Media Follies

By Michael I. Niman
Buffalo Beat, March 3rd, 2001


SUV Smut

            Yes, I am fully aware that the “Automotive” section of any daily news paper is prepared by the advertising department, but please, I beg of The Buffalo News, try to maintain a modicum of dignity.  Bob Plunkett’s Sunday article about the new Cadillac Escalade “SUV” went over the line from PR masking as news, to automotive pornography.  The whole act of transforming the Suburban Assault Vehicles of the 1980s into today’s Sport Utility Vehicles is a classic case of seductive audience-crafting.

            Plunkett anthromorphasizes the Escalade, linguistically adorning it with an “aggressive face” complete with “thick but flat bumper lips” and a “hard edged prow,” which he says is “aggressive” and “suggests strength and king-of-the-road power.”  I’d describe it more as having a snout, as this pig weighs in at almost three tons and sucks up gas at the rate of 12 miles to the gallon. 

Plunkett says it packs “every conceivable mechanical weapon for serious road combat.”  Somebody needs to slap this boy in the face and point out that he ain’t Mel Gibson and, despite having another yokel in the White House, society hasn’t yet collapsed.  The Buffalo News doesn’t need to be encouraging rush hour road warriors to up the ante in their personal armor.  If you buy into Plunkett’s seductive imagery of a mean angry steel beast, you don’t need a car.  You need a shrink.

            According to a recent study by the World Recourses Institute, the average new SUV will release over 500,000 pounds of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere during it’s lifetime.  Plunkett’s piece never mentions mileage, global warming or the environmental irresponsibility and selfishness associated such a purchase.  The Escalade is so massive that it comes with an “Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist <tm>,” which is some sort of radar designed to help drivers avoid crushing other cars in the parking lot.  This behemoth is powered by a 345 horsepower engine that propels the whole deadly package into traffic doing 0-60mph in under 9 seconds.

            Of  course Plunkett is a syndicated columnist who doesn’t actually work for The News per se.  They’d do better by sticking with their own staffers rather than demeaning themselves by publishing such trash.


Empire Drive-In Brew Pub

Buffalo’s TV news anchors all rushed to herald the failure of the Empire Brewery as evidence that traffic should be returned to Main Street and, presumably, the pedestrian mall should be torn up.  This is just more evidence of a car culture gone mad.  The Empire Brewery also fronts on Washington Street, which is two lanes wide, and lined on both sides with parking meters.  Across Washington Street is a parking lot.  Despite this easy auto access, however, most customers seemed to enter from the pedestrian mall. 

Other Main Street businesses such as The Tralf and Club Marcella seem to do just fine with a similar arrangement.  The buzz among area club owners is that Empire died because it was a poorly run restaurant, not because of any subway voodoo.  It’s odd, but when suburban restaurants fail, we don’t have pundits blaming the failure on a lack of urban amenities and ugly fields of cars.  The Buffalo News presented more balanced reporting on this story.


Spending My George W. Tax Cut

            National Public Radio did a recent piece interviewing supposed typical Americans on how they planned to spend their George W. Bush tax cut in an effort to see if the cut would stimulate the economy.  Some folks talked about buying big-ticket consumer goods while others spoke of paying down credit cards or other loans.  As for me, I’m planning on going to the movies and buying three beers. 

Yes.  Do the math.  For the average working Buffalo resident, the cut, for those of us wealthy enough to get one, will average about twenty bucks.  As for buying washing machines or paying off credit card debts, NPR’s reporting might as well come from another planet, as it clearly comes from another world.  A more useful report would address how working people would weather the myriad cuts to social service programs that are financing a tax cut whose benefits are skewed to the ultra-rich.


Seattle Quakes, Bush Cuts, Flutie’s Cut

            Last Wednesday Seattle was hit with one of the worst earthquakes in modern American history.  All three news channels, however, led their 11PM reports with approximately four minutes of reporting about the Bills’ decision to keep Quarterback Rob Johnson and fire (they prefer the word “release”) Doug Flutie.   Think about it.  You just read the same story here in four seconds.  A simple teaser would have sufficed until the sports report.  Come on.  If we’re going to call it “news,” let’s at least pretend.  OK?

            Wednesday was also the day that Bush fella announced that he would be cutting the funding of a major federal earthquake preparedness program.  This was the same program that funded the engineering retrofits credited later in the day with saving both buildings and lives in Seattle.  Ooops. 

            Channels four and seven ignored (dare we say “censored?”) the Bush tie-in.  Channel two gave it a quick seven seconds.  Channel seven provided some transparent Bush counter spin with a quick “President Bush Promised Help” piece – which would have been fine had not they ignored the real Bush tie-in.  Ooops?  I think not.


Racism I

            As part of their continuing (and I must add, rather silly) series on Western New Yorkers who have moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, Rich Kellman reported on one former South Buffalo family who drove 50 miles a day to bring their kids to parochial school.  The reason, Kellman explained, was due in part because of the poor quality of the public schools.  As he voiced the “poor quality” phrase, the camera panned over an African American child seated at a school desk reading a book.  Racism in the news and popular entertainment is a scourge that has been with us as long as we’ve had mass media. This example was blatant and obscene.  There’s no ambiguity here.  Channel two must accept responsibility, apologize and make amends to the African American community.


Racism II 

            Kudos to everyone in the media for their coverage of the Cheektowaga racial profiling controversy.  The dangers of “shopping while black” and “driving while black” in Cheektowaga have always been all too real for members of Buffalo’s Black communities.  Virtually every African American family in this area has a Cheektowaga horror story.  It’s about time the issue became a news story. 

Let’s not forget, however, that the Cynthia Wiggins Galleria Mall story was a national news story before it was a major local news story.  It was only the embarrassment of the national story that forced local TV news crews to react.  With rapper DMX currently in jail after being stopped while driving at about 65mph on Cheektowaga’s Kensington Speedway, and with the potential of another national news embarrassment hanging over their heads, Buffalo’s TV news rooms had no real choice but to do the right thing.

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