Call them flexi-facts.
Nuggets of information ever-so-close to total truth, but shaded just enough to evoke emotion — a tantalizing lure to which TV news sometimes succumbs.
Consider Channel 13’s embrace of the V word — “violent” — in last week’s coverage of the capture of suspects in a series of burglaries that has been front-burner news in Las Vegas. Anchor Tricia Kean intro’d the piece by describing the crimes as “over a dozen violent home invasions.”
Really? Detailing the break-ins, the only real reference to violence was one homeowner shot in the hip. That’s not to minimize the severity of a shooting or the fear unleashed by the robberies. Still, the recap came nowhere near the setup.
What constitutes violent acts? True, the suspects allegedly held frightened victims at gunpoint. (And one suspect was involved in legitimately violent robberies — nine years ago.) True, legal interpretations can define threats of violence as being, in effect, actual violence.
Yet the station knows average viewers’ common understanding of the word involves direct physical assault on another, in which case one doesn’t equal “over a dozen.” Typically, Channel 13 leapt to its signature overstatement, one that didn’t quite conjure the image of a grisly trail of bloody bodies murdered Mickey and Mallory-style, a la “Natural Born Killers.” And yet …
It does suggest they didn’t mind if it did. Sells the story, after all.
Normally, that tendency doesn’t compromise Channel 8, unless they’ve hired Truman Capote as a producer, dropping in on daily editorial meetings via seance. Last week, anchor Dave Courvoisier relayed the story of a local man who was “shot in cold blood” in his driveway. Certainly a horror, but to borrow a legal cliche — presumes facts not in evidence.
“In cold blood” generally translates to “deliberately, coldly and dispassionately.” Though the story mentioned a “mysterious” man seen in the neighborhood and the police investigation had yielded that sort of semisuspect they call a “person of interest,” Courvoisier noted that there was no legit suspect or known motive yet — making it impossible to determine at that point if the shooting was, indeed, “cold-blooded,” or a crime of impulse or passion. And yet …
“In cold blood.” Hot-button words. Sells the story, after all.
Bouncing back to Channel 13, another piece reported on a Henderson pizza parlor owner flying the American flag over his establishment. Anchor Steve Wolford told us “he got a letter telling him to take it down, and called us.” Yes and no. Actually, owing to a new ordinance, businesses must obtain permits to display advertising “flags or banners,” which the man also had unfurled, publicizing his pizza joint.
There was no mention of removing the American flag in the letter. Chalk it up to a mistaken assumption — a misunderstanding. And yet …
Remove the American flag? Assault on patriotism! Sells the story, after all.
Little nip here, little tuck there, trim a tad off the side, shave a bit off the top and — voila! — flexi-facts.
Could even spawn a new station slogan: That’s kinda-sorta-maybe a fact, Jack.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.