After Kluwe, shirtless shovelers, and blaming the victim in car crashes (5×8 – 1/3/14)

1) AFTER KLUWE

Players have rallied to the defense of a Vikings assistant coach, charged by former punter Chris Kluwe with homophobic rants.

“Any notion that Chris was released from our football team due to his stance on marriage equality is entirely inaccurate and inconsistent with team policy. Chris was released strictly based on his football performance,” the Vikings said in their reaction to the Deadspin story yesterday.

Where does the story go from here? Probably nowhere. Time.com points out there’s no way to prove the Vikings wrong.

But in the process he raises another question: Can today’s NFL incubate any kind of activist? For LGBT rights, Kluwe was never the best match. He wasn’t a star, and he happened to be straight. Brendon Ayanbadejo and Scott Fujita, two linebackers now out of the league who have also supported LGBT causes, fit the same profile. Really, only the league’s rank-and-file is courageous enough to question the status quo on a number of issues: player safety and gay rights chief among them. But that can make them undesirable employees in the next-man-up league. Kluwe’s head coach and general manager had never told him he was wrong; they asked him only ”to be quiet,” and to “please fly under radar.” Just the stars have the clout to talk. But they don’t, likely out of fear that their endorsement prospects will dim. (As Michael Jordan famously put it once, “Republicans buy shoes, too.”) And so little ever changes in the NFL’s sinister swamp, even when outside parties plead their cases with reams of evidence. It all seems futile.

The nice thing, though, about wetlands — filled with muck and all kinds of decaying matter — is that they tend to give more life than one would expect. Before too long, someone will emerge. And he’ll be strong.

There’s no way that person comes from the ranks of the Minnesota Vikings.

Kluwe will be on MPR’s Daily Circuit today at 11:45.

2) DISPATCHES FROM WINTER

Sorry, Minnesota, but Massachusetts just won winter.

Wisconsin, you’ll get your chance to reclaim this “title,” when that row of shirtless kids show up for this weekend’s Packers game.

Still, Minnesota is making a game of it. Colleague Hart Van Denburg said it was -5 when he found the “windbreaker people” playing hockey around Lake of the Isles. That’s -10 when you shoot in black and white, though. Impressive.

Hart Van Denburg/MPR News

But you can only cheat the weather for so long. Today is the last day for the Madeline Island Ferry. The ice is getting too thick between the island and Bayfield (video).

By comparison, last year the ferry stopped running in late January, after not needing to shut down at all in 2012.

In Canada, they’re hearing booms in the night. They’re ice quakes, the CBC reports.

Related winter: 10 Ways Snow Days Change in Adulthood (Mashable).

3) THE SEAT BELT EQUATION

I’ve written several times over the years about the difficulty of including details about seat belt use in stories in which the person not wearing them dies. There’s no way to include the detail without some reader translating it as “serves ’em right; they weren’t wearing seat belts.”

At the same time, the theory goes, including the details provides a reminder to others that they should buckle up. Still, that’s a message that can be delivered without piling on the pain on the family of the deceased.

Which is why this headline in today’s Star Tribune is worth discussing…

strib_seat_belt_hed

“An SUV flipped over on a county road in western Wisconsin on New Year’s Day, killing the unbelted driver and leaving the belted passanger unscathed, authorities said Thursday,” the story’s first sentence said.

4) CLOSED RANKS

It’s rather hard to believe that up until today, there wasn’t a Hmong firefighter in Saint Paul. The Pioneer Press introduces us today to Tou Lo, who was inspired to become a firefighter after he saw a documentary about 9/11 first responders. He had never seen a firefighter who looked like him.

The Twin Cities has the largest concentration of Hmong Americans in the United States.

There are only two Hmong firefighters in Minneapolis.

5) WHAT HE DID FOR LOVE

A West Fargo teen may face charges for calling in a fake fire report at a community center where a dance team was practicing. The Fargo Forum reports the young man thought it would somehow help him get a date with one of the dance team members. Oh, son!

Bonus: Portraits of a Rust Belt Mill Town (NYTimes.com).

TODAY’S QUESTION
How closely do you record the developments in your life?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: This week on the Friday Roundtable, our panelists will discuss the big stories of 2013, the overlooked stories, and how the changing media landscape is a shaping the way news is covered and consumed.

