News

An AK media fable

screenshot-4

This is a story about the death of a dog, a horrible tragedy for those who loved the dog dearly.

But more than that, it is a story about the decay of journalism, a tragedy for us all.

Journalism is a business that for a short, bright time in America history was devoted to separating reality from rumor, or at least trying to do that not always easy task.

Rumor is the smoke of truth. Beneath or behind it, there is always something – a spark, a flame, or all too often the charred remnants of someone playing with matches in an effort to start a fire for whatever reason.

Maybe to virtually  burn someone’s business or scorch someone’s reputation. Sometimes just to get a good story to sell.

PERFECTLY SALEABLE

Enter the poor, dead dog. His name was Scooby-Doo and his death on a busy Anchorage street last week came wrapped in a heart-wrenching story.

“Deaf boy’s service dog killed in Anchorage hit-and-run,” the Alaska Dispatch News headlined on Sept. 30 above a story that started this way:

“Anchorage police are seeking a driver whose pickup struck and killed a young boy’s service dog in East Anchorage on Thursday, then left the scene.”

The Dispatch News later changed the story substantially, although the version now on the adn.com website makes no note of that. You can still read the start of the original version here: http://us.geosnews.com/p/us/ak/deaf-boy-s-service-dog-killed-in-east-anchorage-hit-and-run_6948635

There were immediate problems with the tale spun by ADN reporter Chris Klint, most notably conflicting information about one all-important detail of Scooby’s death on Boniface Parkway. Klint’s story said first that the dog was on a leash when hit, but then quoted a police spokeswoman saying “it appeared to (a) witness that the dog had gotten away from the boy, ran out into the road, and was struck.”

Other reporters who began the chase of Kint’s story paid little attention to this small, but potentially important detail. Mallory Peebles at KTUU.com quickly followed Klint to claim that while on a “routine walk with JJ (Anderson) on Thursday, Scooby Doo was killed by a driver in a black truck on Boniface Parkway. The driver struck Scooby, dragged him and then drove away.”

Where this information came from was not stated, but it pretty clearly traced back to a “Scanner Joe” Facebook post linked in Klint’s story. In that post, from which Klint quoted, Alaska Pretrial Services director Dennis Johnson, who works with JJ’s mother Valerie, created a totally unverified account of what happened to Scooby.

It included a line the ADN quoted:

“After you sped away like a coward, that boy laid in the road holding his dog as he died in his arms.”

HYPE, HYPE, HYPE

There were no witnesses to support any of those claims. Cindy Jicinsky who stopped to help JJ just after the collision said another man was dragging Scooby’s body out of the road when she arrived. The dog appeared to have died on impact.

Nobody reported seeing JJ holding the dog, let alone having it die in his arms. Jicinksy said she stopped because JJ was on the side of the road clearly distraught. She said she later read Johnson’s account and thought it sounded like make-believe.

“I think it’s a sad situation,” she added.

The driver of the truck that hit Scooby said on Wednesday that the dog came out of the woods along Boniface, and he ran into it at about 45 mph. He wasn’t exactly sure what he hit at first, he said, and looked into his rear view mirror to see a dog dead in the street.

He saw no people in the area.

Shaken  and upset, he confessed to driving for several blocks before pulling off the busy street into a Holiday gas station to call Anchorage Animal Control and ask them what he should do about the dead animal. The agency confirmed that call.

It’s worth noting here, too, that his truck isn’t black, a particularly problematic detail given that Peebles reported this:

“JJ did witness the horrible crime, but he didn’t have much of a description other than that it’s a black truck.”

If the first statement were true, JJ would have known the color of the truck.

But more on that later because this isn’t really about what happened, but about what the media reported happened, and these two things bear little similarity.

The story of JJ and the death of Scooby had plenty of holes in it from the beginning. They warranted some real reporting, but it was easier to run with the juicy narrative first set down by Johnson.

