Saturday, November 15, 2008

Schmuck Alert: Napa Valley Fracas

I'm reluctantly holding back on issuing a Class 5 Schmuck Alert on the Napa County Sheriff’s Department for one reason: a veteran reporter acts like a total dillweed on the now obligatory videotape. More on that later. For now, the facts: Shortly after KGO-TV's Wayne Freedman and Craig Southern arrived at the scene of a fire this afternoon, law enforcement officials rescinded their invitation. Trouble is, the news crew had no invitation. See, breaking news doesn't come with an RSVP; when newsworthy events occur in a free society, journalists can go anywhere (a private citizen can) in order to record, document and disseminate the details. It's a little thing we call Freedom of the Press and a bunch of guys in powdered wigs and knee socks thought it was important enough to include it in a seminal document two hundred and thirty some years ago. You'd think by now, the Napa County Sheriff's Department would had received the memo. Apparently not.

Of course, I wasn't on that California cliffside this afternoon. (I was interviewing a Russell Terrier in a surfboard sweater, if you must know.) Thus, I can only guess at what preceded the recorded take-down, the sequenced still shots, the reporter's account and the internet chatter now swirling around this temporary detainment. Taken as a whole, it's a multi-media conundrum that puts some product launches to shame. It's also a techicolor testament to the politics of spot news. Increased adrenaline, pack mentality, competitive paranoia and power grabs: these highly reactive factors are all in play when calamity, cops and camera crews and collide. As a reformed Southerner, I myself am probably a bit too passive by the flashing lights, but then again I've always found amannerly disposition and good ole boy slouch got me alot farther than screeching fits and attempted levitation. Still, it is hard to debate Constitutional Law with a guy trying to twist your arm behind your back.

Which brings me to my lone caveat. I have every reason to believe the Napa County Sheriff's Department was wrong in their detainment of KGO's camera crew - an assertion reinforced by the fact that both reporter and photog were soon released with no charges filed and little explanation given. But to the average viral video viewer, the guilt surely lies in the Fouth Estate. Why? As the footage begins, reporter Wayne Freedman is on the verge of apoplexy: screaming, squirming, demanding legal counsel. That's all well within this allegedly legendary journalist's rights, but methinks he'd be better off if, instead of behaving like Rick Flair on a ringside tear, he'd follow my folks wise advice and 'act like he had some smarts'. Perhaps then, these increasingly common clips of 'Cops Gone Caveman' wouldn't be so damned wince-inducing to watch. Just sayin'...

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