Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Botched Scrooge Story by ABC News

This morning ABC News had a report about a so-called "Scrooge" in Ross Township, Pennsylvania. But if the reporters had done their jobs, they would have discovered that the real Scrooges were the people who were accusing this man of insanity.

For years, brothers Bob and Bill Ansell of Ross Township, PA, had an enormous holiday Christmas light display. This wasn't just any light show. We're talking 84,000 watts of twinkle lights. The brothers would work from Labor Day up until the Christmas season hit to assemble everything, sort of like their personal hobby. They'd put up lights on weekends and about five hours per night on weekdays after they'd finished their daily jobs as electrical contractors.

They weren't doing it just for sheer kicks, either.

These two guys had a donation box in front of their house, whereby anybody who came down the street to see the lights could leave a little something for charity. Old news articles indicate that they started accepting money in the late 1980s and early 1990s for a children's hospital and The Salvation Army.

What jerks, right? :-P

OK, so apparently, the neighbors didn't like the traffic on the street that this display generated.

One in particular, Vince Heck, started complaining to township officials. He fussed and fussed. That was in 2005. See these articles for the back story, and read it for yourself:

Let's fast-forward to this weekend now.

I learned about this story, but not because of the harassment that the two brothers endured, for what seems like a pretty long time.

I learned about it because ABC News had a story about Bill Ansell (which Yahoo News put up on its home page this morning). Here it is:

From this account, it appears that Bill is pretty crazy. The neighbors describe him as "an angry person that's very unstable." He has changed the display into a beheaded choir, a hanging Mickey Mouse and a urinating Santa, among other things.

Apparently, it changed after Vince Heck's wife, Pamela, called Bill one Thanksgiving to ask him to turn off the lights because they were bothering her dinner guests.

When you read the story, you're under the impression that's what kicked this six-year feud off. However, if you look at the archives from the local newspaper, you get a completely different picture.

When you read the history of how Vince and Pamela Heck harassed, cajoled, complained and fussed about ALL OF THE MONEY BEING COLLECTED FOR A CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL AND THE SALVATION ARMY, is it any wonder that this guy is pissed off?

I'm not going to defend his actions today. But I understand him. However, what I don't understand is how a national news organization -- which apparently aired this segment on 20/20, of all things -- covered this like an in-depth piece and didn't even get the other side of the story into it. The other side of this story is pretty significant, if you ask me. All they had to do was look at newspaper archives.

And what happened to Bob Ansell? Why isn't he even mentioned in the piece? That's another piece of the puzzle that may also shed some light on Bill's hostility.

I know people get tired of me Monday Morning Quarterbacking a lot of these news organizations. But come on. This type of sloppy reporting is something that J-school freshmen students do. The standards of journalism have been plummeting since the proliferation of bloggers that self-style themselves as "reporters" and news Internet sites that hand over the reporting reins to people without classical journalism training. But now when I see this type of reporting by a national outfit? I'm seriously concerned about the future of our industry in this country.

And I hope that Bill Ansell keeps putting up his beheaded choir year after year, because he was trying to do a good deed and has been brush-stroked as a crazy criminal.

I don't think he's crazy, for the record.

But I do think that you're crazy if you work for ABC News and are proud of the "work" that went into this piece.

Friday, December 12, 2014

How the CIA "Handled" a Roomful of Journalists

First of all, you're going to get offended, because I'm going to use some bad language and bad descriptions, and I'm not holding back. So if you're wearing your granny panties and can't take it, click the X button on the upper right portion of your screen. You have been duly advised.


Most people these days are fussing and fuming about the Torture Report on the CIA's antics, recently released by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.

But today, I'd like to fuss and fume about the malleable idiot "journalists" who covered the press conference yesterday by CIA Director John O. Brennan.

I really have to hand it to Brennan and his PR team. They did a masterful job of stroking the press corps into post-blowjob submission. I watched with my jaw agape as Brennan deftly moved through softball questions and deliver his statement as if he was reading a page out of Webster's dictionary. In fact, watching him, I kept envisioning the goblin named Griphook from Harry Potter, standing behind a podium and asking for Harry's keys to the Gringotts vault with no-nonsense authority.

But I digress.

Here's the most important part of what happened yesterday. The CIA got those reporters under control by doing one simple thing:

Sanitizing the events described in the report by changing the description from "torture" into a bureaucratic phrase:


Actually, the more I think about it, Brennan didn't even use that phrase very often.

What he said over and over was:


I came in at the middle of the press conference, and I'm listening to Brennan saying, "EITs," thinking, "What is an EIT? What is that?" Suddenly, ABC News put on the bottom of the screen the words, "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques."