This is what journalism has become. A whole generation of reporters has been trained to cover the news by rewriting press releases. The press releases set the narrative. The reporters follow.

Public relations long ago stole the news show. And now the worst of the precedent set by the PR people seems to have crept into journalism at a much more dangerous level. Journalists have gone from following the narrative set by PR people, who feel duty bound to at least stick to some facts, to following the narrative set by Facebook posters, who could sometimes care less about facts.

HERE WE GO

Over at KTVA.com, Sierra Starks grabbed a screenshot of Johnson’s Facebook post to run with her story:

“To the POS (piece of shit) who was speeding down Boniface at 11:30a today,” the post began, before making the claim, unsubstantiated by any witness, that the truck barely missed JJ before “hitting his dog ‘Scooby’ and dragging the boy as the leash was around his wrist.”

Stark picked up where the screen shot ended, quoting Johnson saying that “Thank God the leash broke when you sped up to flee. He will heal from his physical wounds but probably not the emotional ones!!!!”

There is no evidence any of that happened. And Peebles, amazingly, used the claim of a broken leash in the same story that suggested Scooby’s collar broke. But the whole Scooby story is full of conflicting details.

There is so much so wrong with the story on so many levels it would make an old-school journalist’s head explode. Were Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow, the giants of broadcast journalism, still alive, the shoddiness and plain old lack of healthy skepticism displayed here could kill them.

A story that started off as being about  a “service dog” for a deaf young man became a story about a service dog-in-training for a deaf young man. But if you read closely, it wasn’t even that. Scooby was a dog in training to become a service dog-in-training for, well, maybe it wasn’t deafness, it was seizures.

“When [Scooby] was 6 months old, he detected a seizure for my son and brought him out of it really quick,” Starks quoted JJ’s mother saying. Some dogs can detect seizures, and they can be trained to help people who suffer from seizures.

But dogs don’t treat seizures. “They are an alarm system” to warn of an impending seizure, as the Epilepsy Foundation notes. Dogs can’t bring people out of seizures anymore than people can bring people out of seizures. As the Epilepsy Society notes, what you do when someone has a seizure is monitor the situation until the seizure runs its course.

Dogs can be trained to lie next to someone to prevent them from smashing into anything that could harm them, but Scooby, sadly, had not been so trained. Scooby, even more sadly, had obviously not been trained to stay with JJ.

THE OTHER VICTIM

Scooby ran away from JJ as rambunctious young Labrador retrievers sometimes do. Scooby ran into a street busy with traffic. Scooby ran into a truck driven by 23-year-old Daniel Calderon, a graduate of Anchorage’s East High School.

It was a sad and tragic end in the way all dog deaths are sad and tragic. It was nothing more.

Everything else appears to have been a media concoction. Whether reporters got help from others is irrelevant. The job of journalists, or at least what was once their job, is to separate the facts from the fiction and set the record straight.

That doesn’t happen anymore.

Calderon was pretty quickly identified as the driver of the truck that hit Scooby. The information was not hard for Anchorage Police to find because as noted above Calderon called Animal Control within minutes of hitting Scooby to ask what to do.

This was known to the media on Monday. Calderon was identified on Tuesday. By Wednesday afternoon, he still hadn’t been contacted by anyone in the old Alaska media for his side of the story. He had an idea of why.

“People want the story where they can have somebody being the victim and somebody else being the murder,” he said. “That’s just what society wants. It’s just the way most media and humanity do it today. It’s just sad.”

Every good story needs a villain. Calderon was cast as the villain.

When it turned out he might not be – APD put out a media statement saying he would not be charged – most media only seemed to want to get away from the Scooby story as quick as possible.

KTVA posted the APD statement verbatim as an “update.” KTUU did nothing. The ADN did a short story which noted that Calderon did report Scooby dead. The story also had him going northbound on Boniface (he was going southbound), and pulling into a Holiday station at the intersection of that street and Debarr to the north when he actually pulled into a Holiday to the south at Boniface and Northern Lights.