Second hour: Luke O’Neil thinks the Internet is broken, and to be fair, he had an unwilling hand in its demise. O’Neil is a journalist, who in addition to writing thoroughly investigative, thoughtful stories, has had to supplement his income by pumping out blog posts about celebrities. It’s not that writing about the latest escapades of Miley Cyrus isn’t news to some people, it’s more that the sites that post such stories don’t seem to care whether they’re true or not. It’s all about the clicks.

Third hour: While the Republican Party has undergone soul searching this year, the Democratic Party may not be far behind itself. The punditry is already looking ahead to 2014 and 2016, or the Post-Obama era, to see if two big factions, the progressives and the centrists, can and will get along. The Daily Circuit will preview this perceived divide. Will it be disastrous or can it be reconciled without too much damage?

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm) – The president’s chief science advisor, John Holdren. Speaking at the Computer History Museum in California about the major science issues facing the country. Climate change, the Brain Initiative, guarding against meteor strikes and more.

Science Friday (1-2 p.m.) – Tips to simplify your inbox. Plus, a look at the Endangered Species Act 40 years later. And the truth about that glint in your eye.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – In 2004, a tsunami devastated much of southeast Asia. But nine years later, life is improving for some survivors in Indonesia. The catastrophe helped bring an end to decades of brutal conflict. Government forces and a separatist group have finally found peace. NPR will have the story.

  • “Sorry, Minnesota, but Massachusetts just won winter.”

    Uh, no. Get back to us when it’s below zero for several days straight.

    The “snownami” hitting the East Coast is called “Friday” here in Minnesota.

    • BJ

      And now our Governor closed all the schools….

      • I saw that.The first time since 1997.

  • MrE85

    #3) “Still, that’s a message that can be delivered without piling on the pain on the family of the deceased.” Okay, I’ll bite. How?

    • Second day lede.

      I have an acquaintance, friend of my wife’s, whose son was killed on Robert St. in December. The reporter dutifully called and his mother poured her heart about the kid, how he’d tried to turn his life around, and, in fact, had turned his life around.

      The story came out and none of that mattered, and little of it was mentioned, because the prominent story was “alcohol was involved.” He wasn’t even the one driving. And the story behind the story is quite a compelling one, actually, but nobody will ever hear it because the news /and the reaction to it, lends itself to the “serves ’em right” mentality, about which I’ve written before and won’t bother repeating here.

      We all have our self interests and our agendas and those are important. But I tend to think the first story about someone’s death ought not to be judged based on whether it furthers or hinders those agendas. There’s time for that.

  • Veronica

    There are so many different kinds of preventable deaths– drownings, TVs falling on babies, falls– and the causes of death are discussed in those other situations. And often, the family members become the loudest voices in trying to educate the public about certain dangers. I’m a Child Passenger Safety Technician, which means I work with parents on car seat and seat belt use, and people just don’t get how important it is. When small children die in car accidents, there is sometimes a line in the story that mentions if the kids were in car seats, but RARELY is it ever discussed if the seats were installed or used properly. (80-90% of the time they aren’t installed or used properly.) somehow, parents think they are some magic bubble that save lives just by being in the car, physics be damned.

    We need to talk about the real risks of not wearing seat belts in the same way we talk about drunk driving or texting while driving. Yes, humans are horrible at properly processing the risks of something, but we need to talk about these deaths in an honest way. By doing so, it’s an opportunity to potentially save other lives in the future. You don’t get in your car thinking “Today is the day I’ll get into a car crash–better buckle up!” That’s why it’s important to make sure people understand that every passenger should be properly buckled every ride, no matter what.

    • I don’t think anyone argue otherwise. The question is whether the first story is the place to do with such prominence. The victim was also someone’s son, brother, or husband. What is lost with his death. Who was he? It seems to me that that’s a story that can’t be told as long as the reader is invited not be bothered by such things because he’s the guy who didn’t wear a seatbelt. Why be bothered by the loss; he brought it on himself.

      Mugged at 1 a.m. doing nothing. Oh well, shouldn’t have been out at that hour in that neighborhood? Someone stole your smartphone? Shouldn’t have been looking at it while walking on the street. Soldier killed in Afghanistan? He knew what he was getting into when he signed up.

      Like it or not, the Internet has brought us an immediate judgmental society absence things like facts and details.

      I’ll bet this guy’s life mattered and I miss the days when that mattered to us.

      • Veronica

        So…..how do you square that idea with your well-known belief that news organizations should do a better job of saying when kids died by suicide? I don’t think the issue is the reporting, but our crass cynicism when it comes to how we treat each other. That’s not going to be fixed by glossing over certain details.