I caught my breath.

Were the producers at the network actually going along with Brennan by substituting the word, "torture," which was the actual description of what happened in that report, with this bureaucratic bullshit?

Apparently, they were.

Then, I watched in further amazement as the REPORTERS started using the terminology!

In question after question, they stood up and assigned the acronym, "EIT" and occasionally the phrase, "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" in place of the word, "torture."

Question after question.

Sentence after sentence.

Enhanced Interrogation Technique.


And the producers at ABC kept putting it up on the screen.

OK, now I do know what those of you who are political reporters are going to say to me next, because I've been in your shoes: It was a very rare press conference, held by a very secretive organization, with a director who will rarely do exchanges with members of the press. Therefore, you might argue, it was incumbent on you to play along, be respectful, give him his due, give his phraseology a respectful nod.


Pardon me for regressing into my old infantile newsroom persona when I say this to you:



Do you realize that this is what the NAZIS did when they substituted the words, "mass murder" with "The Final Solution?"

Listen. I get it. I covered politics for The Associated Press in the Pennsylvania State Capitol from September 1995 to January 1999. I don't know if you've ever been in that grandiose building, but it's one of the most intimidating places on the planet, and I'm not even making this up. It is ornate and awe-inspiring and jaw dropping, with marble and stained glass and long corridors of power and all that we envision when we think of the seat of government.

And that's just one state Capitol in our grand nation.

I understand that if you're in Washington, D.C., and you've been summoned to a press conference by the CIA director over one of the most controversial stories in our history, of course you're going to be intimidated by the surroundings. Of course you're going to be acquiescent. Of course you're going to be respectful.

And that's exactly what the folks at the CIA were counting on.

But that doesn't mean you have to play along with their rules! Yes, you are on their turf, but you are a representative of the "freedom of the press" that we love to wear on our lapels like badges of honor. It is your God damn responsibility as a journalist to be in your face and be your no-nonsense self right back at them.

God damn it!!!!

I will tell you that more than once, I got into yelling matches with politicians and their PR flaks in the hallways of that Capitol building. In fact, I once screamed at the PR guy for former Gov. Tom Ridge, right outside Ridge's office, knowing Ridge was on the other side of the door and could hear every fucking word I said. I told him he had five minutes to get an answer for me, or I was putting my story on the wire. I marched down to my office and told my editor, who then told me to "GO BACK UPSTAIRS AND APOLOGIZE." I then had a yelling fight with the editor about why I would NOT do that, and he was about to fire me, when the phone rang. It was the PR guy. And he was calling to apologize to ME. And give me a statement. And tell me everything I wanted to know. I looked at my editor with one eyebrow raised, stuck my tongue out at him and started taking notes and filed my story in 15 minutes. Yes, I did.

And he didn't fucking fire me.

Don't for one second try to say to me with a straight face that you had to accept that bureaucratic terminology from the CIA for what can be described as nothing else but FUCKING. TORTURE.

You are representing the people of the United States of America. We have free rights here. We have a freedom of the press. You will NOT GET INTO TROUBLE FOR GETTING INTO THE BAD GUY'S FACE AND TELLING HIM THAT HE IS FULL OF SHIT.

Still on the fence about whether you should have complied with his usage of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques?"

OK, let's look at a few of those "techniques."

1. They kept human beings in pitch black rooms for days on end with blasting music and sleep deprivation and buckets for their waste. When they opened the doors, these people were crouched in corners "like kenneled dogs."

Do we even treat our dogs like this?

2. They dragged a guy naked from the waist down around and left him in sub-zero temps so that he and his penis froze to death.

If you're a man, just let that sink in for a few seconds.

3. They waterboarded three people. Well, they say there were three. But you and I know that people in the CIA like to brag that they tell lies for a living, so if you want to believe there are only three of them, then I have a wonderful bridge in Brooklyn for sale. And it's super cheap! Contact me for details!

4. And oh! This one is my FAVORITE:

They took hummus, raisins, nuts ... I think there was a fourth ingredient, but I lost count after reading those first three ... and they put them in a plunger thing and shoved it up a man's ass to "feed" him.

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.


If you want to keep using that description for what would make a Quentin Tarantino film look like a Disney's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse TV show, then be my guest.

But just be aware that John O. Brennan and his team at the CIA are giving you your own hummus-raisin-nut enema and laughing at you while they shove those words up your ass.

Do your fucking jobs or go work for the CIA's public relations team, because that's exactly what you did yesterday.

I'm done here.

Post critical comments at your peril.

--Heidi Lynn Russell