Don Meier, creator of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," turned 100 on february 2, 2015.

Don Meier, creator of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” turned 100 on February 2, 2015.

Happy 100th birthday Don Meier. This Oshkosh, Nebraska native and College of Journalism and Mass Communications graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln strides across the century mark today. I talk with Don and Lorena by phone several times a year and count our conversations as memory highlights. Meier is as full of curiosity, optimism and enthusiasm today as when he entered this world on a chilly (-12), clear winter’s day in 1915.  Of course you don’t turn 100 without some perseverance. Millions of people don’t know Meier by name, but they do know him by the television program he created.

In 1963, Meier’s program “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” debuted on the NBC television network. It was the first TV wildlife program to take viewers into the natural habitat of the creatures the world over who were highlighted in each “Wild Kingdom” episode. This was visceral television. Charging elephants covered in dust and sweat. Blood stained lions devouring prey. Venomous cobras and cold-blooded killer crocodiles. No program before captured it as well as “Wild Kingdom.”

Don Meier visited Africa to film several episodes of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" during the program's 25 year run on television.

Don Meier visited Africa to film several episodes of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” during the program’s 25 year run on television.

It was a dream fulfilled for creator and executive producer Don Meier. Within a few years, “Wild Kingdom” became appointment television for 34 million U.S. viewers each Sunday. “Wild Kingdom” remained the definition of a television wildlife program for the next quarter century with Marlin Perkins, Jim Fowler and others hosting the program. In the process “Wild Kingdom” helped cultivate and inspire an environmental consciousness in generations of TV viewers.

Don and Lorena Meier received several Emmy Awards for "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" program and have also underwritten several scholarships for students at the University of Nebraska.

Don and Lorena Meier received several Emmy Awards for “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” program and have also underwritten several scholarships for students at the University of Nebraska.

Which takes me back to Don Meier’s perseverance. Looking back at “Wild Kingdom,” it seems the program’s strong audience appeal and ultimate ratings success would make it a surefire pick for potential sponsors. Not so. Don Meier invested all of his and wife Lorena’s savings to produce a TV pilot for the program in 1960. Meier took out a second mortgage on the couple’s home. He spent the next several years traveling across America, visiting with scores of prospective sponsors, trying to convince one of them that “Wild Kingdom” could be a commercial success. Meier never stopped believing that America would watch the right kind of wildlife program. He made 84 visits to advertising companies across America; New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee and a long list of other U.S. cities. Eighty-four times Meier was turned down.

Don Meier in the early days of Chicago television in the 1940s where being a TV pioneer meant you did everything from producing TV programs to sweeping the floors after their conclusion.

Don Meier in the early days of Chicago television in the 1940s where being a TV pioneer meant you did everything from producing TV programs to sweeping the floors after their conclusion.

Then, serendipity struck. Marlin Perkins, during a visit with the president of the Mutual of Omaha, learned the insurance company was looking to sponsor a new TV program it might build a national image around. A half hour later, Mutual of Omaha was on the phone with Meier, asking him to fly to Omaha to show the company’s executives his pilot for “Wild Kingdom.” The rest, as they say, is history. In late January, 1963 “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” debuted on NBC and to this day still remains one of the highest rated TV programs in U.S. history. Mutual of Omaha still uses the “Wild Kingdom” name for a series of branded Web programs hosted by Stephanie Arne.

A young Don Meier entered the pioneering world of television in the late 1940's after serving as an officer in WWII.

A young Don Meier entered the pioneering world of television in the late 1940’s after serving as an officer in WWII.

Don himself could have been an actor. He had the dashing good looks of a young motion picture star. Fortunately, Don stayed behind the camera. There, his true genius as a producer and program creator was unmistakable. In “Wild Kingdom,” he left us with a TV wildlife program that entertained, informed, educated and inspired viewers the world over. That was Don Meier’s gift to us.

There have been many others too. Don and Lorena Meier have established more than a dozen scholarship funds here at the University of Nebraska. Those scholarships continue to allow many young men and women to achieve their dream of a college degree and the higher education experiences that go with it.

