Forget the cop who faked gettin’ shot, how ‘bout those “eye witnesses”?
Original Story: 89.3 KPCC, Southern California Public Radio and Eyewitness News KABC-TV/abc7.com
During the afternoon of January 19, unbridled zeal for this story poured forth from L.A.’s TV network affiliates: ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX-LA. A school police officer had reportedly been shot near the San Fernando Valley’s award-winning El Camino Real High School, and one of the largest local manhunts in years virtually consumed seven square miles of residential neighborhoods. Then, with so much HD footage of racing cop cars, motorcycles, command trucks, and armored SWAT units to be had, out came the stringers, independent cameramen with broadcast-quality gear, hoping to sell their video.
Eight schools were put on lockdown and thousands of students were made to remain in their classrooms as the news principle “If It Bleeds, It Leads” pumped the community’s blood pressure cuff. The word “manhunt” was followed by “perimeter,” and soon Woodland Hills, California was being referred to as a “hot zone.” Predatory news-van reporters and stringers alike included the eager-to-be-helpful comments of bystanders in their live reports to studio newscasters. There was a Good Samaritan angle to exploit, plus angry parents; students in jeopardy; a wounded hero; 350 badges hunting for a long-haired perp; cops stopping motorists to search trunks; flashing lights – a circus with all its attendant witnesses and whatchamacallits!
Then there are the students, some of whom called radio stations or television tipster lines to provide inside-the-lockdown perspectives like descriptions of police officers with dogs roaming the hallways and being forced to pee into trash cans. Excited kids will be kids, and their astonishment over being delayed for five hours (“Duuuude!”) was mostly entertaining. The most adorable of these junior plaintiffs were the ones rubbing their stomachs as they recounted the unconscionable span of time without food.
And it turns out, though, the whole incident had been faked. If the LAUSD cop had been shot at all, he did it to himself. No longhaired aggressor attacking our common safety and threatening our American way of life; indeed no perp at all.
Yet as I recall channel surfing the evening’s broadcast segments on the inconvenient siege, I remember thinking there seemed to be an implausible amount of “eye witness” information. For one, there was the detailed police sketch of the assailant that morphed with every subsequent qualifier like “meth head” and “pony tail”: it’s obvious the guy making up the story was going to provide a “description,” but who were these other yahoos adding “detail”? A few potato heads even claimed to have seen the guy running “over there” and climbing this fence or that. One guy said the shooter hopped his hedge. WTF? They knew they’d seen no such thing.
As reporters fed these “observations” back to their anchors, I got the sense that some of these idiots had just come from watching similar reports inside and were now back on the street – recapping the man on TV for the other station’s reporter with added gusto. Is it an explicit or a subconscious need, I wonder, to play the victim/participant in order to obtain (or earn) ego-soothing attention? What drove that jackass to beg, “Wuh, I graduated from El Camino High School in ’98. Where’s my grief counselor?”