9.4/19 and KARE’s 8.2/16. While KSTP did beat KMSP’s 2.4/5, the latter station’s 9 p.m. newscast (4.4/8) drew better numbers. While its morning and midday news programs draw respectable numbers, KSTP still lags behind WCCO and KARE in most time periods.

The stance KSTP has taken is surprising and quite disturbing as many broadcasters today do not have journalistic ethics or have an obligation or a sense of public service to its audience anymore , in spite of what bullshit the NAB dishes out. The trend has become more evident since local stations have been “making it rain” [urban talk for making more money] thanks to revenue generated political advertising and retransmission fees, which offsets declining general ad revenue. Somehow, they get the mistaken notion ratings don’t account for anything anymore. Nowadays, they hire any idiot off the street – in this case – a race-baiting moron – to foster “conservation” with its viewers.

But given this major misstep by KSTP, nothing compares to the screw ups made by the local CBS O&O here, WBBM-TV, as yours truly on this website has dubbed “CBS 2 blows it again” and what former Chicago Tribune TV critic Steve Johnson dubbed “The Viewer Alienation Plan”. 

In 2011, the station aired a maliciously edited video during its morning newscast featuring a black 4-year old boy who wanted to be a gang, when in reality, he wanted to become a police officer to go after the bad guys. The piece sparked outrage in Chicago’s African-American community, and was criticized by the NAACP and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and ripped by other organizations.

In a way, it was a flashback to 1985, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH boycotted WBBM after news anchor Harry Porterfield was demoted as the station basically botched its response. WBBM has never really recovered from this fiasco, even 29 years after the fact. WBBM has historically struggled to attract black viewers, even as CBS is the most-watched network among African-Americans. Much like KSTP, WBBM regularly finishes fourth in local news ratings, even with a stronger syndication lineup than in years past.

Its doubtful a boycott would work today, as stations have more revenue streams at their disposal. Even if one were to take place, there’s just too many alternatives in the marketplace these days for it to make it work.

Shot by Channel 2, it's Amy Jacobson making a cameo apperence at accused murderer Craig Stebic's house
Shot by Channel 2, it’s Amy Jacobson making a cameo appearance at accused murderer Craig Stebic’s house

Other WBBM miscues included the station nearly losing its license for staging a “pot party” at Northwestern University for a report in 1967; erroneous reporting on Fred Hampton’s death in 1969; a tabloid-influenced newscast in the 1990’s; and of course, taping a reporter from a rival TV station (Amy Jacobson) in a bikini at a murder suspect’s house in 2007, which resulted in Jacobson losing her job at WMAQ-TV (Jacobson sued WBBM; litigation is still pending, as far as I know.)

Excluding the Bill Kurtis/Walter Jacobson era, WBBM pioneered the Foul-Ups, Bleeps, and Blunders concept in local news – but topped in absurdity only by WLS-TV pioneering the “happy talk” concept in the 1970’s, which by all accounts and purposes, was just as worse. The sight of weatherman John Coleman bringing a live turkey on the news set one Thanksgiving topped them all.

As yours truly said back in August after the shitful way St. Louis local TV stations covered the disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., stations need to start earning their FCC licenses – they only see them as ATM cards. Local stations usually drop the ball when it comes to covering issues involving race relations, mainly due to the lack of diversity in the newsroom, and in the media business in general. The attitudes KSTP displays are far too common in the local station and network level, and in Hollywood as they continue to churn out racial stereotypes.

You see the person pointing in the photo? He’s not throwing up a gang sign. He’s simplifying pointing to the direction the audience is going if local news stations like KSTP and WBBM don’t get their act together and stop imitating the useless cable news networks.

And that direction is out the door.

[* – dead link. As of December 1, 2014, Katz Media has shut down their website. – T.H.]