On this day, my gift to Don is this small recognition of his 100th birthday. So, happy birthday Don Meier. You have been a mentor to me and many others through your actions and deeds. You are a reminder to us all to persevere so we can keep paying it forward.

Click here to listen to a radio report featuring Don Meier two years ago on the 50th anniversary of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”

Just returned home from the Yucatan Peninsula and flew Delta Airlines both ways.

Comments:

  • I do like the Delta staff- Friendly, professional and helpful.
  • I dislike the Bombardier CRJ900 commuter planes that Delta uses a subcontracted “Delta Connection” branded regional airline to fly out of Lincoln and other smaller Delta hubs. The planes are uncomfortably too cold or too hot. American, Canadair, US Air and other airlines also fly the CRJ900 under agreements with other subcontractors.

Here’s the problem: The CRJ900 ventilation system is very poor to the point of being almost nonexistent.

The Bombardier CRJ900 commuter airliner has a ventilation system that can make flying downright uncomfortable for passengers sometimes.

Have you ever experienced this issue?

On our outbound flight a week ago between Lincoln and Atlanta our plane was so cold most of the passengers were asking for blankets to bundle up in even though we already had our winter coats on. It felt like a meat locker inside the plane during our flight.

The flight attendants kindly apologized and told us there was nothing they could do about the cold cabin temperature.

It was the opposite situation on our return flight last night from Atlanta to Lincoln. In the rear of the CRJ900 where our family sat the temperature was so hot (I’m guessing in the 85-90 degree Fahrenheit range) passengers were peeling their clothes off and the air flow was negligible. Very stuffy and hot. Too bad we couldn’t just roll down the windows.

Some passengers complained that the conditions made them feel nauseous. The flight attendant was as kind as she would be. She agreed to ask plane’s pilot if there was anything that could be done about the situation but said “probably not.” She explained that passengers in the front of the aircraft were complaining that it was too cold where they sat. The temperature was consequently reduced a few degrees but the air flow was still poor and we continued to be hot, hot hot for the better part of two-and-a-half hours.

The flight attendant agreed it was stuffy and hot in the rear of the plane. She conceded that it can be a very real problem with the CRJ900 planes. She told us that’s why she preferred to spend more time up front in the plane. Unfortunately, it was little consolation for us passengers stuck in the back (row 19) of the plane without an option to relocate to a cooler place in the aircraft.

I had a similar experience with these ventilation problems last summer when flying the CRJ900. A quick web search  reveals similar complaints about issues involving the plane’s air venting and circulation system. Is this just poor engineering or something else?

Another regional airline pilot blogged about some of the inherent CRJ issues:Okay, WHY is it always so darn cold in the cabin of a CRJ? I had on thick socks and leather boots and my toes were icicles! It’s all about air circulation. Basically, you have the gaspers (air vents) up top, and larger vents for heating/cooling on the sides near the floor. Those floor vents are a bit bigger, so the temp closer to the floor (and your little piggies) is going to be less (If it’s set to a cooler setting. Plus, cool air tends to sink. So the air near the floor of the cabin is going to be cool than at the top. Also, since at cruise, the cabin is at 8,000′, your circulation might not be as good. Nothing dramatic, but just enough for you to feel like your toes will snap off and rattle around in your boots. Also, the F/A’s (flight attendants) are up and moving. They’re going to feel the temperature in the cabin differently than you in your chair due to their physical activity. They’re also the ones who tell the pilots (i.e., the F/O) to turn the temp up or down.” 

Hope you’re listening Delta Airlines, Delta flight subcontractors and Bombardier.

 

Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande College teammates and classmats in 1953. Photo: Life magazine

Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande College teammates and classmates in 1953. Photo: Life magazine

Several of you have asked about my documentary “They Could Really Play the Game: Reloaded.”  It’s about legendary college basketball scorer Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande University team.

