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Not a News Flash: 19 Manipulates A Story

By RD Heldenfels Published: February 7, 2006

There's a story I have been wrestling with for several days. Wrestling with it because it's sleazy Because merely by discussing it, I am probably going to please the very people I want to criticize.

It will not surprise local viewers to know the story involves Channel 19.

19's ''Action News'' delights in the lurid. It's a newspaper tabloid in unvarnished, on-air form. And, as is the case with print tabloids, it likes to take on-air shots at its competitors -- and it often does so because it knows that the other stations won't fire back. Lying down with dogs, you know.

It has also on more than one occasion lifted others' material for broadcast; my colleague Bob Dyer was not pleased recently when he discovered a Channel 19 report used one of his stories, including some passages verbatim, without any attribution.

One example of 19's dubious practices occurred last week. First, here are the facts, without editorializing or an on-air re-enactment.

On. Jan 24, a grand jury indicted Daniel Rush on charges of kidnapping and gross sexual imposition. The indictment said that on Sept. 7, 2005, Rush ''unlawfully and by force, threat or deception removed Jane Doe, d.o.b. September 24, 1985, from the place where she was found or restrained her of her liberty for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity, as defined in Section 2907.01 of the Revised Code, with Jane Doe against her will.''

Rush was arraigned on the indictment today. He pleaded not guilty, has an attorney and posted a $5,000 surety bond. A trial date has not yet been set.

Now, why was this of interest to Channel 19? Well, the accusations do sound awful, so 19 might have pursued the story under any circumstances, especially with the February sweeps in sight. But the story had an added attraction to the station, since the incident described in the indictment occurred at Channel 8, where Rush was an assignment editor. Channel 19 had a big, free shot.

But just reporting the story was not enough for Action News. It repeatedly suggested a cover-up, with reporter Paul Orlousky calling it ''a story the I-Team turned its cameras away from.''

It sniped at Channel 8's generally, saying that ''its ratings are slipping, but Channel 8 is still the choice of SOME Clevelanders.''

It mocked the station's slogan, calling the accuser in the case ''Cleveland's own victim'' in an on-air graphic. (You can find both this story and a follow-up the next night on the WOIO's Web site.)

It showed a re-enactment of the accuser's description of what took place, with verbal accompaniment from the accuser. (The accuser was heard but her face was not seen; the station identified her only as Mary.)

And it wasn't done. The next night, Channel 19 was back on the story, with more details about what anchor Denise Dufala called ''the scandal that rocked the newsroom.''  That night, Orlousky reported that Rush had been fired after an internal investigation. The implication of cause-and-effect was clear: 19 reported, 8 fired.

After the first story aired, I asked Channel 8 general manager Mike Renda about it. He declined to comment, since the story involved internal personnel matters and ongoing legal issues.

But if he had chosen to comment, he might have mentioned Channel 19's timing, such as its holding back the news that Rush had been fired until its second report -- when the station had investigated, and Rush had been fired, months ago.

Even in the second report, Channel 19 is noticeably not specific about when the investigation and the firing took place. After all, that would suggest the station acted promptly and responsibly, and that's not the spin Channel 19 wanted.

The indictment was filed Jan. 24. Channel 19 did not report it until more than a week later. Conveniently, the night of its report was also the first night of the February sweeps. During that night's telecast of ''Survivor,'' you could have seen a promotional spot about ''charges of kidnapping and sexual assault inside a local TV station.''

I could also mention this is not the first time a station -- or any news organization -- has chosen not to report on bad news inside its walls. But I get uncomfortable with that logic, because I think we should report the bad news as well as the good. And I already feel slimy just writing about this.

I don't like what Rush is accused of doing. I don't like what Channel 19 did with the story. I feel as if I'm helping Channel 19 just by writing about it, since the station is happy to get any attention, even unfavorable comments. At least, then, they're being talked about. And if you hear the talk, you might tune in.

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