The addition of more errors seemed just about perfect.

So what actually happened?

AN ORDINARY ACCIDENT

Here is Calderon’s account, which seems the most creditable of any given all other evidence available:

He had just turned off Debarr Road in the Merrill Field area of Anchorage and was headed southbound on Boniface doing about 45 mph. The road ahead was clear. He looked down to adjust the heater in his struck.

He looked up, and there was poor Scooby.

“Before I even saw him, I was right on top of him,” Calderon said.

The truck hit Scooby with a thud. Calderon hit the brake, slowed and looked in the rearview mirror. He saw the dog unmoving in the street with something  “pink” hanging out of its side. JJ was nowhere be seen.

“I was kind of in shock,” Calderon said. “I don’t kill animals. I felt horrible about it. I didn’t want to leave the animal there.”

He isn’t sure exactly why he kept driving to the Holiday station, but he did. He stopped there and called authorities. He admits he was pretty rattled.

“I didn’t really see the dog at all,” he said. “I looked up and I impacted the dog. I didn’t really know what I hit for sure. I was looking in the mirror (after). I was looking to see what happened. I felt like shit about it.”

He was, he added, confident from the force of the impact and what he saw in the rearview mirror that the dog died on impact, and that, he said, made him feel a little better. He wouldn’t have wanted to see a dog suffer.

After calling Animal Control to report the accident, Calderon called his boss at an insulating company to tell him about it.

“He was pretty upset,” boss Gabriel Anaya said Wednesday. “He said he’d hit a loose dog.”

Calderon said he asked animal control to apologize to Scooby’s owner or owners for him. Whether that happened or not is unknown. Police talked to Calderon over the weekend and told him he wouldn’t face charges because he properly reported the accident.

Friends about the same time informed him he was a wanted man. The media was still reporting a hunt was underway to find the killer who ran over Scooby, and a gofundme page for the Andersons had popped up claiming Calderon almost ran JJ over before “hitting his dog ‘Scooby’ and dragging the boy down Boniface and 22nd Street  in Anchorage , Alaska.  The leash was around his wrist. Thank God the leash broke when the person sped up to flee.”

There is no evidence the leash broke. Jicinsky, who tended to JJ after the accident, said she never even saw a leash.

The gofundme page is still up. It still makes the same claims. It has raised $950.

And the Scooby story is still out there with Calderon’s name now attached. Will any news organization try to fix this mess? Don’t count on it.

Who’d want to debunk a heart-wrenching story about a service dog run down by a reckless driver?

 

Advertisements

12 replies »