This unlikely team, from an impossibly small college in rural Appalachia, saved their school from going broke 60 years ago. They also helped revive America’s love affair with college basketball after a nasty national gambling scandal in the early 50’s involving players from several major schools.
In the process, Francis destroyed almost every major scoring record in college basketball. Imagine a player averaging 47 points a game in the days before the 3-point scoring line and one-and-one free throw. That was Bevo Francis. Imagine a player who broke the 100 point per game scoring mark twice in his college career. That would be Bevo Francis too. Whenever someone called Bevo a star, he was the first to say he owed his success to his teammates.

 

Chris Hedrick, WOSU, CoJMC, R. Bruce Mitchell, Diana Markley Guidas and so many others contributed their talents to the documentary.

 

We don’t sell copies of the documentary, but click on the “Watch on Vimeo” link below and you, as well as people everywhere can watch it for free. Many viewers on public television have seen the documentary and liked it. I do this now because Bevo has been battling cancer. He deserves to be remembered for what he accomplished. He also needs your prayers. I hope you enjoy.

 

Spread the word and send it forward.

 

 

Station: PBS — 2013 Documentary Teaser from Blue Skies HD Video & Film on Vimeo.

unpaid-internshipsA court victory for unpaid interns today and possibly a wake-up call for corporate America. Yesterday, New York federal judge William Pauley ruled in favor of  two interns suing Fox Searchlight over the internship programs of Fox Entertainment Group. The Hollywood Reporter says the court’s summary judgment was also certified as a class action  The lawsuit was filed two years ago by interns Alex Footman and Eric Glatt who worked on Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan and claimed the company’s unpaid internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws.

Fox issued this statement to The Hollywood Reporter on the ruling: “We are very disappointed with the court’s rulings.  We believe they are erroneous, and will seek to have them reversed by the 2nd Circuit as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, an opinion article from the Guardian newspaper on unpaid internships prompted an interesting discussion among colleagues in our college this past month.

In the article author David Dennis notes that media companies that rely on unpaid interns marginalize the voices of low-income communities and minorities. A graduate from Northwestern University, David writes: “And therein lies the issue with unpaid internships. The practice of asking recent graduates to spend their days working for free while paying rent and living in a city like New York is a barrier for entry to students from mid- to lower-class backgrounds.”   

Specifically, Dennis wrote that unpaid internships become barriers for low-income and minority candidates access to their professional fields because they can’t afford to work for free without incurring debt. This, argues Dennis means we have less diversity in the media.

Dennis writes: “Recently, I wrote about how stories of crime in New Orleans or Chicago’s Southside are under-reported on the national level, and one of the reasons is the fact that voices from these areas aren’t making it to the national conversation to influence the direction of national discourse. Media workplaces are becoming populated by those who can afford the jobs. Those who can’t are being shut out.  How many journalists can say they have firsthand knowledge of the mentality of someone from the inner-city? Many of these voices have been muted just because they simply can’t navigate the landscape of privilege that most modern journalism encourages.”  

I agree with Dennis’ opinion on unpaid interns. The International Business Times recently mentioned a well-known 2010 report by the Economic Policy Institute whose authors argued  persuasively, that “the choice to take an internship is not only contingent on a student’s qualifications, but also his or her economic means, thus institutionalizing socioeconomic disparities beyond college.”

unpaid-intern-2I also believe some for-profit companies use unpaid interns to save labor costs. There are recent legal cases to back this observation and to disprove it.  I believe this is, in part,  due to poor Fair Labor Standards Act enforcement by the U.S. Department of Labor regarding unpaid internships. I also believe this hurts those businesses who try to compete while providing paid internship opportunities.

Something else is hidden in the unpaid intern debate. My belief is that unpaid internships are a double whammy for some college graduates. They struggle to get jobs because the services they’re qualified to provide employers are already being provided by unpaid interns.

I said I agreed with Dennis’ views against the inequity of unpaid internships. Not everyone sees it that way.  Click here to see  how Denver Fox affiliate KDVR “Everyday Show” co-hosts Chris Parente and Melody Mendez put their spin on the topic of unpaid interns.

