Wednesday, June 10, 2009

They Took More Than His Thumb This Time, or How Not to Commit Journalism


"Charlie! they took my thumb man. The Bedbug took my thumb man!"

Sorry, but I just couldn't help channeling Paulie (played by Eric Roberts) in "The Pope of Greenwich Village." After reading this you'll know why.

Anyway, to the problem at hand (sorry, again). I have so many problems with this story that I don't know where to begin. Actually, it's not the story I have a problem with but the way it's been reported by WCBS TV's web site.

For those of you too lazy to click through and read the story, here's the Cliffs Notes version. A man walks into a bar... No, wait, that's something different.

Apparently the owner of the Sound Shore Fishing Club, a Social Club in New Rochelle, NY, owed a whole bunch of money to this other guy. When he failed to pay up on time, two "friends" of the guy he owed the money to tried to cut off his right hand with a meat cleaver as punishment.

OK, so, to the problem. It starts with the headline: "Mob-Style Meat Cleaver Attack Shocks New Rochelle." Fine. Except, chopping someone's hand off with a meat cleaver is not your standard Mob M.O. Sounds more Middle-Eastern than Mafia to me. But, I'll give them that one. I get it. Sensational crime, you want people to read the story, you exaggerate a little.

Then there's the subhead: "In A Page Out Of Your Favorite Mafia Show Social Club Owner Behanded After Allegedly Owing Money To Wrong People."

Why is it assumed that because it's an Italian-American Social Club, and presumably Italian-Americans hang out there, that they are all mobsters? It's not unheard of (except maybe in the newsroom of WCBS TV) for non-mob-affiliated Italian-Americans to hang out at a social club.

Maybe this explains it:

Crime tape still marks the scene outside this Union Avenue Italian-American Social Club, where members drink coffee, play cards, and talk -- but not to reporters.

Yep. That certainly does explain it. Italian-Americans hang out there and drink coffee and play cards. And they refuse to talk to reporters. Hey, I've seen that on The Sopranos. The Sound Shore Fishing Club definitely is a mob social club. Where else do IAs play cards, drink coffee and socialize? Starbucks comes to mind, but I guess that kind of ruins the whole Mob metaphor WCBS was going for.

It's certainly possible that some -- or all -- of the people who are members of the social club have Mob ties. But how does the WCBS TV reporter -- Tony Aiello, by the way -- know for sure? Or is he just assuming and jumping to conclusions -- and in turn perpetuating one of the oldest IA stereotypes.

I guess this is where he got his Mob-angle from:

And now this mob-style assault reportedly has captured the interest of the feds' Organized Crime task force.
Since the crime is a "mob-style" assault, there's no need to look further. And the use of "reportedly" is reporter-speak for "someone mentioned this in passing and I'm reporting it as fact, even though I haven't checked it out and it hasn't been confirmed."

Contrast the WCBS TV story with this even-handed version from LoHud.com. In the entire story, not once did they even mention Italian-American or Mob. An entire story about a sensational crime at a Social Club and not one mention of Italians or the Mob. What the hell kind of journalism is that?

That, my friends, is just good, basic, journalism. It's not the "we don't let the facts stand in the way of a good story" type practiced by others.