Make no mistake about it. Nothing sells news like murder and mayhem. The same principle is involved when traffic slows to glacial speed even if the accident is well off to the side of the road. People love blood and guts. While there’s no actual bloodletting to report here in North Miami Beach, where a contentious budget balancing act is taking place, the North Miami Beach Police Department lured the press here with the promise of murder and mayhem if things don’t go their way. Like sharks circling a shipwreck in search of survivors, reporters are flocking to our city, elbowing each other out of the way to get a story worth broadcasting at 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, 6:30, and then again at 10:00, 10:30, 11:00 and, if there’s enough gore, again the next morning. The more gore the better because in the local news business, if it bleeds, it leads.
Yesterday, some of the members of the Police Department walked the streets of NMB trying to drum up support for the “List of 24″ officers who are allegedly targeted for layoffs. In a theatrical show of what is meant to be visually shocking, the “24″ are even wearing numbers on their blue shirts in order to announce where they stand on the “List.” I totally get it. First of all, they’re trying to put a human face on what is usually a very dry topic, i.e., the city budget. But even more importantly, it’s a cute shtick that plays well in the media. The “sea of blue” is camera ready. By circulating this “List of 24,” and accusing the brand new City Manager, Lyndon Bonner, of making this “List,” the cops are getting lots and lots of media attention. Which is exactly what they set out to do. This is no grassroots effort. This is a carefully planned and executed game plan to garner public sympathy. It really is right out of the Cloward/Piven Strategy playbook – create, then manage a crisis. Good job, fellas!
Now reporters love soundbites. Aside from blood and guts, nothing sells news better than a great quote that can be used to drum up controversy. Unfortunately, a great quote, or soundbite if you will, doesn’t always tell the whole story. Even if the reporter interviews opposing sides to a dispute, the soundbite with the most kick gets the most air time. A news station will play a great soundbite over and over, not only in the evening broadcasts, but in promos throughout the night during prime time. Who can blame them? They are, after all, in business to make money. Controversy is better news than, say, a community bake sale.
Who wants to cover a bake sale when you get your audience’s attention with “Police officers’ jobs are on the line?” That’s exactly how Channel 7 opened this story when they aired it last night (http://www.wsvn.com/news/articles/local/21004977682146/). The folks at Channel 7 know exactly how to suck the viewer in, and they play it to the hilt. (In all fairness, and in the interest of full disclosure, this is exactly why I watch Channel 7 – for the drama!) The reporter, Richard Jordan, then went on to state, “These officers are turning to the same community they protect and serve to help save their jobs and for many of them it’s personal.” I find it ironic that these are the same people that some of the cops refer to as “animals” and worse. Oh, so NOW you want the public to support you? You know, the ones who infest our city! Nice!
Then the news camera panned to the tee shirts of “Officer Number 4″ and “Officer Number 15″ to make the point that these are real people, folks. And their days are numbered!
The video also showed one cop telling a resident, “It’s your safety that’s gonna be at hand.” Had to get that soundbite in. Murder and mayhem will be the order of the day in North Miami Beach!
The self-appointed leader of the pack, Sergeant Nelson Reyes was on camera claiming that the response time for North Miami Beach police is “between two and three minutes,” while “other agencies” with a lesser per capita ratio of officers to residents, “their response time is sometimes an hour and a half to two hours,” if they show up at all. Oh, REALLY?? I’m sure the North Miami Police Department really enjoyed hearing that one! Not to mention the Police Departments of Aventura and Sunny Isles Beach. I’m sure any one of their police officers would love to respond to that accusation. Talk about throwing your colleagues under the bus! Them’s fightin’ words, Sir.
This Channel 7 piece of news reporting had all the right elements of flash and drama. Police losing their jobs! Residents living in fear of criminals! A big bad city manager slashing the police force! Get out your hankies, folks. And then storm City Hall and give the Mayor and Council a what for!
Only one problem. This sensationalized piece of journalism conveniently left out the other side of the story. You know, like the fact that the city has no money, for example. Just a small detail, of course. This is quite understandable, of course. Quotes from auditors and accountants don’t usually make good soundbites. Why do you think the accountants who tally the Academy Awards votes don’t host the Oscars? I’m just saying.
Furthermore, although the reporter did make mention of the fact that if these layoffs happen they will be based on seniority. What the reporter left out is the fact that because of UNION rules, the UNION decides who gets fired and who gets to keep their jobs. The UNION’s policy is “last in, first out.” In essence, it makes no difference if you’re dedicated, professional and excellent at your job, if you don’t have the seniority, you’re outta here. On the other hand, if you’re an old, out of shape, jaded veteran, who can’t stand your job or the people you’re charged to protect (and, believe me, they make no bones about it!), you get to keep your job by virtue of the fact that you’ve been there since “New Coke” was actually the Old Coke. In other words, the UNION would be sacrificing some of their youngest, brightest and best officers, like Officer Christie Coffey for one, at the expense of the entire department and the residents just to make a point. (And, for anyone who still questions my anti-UNION stance, you can start with this as the number one reason.)
Speaking of sacrificial lambs, one of my readers who happens to be a cop stated that the City Manager is throwing the UNION under the bus. Well, assuming that were true, I’d respond with “what goes around comes around.” UNIONS have been throwing their members under the bus for years! However, despite the claims of some of the cops that the City Manager hasn’t even bothered negotiating with the UNION, the truth is that Mr. Bonner had a negotiating meeting with UNION officials just last week. It was held on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 to be exact, and at 1:00 p.m. to be even more precise. I am told that more meetings are scheduled. In fact, if anyone saw a news broadcast last Tuesday, Mayor George Vallejo was being interviewed on the same exact day and time, and he even stated that “as we speak” the City Manager is in talks with the UNION. Apparently what the Mayor said wasn’t an exciting enough soundbite to broadcast over and over ad nauseam, since I can’t even find it on any of the websites of our local stations. He also wasn’t sporting a camera ready numbered tee shirt. Maybe he looks too much like an auditor or an accountant.
No, the media doesn’t want to hear that the City’s reserves, including those of the water utility, were bled dry by the former city manager and former mayor, who was previously a long time council member. The two of them connived for years under the radar, preparing and passing bogus budgets that didn’t reflect the true state of the city’s finances. They hid the fact that a high ranking employee embezzled $2.6 million dollars out of the coffers right under their noses. They ran this city in a “business as usual” fashion while they were sucking the well dry. Three of the seven council members who are sitting up on that dais were also in charge during that time. They apparently had their collective heads in the sand, too. We now have a brand new City Manager (since March of this year) Mayor and Council member (since May), as well as two Council members who only came on board in 2009. Unfortunately, they are now the “clean up crew” since they are now charged to fix the financial disaster they inherited. No one said it would be pretty.
Mayor George Vallejo was quoted in an interview with Channel 4 last week (http://miami.cbslocal.com/2011/07/26/two-dozen-north-miami-beach-police-jobs-may-be-on-the-line/), “There doesn’t necessarily have to be layoffs,” said Vallejo. “There are a lot of other alternatives between the layoffs and the way things used to be, like concessions that can be made.”
The UNION doesn’t want you to know that there are alternatives to the proposed layoffs.
The press won’t report that negotiations are underway.
Why? Because neither of these facts make a good soundbite. Remember, if it bleeds, it leads.
“Spreading the Wealth”