Some days turn out brutal in the news business and yesterday, April 9, 2010, was one of them. My lazy mind chalks it up as Black Friday.
Having spent half of my adult life in the newspaper business, I was never absolutely certain why negative news attracted the most readership. A conflict between two opposing ideas is one thing. That’s drama.
As a police reporter, I was constantly chronicling good vs. evil. Believe me, it was no fun filing a story that my brother-in-law was killed as an innocent bystander in a drive-by shooting.
But yesterday, April 9, if there is a God he was looking the other way.
The top story, of course, was the jet crash carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and key members of his cabinet, among the 97 passengers all killed as their jet exploded landing at the Smolensk airport in Russia. The irony is that all but a handful were planning to attend the 70th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet secret police at the beginning of World War II. Not only that, the trip marked a thaw in relations between Poland and Russia in what is known as the Katyn massacre. Among the dead were the Polish president, his wife; Aleksander Szczyglo, head of the National Security Office and former defense minister; Andrzej Kremer, Deputy Foreign Minister Gen. Franciszek Gagor, head of the army chief of staff
Aleksander Szczyglo, head of the National Security Office and former defense minister and Slawomir Skrzypek, head of the National Bank of Poland.
That’s like the U.S. losing in one fell swoop, President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, CIA Director Leon Panetta and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Item No. 2 is the smoking gun that links Pope Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger resisting pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children in a letter he signed citing concerns for “the good of the universal church.” The 1985 letter was written at a time Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of the church’s doctrinal watchdog office. Putting the Church and priests above the sexually abused children continues to rock the church from its foundations and crucifies the pleas of the Vatican the allegations were only “gossip.”
The Roman Catholic Church will survive but the news yesterday is not much unlike revelation of the Oval Office tapes that contributed to the downfall of the Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal.
Friday also was the day the last vestiges of hope for rescuing the remaining four miners was crushed when they finally were located and found dead, bringing the death toll at the Montcoal, West Virginia, coal mine explosion to 29. The Upper Big Branch mine operated by Massey Energy Co. illustrates not only the hazards but the callous disregard for safety by mining operators who are so powerful they control politicians and inspectors despite the pleas of safety advocates and the miners themselves who rely on the jobs as the only way they know how to earn a living in job-depleted regions.
Again, there is an irony in the Montcoal disaster. Americans are reminded they no longer can point to the frequent coal mining disasters in China as poorly managed for the purposes of greed. It’s happening all too frequently in our own back yards.
As Americans, we become calloused and compartmentalize military accidents in our war zones as matter of facts. What makes Friday’s news of a NATO aircraft in volatile southern Afghanistan that killed three U.S. service members and a civilian contractor significant is that the crash was an Air Force CV-22 Osprey, which uses tilt-rotor technology to take off and land like a helicopter but fly like a plane. Despite its strategic value, this aircraft is a known as a widowmaker. Ospreys, which can fly twice as fast as helicopters, have suffered a number of crashes and mechanical failures in the early years of development, together with significant cost overruns. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force cited few details but U.S. military officials doubted a claim it was shot down by the Taliban. The deaths of U.S. military personnel in the first quarter of 2010 is the highest ever — 88 in Afghanistan where we are fighting for the people of a government even President Obama admits is corrupt.
A persistent downer in the news is national focus on bullying tactics by our teenagers that led to the Jan. 14 suicide of Phoebe Prince, 15, called a “whore,” “Irish slut,” taunted in hallways and classrooms, had her school photo defaced and could take no more. Nine students were charged with harassment and bullying-related offenses and yesterday msnbc.com’s Life Science asks “Why are teens so cruel?” One study offers an answer. “Bullies go for admiration, for status, for dominance,” sociologist Rene Veenstra said. Unlike friendly teasing, bullying is long-term, unwanted and doesn’t occur between social equals. Despite their aggressive behavior, bullies also want affection, Veenstra said. His work has shown that bullies care about the approval of their own in-group, so they strategically pick victims they know few other classmates will defend. Again, I find it ironic that the underlying message of what the good sociologist is saying was seen by millions in the 1950s in the movies “Rebel Without A Cause,” starring James Dean, and “The Wild Ones,” featuring Marlon Brando. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and teenagers. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, about 8 out of every 100,000 teenagers committed suicide in 2000. For every teen suicide death, experts estimate there are 10 other teen suicide attempts.
For sheer outrage, may I recommend reading the Los Angeles Times story about the money-grabbing Dr. Daniel J. Healy who I describe as “Dr. Feel Good” and some patients called “The Candyman.” Healy ordered more than 1 million tablets of hydrocodone in 2008: more than any other doctor and 10 times more than the average American pharmacy, according to government records. The drug, better known by the brand names Vicodin and Norco, is an addictive painkiller for which there is a thriving black market, particularly among teenagers and young adults. Healy will be sentenced Monday after pleading guilty to one count of dispensing oxycodone without a legitimate medical purpose. In court papers, Healy’s attorney, Roger J. Rosen, depicted a wholesome image of Healy, who as a child was a Boy Scout and an altar boy. No irony here. Just another case of greed winning the morality battle once again.
Finally, for allergy sufferers, 2010 is the worst year in decades for people living between Florida, Texas and Colorado. Pollen and allergy are among the top 10 trendy topics on Twitter in some cities. Your heart goes out for Sam Wilson, 5, of St. Petersburg, Florida, whose mom gives him Claritin in the morning, Nasonex and Benadryl at night, and he receives four allergy shots every week. Joanna Wilson, the boy’s mother, said that when the pollen is at its worst, his eyes water and itch, he can’t breathe through his nose and his throat burns.
“His reaction yesterday was pretty bad. He couldn’t breathe, he was completely congested, and crying.”
Black Friday, indeed.
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Jerry Remmers worked 26 years in the newspaper business. His last 23 years was with the Evening Tribune in San Diego where assignments included reporter, assistant city editor, county and politics editor.