My response to KDVR:

 “I watched your treatment of this issue from your morning show. If you think a part of an unpaid intern’s job is to fetch coffee and dry cleaning for employees at Fox31 I would advise my students from interning at your TV station. That’s an exploitative mindset. An internship should provide students the opportunity to gain real world observations, experience and contacts in a professional workplace that ties directly to their future professional interests. They’re not unpaid personal assistants. So, please keep the focus on providing interns opportunities that will make them better potential future employees and managers for Fox31 and get your own coffee and dry cleaning.”

KDVR host Parente appeared to struggle in his understanding of the Dennis article. Parente incorrectly referred to Dennis as a woman and a “journalism ethics expert. Dennis is actually creative director at The Smoking Section website and a freelance writer.

Mendez commented that she once had an unpaid internship in college AND worked a part-time job. “It is possible to do both,” said Mendez.

To opinions such as Mendez’, Dennis wrote: “All of my classmates were qualified to work in any newsroom or publication in the city, but those who could afford the lifestyle got their feet in the door with internships. Sure, it’s possible for someone to work 40 hours a week without pay while also waiting tables at night, but it sure is easier when you don’t have to worry about earning a living – or paying student loans.”      

I’ll go one step more on unpaid internships- 

According to the Department of Labor internships in the “for-profit” private sector are most often viewed as employment. This means interns in the “for-profit” private sector who qualify as employees rather than trainees typically must be paid at least the  minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a work week.

Here’s the U.S. Department of Labor’s six criteria for-profit companies must meet in order to legally use unpaid interns:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to
training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern;
and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the
internship.

If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist says the U.S. Department of Labor and the for-profit company may use unpaid interns. Otherwise, minimum wage and overtime provisions do apply to the intern. Or as Judge Pauley wrote in his opionion which sides with the unpaid interns in the “Black Swan” case:

After going through the experiences of Footman and Glatt on Black Swan, here’s what Judge Pauley concludes:

“Considering the totality of the circumstances, Glatt and Footman were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are ‘employees’ covered by the FLSA and NYLL. They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and perfomed low-level tasks not requiring specialized training. The benefits they may have received — such as the knowledge of how a production or accounting office functions or references for future jobs — are the results of simply having worked as any other employee works, not of internships designed to be uniquely educational to the interns and of little utility to the employer. They received nothing approximating the education they would receive in an academic setting or vocational school. This is a far cry from [the Supreme Court’s decision in]Walling, where trainees impeded the regular business of the employer, worked only in their own interest and provided no advantage to the employer. Glatt and Footman do not fall within the narrow ‘trainee’ exception to the FLSA’s broad coverage.”

The latest court ruling means a victory for those who argue against unpaid internships, particularly when they may involve doing work that other employees are paid for performing in other work settings. It may also signal the court’s willingness to limit, even end unpaid internships used as a guise by some employers to limit their labor costs as well as employment opportunities for students and other qualified workers.There will be more legal battles on this case and victory for the plaintiffs is far from certain at this point.

I’ll sum it up with the ending of the International Business Times article on unpaid internships because it captures the “anecdotal reality” many recent college grads may be living. It uses HBO’s hit drama “Girls,” character Hannah who works as an unpaid publishing intern, despite having graduated college two years earlier. After she’s told by her parents that they will no longer fund her post-collegiate escapades, Hannah explains to her boss that she can no longer afford to work for free. His reply? “I’m really going to miss your energy.”

 

I woke-up to this sad news today:
Tornado chaser Tim Samaras shows the probes he uses when trying to collect data from a tornado. This photo was taken May 26, 2006, in Ames, Iowa. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP

Tornado chaser Tim Samaras shows the probes he uses when trying to collect data from a tornado. This photo was taken May 26, 2006, in Ames, Iowa. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP

***BREAKING NEWS*** Storm chasers Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras and Carl Young all died in El Reno during Friday night’s tornadoes. Tim Samaras was a well-respected chaser who was familiar to many viewers because of his appearances on The Discovery Channel. In a Facebook Post Tim’s brother Jim thanked mourners for their condolences.
Click here to see a video about Samaras.
My sincere condolences to the families of Samaras and Young.  Tim Samaras was as educated, informed and prepared to chase storms as anyone who has done so. That a tragedy like this could happen speaks to the violent unpredictability of severe weather.

