Thursday, June 3, 2010

Followup: The young Mr Pierce and police-blotter day

We have four stories from the police beat today: a drunken alien masher, a suspected child molester, a fugitive teen, and a DUI suspect. This last, of course, is the son of a rich and powerful land developer and state legislator.

Let's talk about special treatment.

A reliable factor in choosing what becomes news is that people want to know more about people they know more about. So it's natural that the Nelson Pierce story went on page one rather than with the others on page three. But it's also convenient in that it separates the guy with powerful connections from the dreary hoi polloi.

Comparing the raw police-book story in eNews with the more massaged Courier version, fascinating differences emerge.

Mr Pierce's name appears in the lead paragraph of the eNews story. In the Courier lead, he's "a man," and his name is relegated to the second graf. (The headline writer comes later in the process.)

The domestic-disturbance context runs in the second graf in eNews; in the Courier, it's third.

In the police report, he was shirtless and sweaty, with black and bloodied fingers. Those details do not appear in the Courier.

The police report says that on being informed he was under arrest, Mr Pierce "said that he wanted to run off." No mention in the Courier.

The police say they informed him that the full drug test was voluntary, and he expressed "he did not wish to participate in that evaluation." No mention of that in the Courier.

"Pierce admitted that he was addicted to heroin and uses this drug every few weeks," says the police report. In the Courier, "he knew what he did was wrong and that he is addicted to heroin." Later in the police report, ""Pierce indicated he felt what he did was wrong, but didn't feel like he was impaired, though he admitted to having a problem."

Mr Pierce's father, the Senator, gets three grafs to characterize his son's problem as addiction that deserves support and sympathy -- rather than endangering the public by operating a vehicle while impaired, for which he was actually arrested. He expresses concern that the news might hurt the wife and kids -- the same wife who called the cops to have the perp removed. I didn't notice a quote from the wife, which might have been interesting too.

It's natural that there's more interest in what Mr Pierce's powerful father has to say. What's not natural is holding the story for a day to gather only sympathetic quotes, or trimming out ugly details that would certainly appear in any ordinary crime story. I have to wonder whether Mr Bluemke or Mr Gann have friends or relations who'd like to say something in their defense -- in public, ahead of jury selection. (The friends and family of Mr Lopez-Nava, of course, probably don't speak English, so for the paper, they don't exist.) But see, they're not interesting enough, so they don't get that opportunity.

The Pierce story reeks of special treatment for the powerful and privileged -- exactly the sort of thing an independent, protected Fourth Estate was designed to resist. This does not say good things for the new Courier editorial team.


Anonymous said...

Do you honestly believe what you are shoveling here? Special treatment? Yeah, the special treatment of having a relative non-event in the grand scheme of law enforcement headlined only because of his father. Man do you have it backwards? This should not have been a news maker; for one this happens all the time...and two, the article is nothing but harmful at best.'re brilliant enough to see that a story was sugar coated that should not have been a story at all....GENIUS

Steven Ayres said...

Thanks for your support, O anonymous commenter. But I think we agree on the main points -- the story should have been on an inside page yesterday as a raw police report, as is the normal practice. The story is harmful to Pierce's campaign, yes, but it's made a little less negative by the Courier's treatment of it, and that's what's unfair. It's not harmful because the Courier carries it -- the harm derives entirely from where the acts of young Mr Pierce intersect with the prejudices of the community. Regular readers know that I'll be the first to say that the parent shouldn't be held liable for the sins of children -- or nephews, or grandparents, whatever. (I'll also add the entertainment maxim that all publicity is good publicity.) I suspect you're trying to see a political agenda in my post. Use your own name and maybe we can talk.