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Ch.4 practices restraint, Ch.2 overkill on racist video story

By Alan Pergament

Media restraint. What a concept in the viral video age!

But there was Channel 4 News practicing restraint on Wednesday. It completely ignored the racist viral video of a white woman, identified as Janelle Ambrosia, shouting the n-word repeatedly at an African-American man in front of her children even though the reprehensible footage was a worldwide sensation on You Tube.

I have to admit I sort of admired Channel 4 for deciding Wednesday to go against the grain of all the local coverage elsewhere on radio, on TV and online.

I'm not saying I agreed with it. After all, by today's definition of news, I don't know how a local media organization could ignore something getting so much attention on social media that it drove traditional media (it is on the front page of this newspaper today) to report on it.

After all, just about everybody is talking about a video titled "Blatant Racism in Cheektowaga, NY"  and it happened in Western New York, which are two textbook criteria for news.

At the very least, I would have given the story a minimal amount of coverage and perhaps had an anchor explain why Channel 4 wasn't joining the media pack and giving so much attention to the rantings of a woman who told other outlets that she was bipolar and talked to a psychiatrist Wednesday.    

I'm told that reporter Ed Drantch had material similar to the station's rivals but Channel 4 decided against running his story.

I would have liked to have a conversation with Channel 4 News Director Joe Schlaerth about his decision not to carry a story that the station knew about. Since LIN Media policy prevents Schlaerth from talking to me without approval, I'm going to imagine what he might have told me about his decision.

My guess Schlaerth didn't believe the video deserved any attention because the ranting woman doesn't represent Western New York and giving her comments a wider forum wasn't the proper thing to do and didn't serve any useful purpose. Schlaerth might not have wanted to have an anchor explain his decision on the air because that's what Channel 2 often does in a self-serving way when it chooses not to give out details on stories and he didn't want to follow its example.

Still, this is one case in which I think Channel 4 should have explained its unusual news restraint.

Speaking of Channel 2, it certainly gave viewers a choice and not an echo on the viral video story.

While Channel 4 ignored it completely, Channel 2 practiced overkill. It gave the story more than 10 minutes of "Team Coverage" on its 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts.

In its usual self-righteous matter, the station explained the ugly video was "a teachable moment," a phrase that TV news often uses when it exploits a story.

What did the moment teach us? That there are racists? That traditional media is now heavily influenced by social media? I think we knew those things before Wednesday. 

The right choice was somewhere between ignoring the story like Channel 4 and exploiting it like Channel 2.

Channel 2 used the ugly, outrageous, racist rantings of the woman to address Buffalo's race relations history, its place in the top 10 of segregrated areas and the impact of the racial composition of the Buffalo School Board.

During a live interview, local NAACP President Frank Mesiah appeared to link the woman's disgusting racist comments to the Republicans treatment of President Obama. When anchor Scott Levin tried to end the brief segment a little later, Mesiah said, "What nothing, more? You're trying to cut it off."

Levin was ready to engage Mesiah more, but then Mesiah was in fact cut off. But there was plenty more to come from Channel 2 in the next hour.

At 5:30 p.m., Channel 2 played audio of the interview that morning anchor Melissa Holmes did with Ambrosia. After the woman said she was sorry she used a racist word in front of her chlldren, Holmes smartly followed up and asked if she was sorry she used the word at all.

"Kind of, sort of, I'm not really that big of a racist," said Ambrosia. 

I'm guessing You Tube viewers would disagree.

A Channel 2 report wouldn't be complete without a Maryalice Demler lecture. She advised viewers that "certainly it is unfair for Cheektowaga to be lumped into this one incident."

You think? Cheektowaga Police Chief David Zack made the same point.

Channel 2 seemed to want to have it both ways. It gave the incident an enormous amount of coverage to address the history of race relations in the area and then told viewers the incident didn't represent the area.

The smartest thing I heard all day came from Buffalo Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen on WBEN radio. I was in my car and wasn't taking notes but he essentially said that 3,000 people would be repulsed by this one woman's disgusting behavior and that she didn't represent the area's views.

By its 10 p.m. newscast and the 11 p.m. newscast delayed by the first game of NBC's coverage of the Stanley Cup finals, Channel 2 seemed to come to its senses.

It aired a brief story (after some video about a bear in Lancaster) well down the newscast about the racist video, noting that viewers "might have seen or heard about it."

Might have? If they were watching Channel 2 from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., viewers couldn't have missed it.

The stories on Channel 2's late newscasts were titled "Fighting Negativity" and featured a Hands Across Buffalo demonstration a few weeks earlier that spoke to the area's diversity.

In other words, after spending so much time on so-called "teachable moments" in the afternoon, Channel 2 seemed to have learned its own lesson about the dangers of media exploitation.  




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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

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