The Weather Channel’s Mike Bettis, photographer Brad Reynolds and a storm chasing crew was also hit by one of Friday’s tornadoes and suffered mild injuries. Their large SUV was lifted and tossed 200 yards off the highway. “That was the scariest moment of my life,” Bettes told the Associated Press. “I had never been through anything like it before, and my life passed before my eyes.”

Before this tragedy struck, and just after the Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes hit last month, I discussed storm chasers with CoJMC colleague Rick Alloway. We both marveled at the video and photos storm chasers captured of tornadoes. We also wondered how long it would be before a storm chaser died getting too close, or getting hit by a destructive storm.
The day before Friday’s  Oklahoma tornadoes that killed storm chasers Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras and Carl Young, the National Weather Service warned there would be more tornadoes and severe storms — and there were.
Large clouds are seen as a tornado passes south of El Reno, Oklahoma May 31, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Bill Waugh

Large clouds are seen as a tornado passes south of El Reno, Oklahoma May 31, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Bill Waugh

This is my experience as a reporter who has chased and reported on many tornadoes and other powerful storms across Kansas and Missouri, Michigan and Ohio. I’ve seen first hand what they can do. No amount of experience can predict a powerful storm that is inherently unpredictable. There is the distinct thrill of the chase. It’s an incredible adrenaline rush to witness the destructive force of nature play itself out in unpredictable ways. It’s impossible to ignore one’s own mortality in the face of such raw, natural power. There is no assurance though that when a storm chaser says they know what they’re doing, that they won’t be maimed or killed when they chase a powerful, unpredictable storm. They can be killed or injured by the storm’s high winds, flying debris, lightning, hail and flash flooding. 

When this happens, when a storm chaser is injured or killed, what do the storm chasers say? Will they take responsibility for their own faulty judgement, even if it’s in the name of saving other lives? What safety guidelines do news and weather organizations have for their own employees or subcontractors who chase potentially deadly storms?
"That was the scariest moment of my life," the Weather Channel's Mike Bettes said after he and his crew were hit and suffered minor injuries as they tried to outrun a tornado they spotted in El Reno, Okla.

“That was the scariest moment of my life,” the Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes said after he and his crew were hit and suffered minor injuries as they tried to outrun a tornado they spotted in El Reno, Okla.

This is the fourth year the Weather Channel has sent out crews to actively hunt tornadoes. Originally, the Weather Channel storm chasers were embedded with a government research team. In the past two years though, says the Associated Press, the Weather Channel has sent its own crews out alone to hunt storms. Bettes’ white vehicle is emblazoned with the phrase “tornado hunt” and the network’s logo.

It’s fair to ask- Is the Weather Channel chasing tornadoes or television ratings?

Weather Channel spokeswoman Shirley Powell said it was too too early to tell how the close call involving Mike Bettis and his storm chasing crew will affect the network’s tornado coverage, but it will be under review. “Tornadoes are violent and unpredictable, but covering them keeps the public at large informed and, as a result, safer,” she told the Associated Press.

I disagree. I believe weather forecasting has gotten to the point where people can be sufficiently warned about an approaching storm without  storm chasers personally verifying the potential destructiveness of the storm. That was most certainly the case with the National Weather Service warnings that preceded last Friday’s Oklahoma tornadoes. In this era of drone aircraft, is there any reason a human storm chaser should put themselves in harm’s way to chronicle a destructive storm, unless, that is, they have a hidden death wish? I know this may sound harsh to some, but that’s my belief based on my experience chasing storms.
Another sad part of this is the proliferation of so-called for-profit storm chasing enterprises over the past decade. It’s become a potentially profitable tourist industryhere too. It only guarantees that more people will/have unnecessarily put themselves in harm’s way as they compete to get closer to storms that kill.
Harold1

Former Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department spokesman Harold Knabe.