  1. Thank you for writing this because as I have said before the only thing that upset me was he didn’t stop and go back, and the law regarding hit and run involving animals. People need to stop and realize that me and my family never started the story or said anything nasty about the driver. All the nasty comments that were made towards me and my son were just that nasty. No one knows anything about me or my son. JJ is a 12 y.o. kid that just witnessed a horrific accident that took the life of his best friend. So I think the fact that he said the truck was black is a mute point. No one knows what consequences JJ received and he did by the way for everyone that was talking about things they didn’t know. Because at no time did me or my family believe that the driver intentionally tried to hit and kill Scooby Doo. Because as I stated several time I didn’t know if the leash was on or off, I had to explain to my son that if Scooby Doo wasn’t on his leash this is what can happen without scarring him for the rest of his life because he believed he killed Scooby Doo. So when I stated accidents happen it was in reference to the fact if not on leash it can lead to bad things. Nobody knows what my son has gone through in his life so to say those things about him was uncalled for but that is how this story got completely off the real meaning behind the story. I never asked anyone to say anything regarding this incident. All I wanted was the driver to contact me like I said in my first post so he could explain his actions and tell his side. I believe he owes my family at least that much. Not to say sorry through a third party. But I still didn’t trip about that. I believe there is fault on both sides. I can’t control how the people commented. I never asked or wanted anyone to anything for my family. I have always said that the driver didn’t hurt my son, but everyone keep tripping on the fact I was upset with the driver. I am a mother I can’t believe that would not have upset any parent. That was the reason for the rant. I know I should have toned it down but I wanted people to understand that incident could have been much more horrific. That is why the law needs to change. As to anyone who for one minute believes that Scooby Doo was forgotten or that his death is still not with us every day because we smiled in the picture with the gentleman who donated the puppy. This is another person who doesn’t know human kindness. What were we supposed to do look depressed about the puppy a man and his family was willing to give JJ out of the kindness of their hearts not because the driver left the scene but because JJ had lost his dog. People were asking and stating comments regarding the gofundme account. Let me explain how the next day went for my family. At cop showed up at my door at 8:00am. I was still in bed, and had no idea anything criminal actions was being brought against the driver. The Officer was the one who said it was illegal and facing a fine up to $500. I could care less I just wanted to understand why the driver didn’t stop. I didn’t even know about my bosses post. The an hour or two later Channel 2 was there, an hour later Channel 11 was there, and then maybe 2-3 hours Adn wanting to take pictures. During all those events all I keep saying the thing I wanted is to know why the driver didn’t return. If this had been a human being and the same consequences for the driver was given I can’t imagine what would have happened. But because it was an animal it was no big deal he called the authorities. Scooby Doo was a member of my family, my extended APS and 24/7 family, and the community new them both so well. We clothed, fed, taught right and wrong actions, shelter, loved, and got him medical appointments to keep him healthy and happy. This is what everyone that has a family does for their family. That is why I would like to clear the air on that post as well. What no one knew is that post was release into the public by someone who violated the sanctity of a private group. Director Johnson was vented on behalf of me and my son because we might work together but we are a family unit. He was just so angry for me and JJ he let his emotions get the better of him because he believed that the post was private in his group and would never come into the light of the public eye. But before he could erase it the news team already had it. I never wanted sympathy or money from anyone, but I was so awestruck at the support and love shown to my family by the community I didn’t realize how such a good thing for the community became twisted into a story that was no longer about three people who life had been altered and one life that was taken. My family hasn’t had a chance to even mourn Scooby Doo death, a young man has been crucified, and the community has been divided again. All of the kindness might have still happened, the young man might not have been so afraid to contact, and the community might have had want it had needed for a long time if the real culprit had not posted Director Johnson private and personal message in a public forum. All I am asking for is please put blame where it needs to be, stop posting negative or positive comments regarding the incident so my family can mourn and move on. I hope for Daniel it stops as well. Still would like to meet him though, and finally to all those people who didn’t get caught up and showed love and support thank you again. We have had shirts made for the family to show how much Scooby Doo meant. and on the 22nd of October at 2:30pm at Knik River at the favorite swimming stop Scooby Doo, JJ and the family went to spread his ashes, send off balloons, and send a couple of Scooby Doo’s favorite toys down the river. Everyone is invited to come I mean everyone Daniel. JJ will always have a part of Scooby Doo with him as well as a paw print that was made for him. I hope this is the final post for everyone. We all have to live in this community we have bigger things to focus on like all these killings. I am sending my prayers to the families who have lost loved ones this year. Good night and God Bless.

    Like

    • thank you Valerie. it was a sad accident. it always is when a dog dies. i’m glad JJ didn’t get hurt. that’s a good thing. i wish your family the best. i’ve been through too many dog deaths. they never get any easier. every time i’ve ever had a dog take off my fear has been that he or she would get hit by a motor vehicle. it’s horrible. my issue isn’t with you. i feel your pain. my issue is with reporters who proceed to hype a story because they aren’t smart enough to sort out the information in front of them. i’m glad JJ didn’t have that leash around his wrist. if that had been the case, he would have been pulled into the truck and seriously hurt. it’s tempting to find fault with Dennis for just throwing a bunch of unverified information out there, but the reality is that it is supposed to be the job of reporters to parse that information and try to find out what actually happened. or at least that used to be the job.

