Commentary

Victims upon victims

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Valerie Anderson never went looking for media trouble, but she found it thanks to an over-zealous boss and an irresponsible press. The boss is to be excused because what happened to Valerie’s son JJ and the Anderson family was a tragedy.

JJ let the family dog, a much beloved Labrador retriever get loose, and as young dogs do, it took off. Scooby Doo, as he was called, sadly ran into traffic on Anchorage’s busy Boniface Parkway. A truck driven by a young man named Daniel Calderon hit and killed Scooby.

Rattled about hitting and killing a dog that seemed to come out of nowhere, Calderon drove on a few blocks before pulling over to call the authorities and tell them what  had happened. JJ, meanwhile, found poor, dead Scooby.

What followed was a media circus right out of Tom Wolfe’s 1987 best seller (later a movie) “The Bonfire of  the Vanities.”

Valerie, whose comments on all of this you can read in her lengthy post below, has not said exactly what JJ told her boss Dennis Johnson, but it clearly got Johnson fired up. He promptly posted a story on Facebook about a truck that just missed JJ, hit Scooby, and almost got the young man as a tag along.

“Thank God the leash broke when you sped up to flee. He will heal from his physical wounds but probably not the emotional ones!!!!” Johnson wrote.

Any reporter with half a brain should have stopped right there and said, “Wait a minute; how does this work?”

Imagine the scene: The truck is speeding down Boniface at 45 or 50 mph and hits a dog. If the dog is ahead of or even perpendicular to the boy, there is no strain on the leash, so it can’t break. The force on the leash begins to increase beyond the point of perpendicular as the truck speeds down the road.

But the force doesn’t become much until the boy is parallel to the truck. At this point, depending on the weight of the boy and the strength of the leash, any number of things could happen: the boy could be dragged down the street until the dogs comes free of the truck; the boy’s wrist could be ripped off; or the leash could break.

So right here, a good reporter types “Google” into her computer and then types “‘breaking strength’ dog leash.” Various answers to the question will pop up, but here’s one:

“3/4” 4ft cupcakes dog leash- GREAT for small dogs…The pink cupcakes dog leash is made of a soft and strong nylon webbing, which has a breaking strength of over 4000lbs.”

4,000 pound?

4,000 pounds

JJ, if you’ve seen him, looks to be 100 pounds or so. And the leash broke without dragging him blocks down the street or bouncing him off the side of the truck as he pendulummed toward it after poor Scooby was hit?

A reporter could call a physics professor to explain why it is highly unlikely the leash would break in this situation without dragging JJ down the street, but that really shouldn’t be necessary. A reporter should be able to look at this one fact and say, “OK, something’s not right here.”

Unfortunately, a bunch of reporters ignored simple physics and jumped on this story and ran with it. Actually, they just didn’t run with it, they hyped it. The Alaska Dispatch News, the state’s leading news organization, quickly headlined that JJ’s “service dog” had been hit and the Anchorage Police Department was launching a manhunt for the hit-and-run driver whose bad driving threatened a child.

The Anchorage Police Department had dutifully responded when contacted by various reporters.

“APD says it’s looking for a black truck in this hit-and-run case,” KTVA.com reported.

Of course, APD said that. That is what police departments across the country say when confronted by reporters demanding a response to the crisis of the moment. What are they supposed to say?

“I’m sorry. We have a number of murders to investigate in this city at this time, and though we feel for anyone whose dog was run over and killed on an Anchorage street, something that sadly happens with some regularity, we really can’t justify making a BFD out of this one.”

APD didn’t do that. Instead, it did so some investigation on this one because the local media got its panties in a bunch, and if you’re a law enforcement agency anywhere, you don’t want to offend the media in this situation because then they’ll really make a BFD out of it.

Plenty of average Alaskans, meanwhile, being obviously smarter than your average Alaska reporter, read the coverage and deduced something wasn’t right. But instead of turning on the media, which made a mess of this, some of them turned on the Andersons.

Valerie, who responded to the first Scooby Doo story posted here, can take it from here: (Editor’s note: Some of the punctuation has been fixed in the copy that appears below, and a few words were added in parantheses where words were obviously missing.)

Valerie’s story

“Thank you for writing this because as I have said before the only thing that upset me was he (Calderon) 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(s) 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 (JJ) 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 (do) 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 (this) 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. A cop showed up at my door at 8 a.m. 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 (Calderon was) 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.

“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 to know is 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(d) 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 (so) 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 whose 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’s 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.”

Honesty

Told honestly, the story of Scooby is still a moving story. It is a tragedy to lose a beloved dog. It is especially a tragedy if you are young. And, if you think it your fault, as Valerie intimates above, it’s a nightmare for a kid.

That, unfortunately, isn’t the story that got written.

Why? There’s a simple answer to that, or two.

Those most cynical about the media today would say “click bait,” as in an effort to get people to click on a story and read it. That’s too easy of an answer.

The reality is likely both more complicated and simpler. It was just easier to report it the way it got reported. The story packaged better that way. Johnson understood the narrative.  Calderon might have summed it as well as it could be summed:

“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.”

It is sad, but it’s sort of always the way humanity has done it.

One could expect the modern media to rise above, but they’re only human, right?

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