When a good man goes, not everyone knows. So let me tell you about Harold Knabe. He was a good man.

Knabe died last Saturday in a North Kansas City hospital. He was 75-years-old and unknown to the latest generation of Kansas Citians.

For many of us though who worked in Kansas City’s news media, or were members of the audiences we served, Harold Knabe (pronounced Ka-knob-be) was known by just about everyone. He will be remembered for many things.

Knabe loved firefighting. He devoted 32 years of his life to a profession that was more a calling than a career to him. As spokesman for the Kansas City Missouri Fire Department, Knabe was one of the most trusted public servants the city ever knew. Just ask any reporter, videographer, photographer, or assignment editor who worked for KCTV, KMBC, WDAF, KSHB, the city’s radio stations, the Kansas City Star or Kansas City Times in the late 1970’s through the early 1990’s. If Knabe said it, it was accurate.

Harold Knabe worked for the KCMO Fire Department for 32 years before retiring in 1992.

Harold Knabe worked for the KCMO Fire Department for 32 years before retiring in 1992.

Whenever a major fire erupted in Kansas City, Knabe was on the scene, night or day, in searing heat and bone-chilling cold, to brief the news media. He told us what had unfolded, who was involved, how many were injured, who had died, survived and been saved.

Harold was known for his honesty, compassion, and a deep sense of humor. He had patience with young reporters, like me, when we were rookies and had much to learn in our early reporting careers.

That’s not to say Knabe wouldn’t let a reporter know if he felt they had been careless or callous, especially when it involved the fire department he served.

Case in point: Two years ago I interviewed Knabe when I was given the opportunity to return to Kansas City and work on a special report for KCTV and the Kansas City Star.

The report was on the 30th anniversary of the 1981 Hyatt Regency Hotel skywalk collapse. It was the worst structural collapse in U.S. history. It claimed the lives of 114 people and badly injuring 200 others who where at a Friday night tea dance when the hotel’s skywalks suddenly fell into the crowded lobby below.

I covered the Hyatt skywalk tragedy for KCTV that warm July night and saw Harold Knabe work non-stop for 10 hours at the scene. He consoled survivors, gave news conferences every half hour, and updated the growing media pack from across the region and country with the latest information as the disaster’s death and injury toll rose higher.

Harold Knabe and wife Kari.

Harold Knabe and wife Kari.

Thirty years later, I asked Harold about that terrible night. Amidst the dying and dead, and heroic rescue efforts by firefighters, medics and other emergency personnel, Knabe confided in me that he only lost his temper once. He said it happened when one of the “national” reporters asked which firefighter was the biggest hero. You’ll have to click here to see Harold Knabe’s description of his response.

After the news special aired on KCTV in 2011, I received an e-mail from Harold’s wife Kari. She wrote:

“It really has meant so much to have you contact him (Harold) & stay in touch.  I have to also thank you for having him meet you at the station (KCTV) – I cannot begin to explain how much his spirits have been lifted by seeing his old friends & meeting new ones!  I know this experience has been tough on you, as well as on Harold, but I appreciate you recognizing his invaluable contribution during this tragedy & including him in this memorial special!”

Harold Knabe established several public fire safety programs in his role as public information officer for the KCMO Fire Department.

Harold Knabe established several public fire safety programs in his role as public information officer for the KCMO Fire Department.

Harold Knabe had an abiding love for his fellow firefighters. It’s the kind of love that comes from working in a profession where you know your colleagues would risk their life to save yours. Firefighting is a profession in which you would risk your life to save a colleague, or the life of someone else. It’s a brother and sisterhood defined by knowing, and being haunted by memories of fellow firefighting colleagues who died protecting the communities where they live and work.

Harold Knabe died on April 20, 2013 eight days after his 75th birthday.

Harold Knabe died on April 20, 2013, eight days after his 75th birthday.

As a reporter I rarely use the terms “hero” or “heroic” to describe the feats of others. Firefighters though do fall into the “hero” category for me.