      Like

      • Craig, I do understand that for you this story is about the degrade of reporting in the local area (or everywhere?). Both me and my wife always have a good time reading ADN and having a good laugh.

        But about the story and after reading Valerie’s comments their still doesn’t seem to be any sense of accountability.

        You say you want to know why the driver didn’t stop. Why was the dog in the road to begin with? Was the truck damaged? If so did you pay for it? And finally running over a dog and killing it would be a traumatic experience for almost anyone. The accede t happened because the dog was out of control. Your family is not the victim but the cause. You appear to have very little ownership in that part.

        I understand this is a private matter and dont really need a response. Best of luck to all involved.

        Like

  2. Thanks for reporting on this. The story didn’t sound right from the moment I read it and pissed me off the more I thought about it.

    Also you wrote struck but I think you meant truck.

    Like

  3. Reblogged this on aurorawatcherak and commented:
    I’m not usually a Craig Medred fan. He manipulated stories while at the Alaska News Dispatch, so I’m typically leery of him, but I checked his facts and he’s right, so credit given where credit is due.

    Craig is absolutely right about the state of journalism in America and most especially at the Alaska Dispatch News. “Imbalanced” is not an accurate enough title for what is coming out of that Internet rag with a print component these days … and that’s with political stories where they have time to check their facts. With a story like this, which was breaking news, …. forget about it. Then the other news media picked it up and made it even worse.

    I trained as a journalist. I worked as a reporter. It was my dream to bring balanced insightful articles to people. I quickly realized that you had to write to the prejudices of your editor. I ended up existing the “profession” to become an administrator. But I’ve always harbored the idea that I might return to it in “retirement.” Except when you see crap like this … I don’t know. Maybe I’d rather crochet doilies.

    Like

    • how do you know it wasn’t editors manipulating my stories? but the truth is, all journalists manipulate stories, although that it isn’t the word i’d use to describe the process even if the word fits. it has such negative connotations. journalists manipulate the news the way cooks manipulate soup. they are faced with a long list of ingredients (ie. information) from which they have to make selections when writing a story. some of the information is important; some isn’t. but sorting out that alone requires value judgments. that’s why journalism has always been and will always be a very imperfect business. what is left out is often more important than what is put in. and these days the business really suffers from what is left out. many (not all) of today’s journalists don’t supply enough information for people to draw their own conclusions. i always tried to do that. that’s why i’ll take it as a compliment that you think i “manipulated stories,” because you really can’t arrive at that opinion unless there is enough information in the story for you to form a conclusion different from that of the author. i wish someone had manipulated this dog story. no one did. they acted as stenographers for a story told by someone else. that’s easy. it’s also not the way to do journalism.

      Like

      • Craig, sometimes I knew things about stories that you reported on, things that were contrary to what your opinion on the story was, so it was really obvious when you’d leave those facts out. Alaska is a small town spread over millions of acres. A lot of us know each other. And when a reporter consistently ignores facts (or even opinions that relate to those facts) that are available, readers who know the other parts of the story stop trusting that reporter. Yes, it could very well be the editors who insisted that you slant stories to their political viewpoint … I’ve been there myself … and that might explain why I find myself agreeing with you more now that you’re not with ADN, but the fact is that reporters’ personal opinions about news stories aren’t supposed to come into it and yours, when you were with ADN, was very clear and very consistent … and sometimes wrong, according to the people I know personally who were involved in some of those stories. ADN has gone on with the same slant since you left, so I’m guessing that’s the editorial policy, which would be a really good reason to leave.

        Covering all the facts and not interjecting your personal opinion in a news article is how journalism is meant to work. That’s not acting as a stenographer. It’s allowing the reading public to draw their own conclusions from a story that isnt’t slanted. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way anymore. About 25 years ago, someone apparently shredded the last copy of the Journalism Code of Ethics and it’s been devolving ever since.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s