        • Oh I don’t think there’s any comparison unless you’re saying it makes a difference that someone slashed a wrist vs. hung herself. And I think the way i treat the stories perfectly illustrates the story. This story, for example, mentioned neither:

          http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2012/10/her_name_was_tinu/

          And you got a chance to understand the person. And it didn’t come at the cost of understanding the need to seek help.

          I would submit that the current method of cops using people’s deaths to steer a reporter to making a PSA makes the job that much harder because the reader ends up with a “screw ’em, he deserved it” message instead of one in which the reader understands the magnitude of the loss, transfers that to his/her own family, and acts accordingly.

          To me, it’s only logical that the story is always the value that’s lost. The reader will take it from there.

          As for the cops, they come from the “scared straight” culture in which they think if they show you enough horrible car crash pictures, you won’t drive drunk. You know what is much more likely to people’s behavior — knowing someone killed by a drunk driver.

          That’s the opportunity journalists have — and regular blow. Their job is to tell you the real “who” in a story. They rarely seem to get past the ‘what.”

          • reedak

            But I don’t know the person, nor do I need to know the person. I need to know what killed them or how they died so that I can prevent that from happening to myself and my family. Funerals are about knowing the life of the deceased not news articles. News articles are for presenting the news to the public so that they can learn from it.

            I would submit that learning how wonderful and grand this “victim” was has nothing to do with how they died. No matter how grand and wonderful they were, they were still stupid enough to not wear a seat belt. That is the lesson. It’s like when Princess Di was killed in that car accident. The FACT that she wasn’t wearing a seat belt contributed to her death. Her being a wonderful beautiful person didn’t change the fact that she is dead, in part, because she was too stupid to wear a seat belt.

          • I would submit that feeding your disdain for someone you don’t know is exactly what good journalists SHOULDN’T do.

            As i said earlier, the magnitude of a loss does more to get people to think about themselves and what’s at stake than a sanitary “don’t bother getting to know the person” news story.

            This story does nothing to teach you anything about seat belts because I rather suspect you don’t consider yourself stupid enough not to wear one. So what it actually feeds is a general smugness that you do.

      • MrE85

        Here’s a seat belt story that doesn’t forget the human element:

        http://www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/your-health/seat-belts-really-do-save-lives

      • We rarely get the second day story anymore. Stories have such a short shelf-life because everything comes out on day one: we get names and pictures and comments and everything thanks to social media.

        • MrE85

          I know some folks who get very upset about SUVs being mentioned in news stories, especially negative news about hit and runs, crime stories, etc. They claim that “liberal journalists” are unfairly defaming the vehicle of choice of many suburban conservatives. I’m not kidding.
          Funny how people can read the same headline and see vastly different things.

  • kennedy

    Re #1: There has been recent discussion on this blog about entertainers losing an audience when they publicly adopt controversial political issues as part of their brand. The NFL is an entertainment business. I would not expect the league or any team to adopt a cause if it risks losing an audience. Wearing pink to support the fight against breast cancer is good PR. Taking a side on a divisive issue, not so much. Staying neutral is cowardly, but protects the revenue stream.

    Of course, tolerating hate speech against homosexuals is also taking a side. And the NFL has been more tolerant than most other sports. NASCAR, NBA, NHL, and MLB have all recently fined members for publicly speaking bigotry about homosexuality. Call me jaded, but I suspect these actions are more about discouraging bad publicity than supporting an issue. The NFL needs to catch up with the times, dole out some fines, and publicly discourage derogatory speech.

    And another thing: Does anyone else find it ridiculous that Aaron Rodgers, a league superstar, has to answer questions about his sexuality? Seriously, what does it matter? Simply asking the question is ridiculous and has no bearing on his job. It is tabloid journalism. Is there any good way for him to respond?

  • MPLS Cyclist

    “I’ve written several times over the years about the difficulty of including details about seat belt use in stories in which the person not wearing them dies. ” How about when cyclists die in a car collision? It seems one detail that is rarely left out is whether or not they were wearing a helmet.

    • I can see positioning the details of the accident in the story. I can’t really see defining the deceased this way.

      this was a particularly sad story this week. But notice how the dead person is treated differently because she wore a seat belt, and how the detail was positioned.

      http://kstp.com/article/stories/s3235090.shtml

      • David

        I’ve never consciously noticed this before. Thanks for pointing out Bob.

    • Rachel

      I was thinking the exact same thing regarding cyclists.