What else do you call someone willing to rush into a burning building, to risk their life, to save the life of another, usually a complete stranger? I’m sure there were times when Harold Knabe would rather have been the one fighting a fire to save a life rather than telling the news media about it.

I saw the tears well up in Knabe’s eyes in late November of 1988.  Early that cold morning, Knabe was the first to tell the news media six KCMO firefighters, two captains, four firefighters, had been killed fighting an arson fire at a southeast side construction site.

When the firefighters arrived to extinguish the blaze they didn’t know 22,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate used for road demolition was stored in sheds next to the fire scene. The firefighters died instantly when the first of the two sheds exploded. The explosion vaporized two fire department pumper trucks, emitting a shock wave so powerful it shattered thousands of nearby windows and knocked me out of bed at my home five miles away.

Harold knew many of the firefighters who died that chilly, grey autumn morning. Yet he pushed past his emotions, working all day long to update the news media and their audiences with the latest information about one of the worst firefighting tragedies in American history.

These events may explain why Harold Knabe helped establish several fire safety educational programs in Kansas City and had a significant role in establishing the Firefighters Memorial Fountain.

Harold Knabe, a devoted husband, father and grandfather.

Harold Knabe, a devoted husband, father and grandfather.

I remember shaking Harold’s hand as we parted ways following our KCTV interview two years ago. We hadn’t seen each other in 22 years.

I watched Harold walk slowly to his car that hot July afternoon, across the sun baked asphalt. I thought it might be the last time we’d see each other.

When people get older, thoughts like that cross minds more frequently. We have done the personal math and realize more years are behind us now, fewer years are ahead. Harold was 73.  He had been fighting health issues. I was 55.

Another thought crossed my mind that day; How blessed was I and so many others to have known Harold Knabe the firefighter. Mostly though, Harold Knabe was a dear friend.

A good man has gone, but won’t be forgotten.

John Rinkenbaugh also writes about Knabe’s death. 

The snow-covered view out my Andersen Hall window at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Photo: Barney McCoy

The snow-covered view out my Andersen Hall window at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Photo: Barney McCoy

In Lincoln, Neb., the snow that pummeled this stretch of the Midwest yesterday has given way to sunshine.

UNL classes have resumed. Despite the usual weather related accidents, traffic has returned to near normal. Businesses are open. Life is good again for most of us.

Snowmageddon” was the term some used to describe the weather event dubbed “Q” by the Weather Channel.

To be sure, it was a significant snowfall, but not as bad as some meteorologists claimed it would be. We received about 6 inches of snow. Other parts of the region received up to 20 inches of snow.

Nor was the storm, as nasty locally as some gleamy-eyed TV news anchors and reporters made it sound on Wednesday and Thursday.

Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t hear much about the benefits of this storm; The badly needed moisture it brings farmers, ranchers, gardeners, and municipalities that have been locked in a serious drought for almost a year. The latest reports say more than 75 percent of Nebraska is in an “exceptional drought” which is worse than an “extreme drought.”

The insulated coating of snow that protects the seeds planted for the coming year from direct exposure to freezing conditions. A chance for corn farmers to have moist soils this spring to get their crops planted and off to a healthy start. That’s a good thing too.

We need these benefits of a big snow more right now than the temporary transportation inconveniences and ever present dangers associated with navigating snow-covered streets and roads.

Last season, Nebraska’s corn crop took a quarter billion dollar loss due to the drought.  Ranchers were forced to sell cattle because the drought dried up the grass they feed on. Cities like Lincoln are talking stricter water conservation measures and higher costs for water users. Other places worry there may not be enough water available at any price if the drought persists.

This moisture, from this snow, may help keep the drought-driven crop and livestock losses we had last year from happening this year.

The region still needs four to eight inches of new moisture to free us from the drought. Keep in mind that experts say it takes roughly a 10 inches of snow to equal an inch of moisture; More if the snow is powdery and dry, less if the snow is wet and heavy.

Let’s hope more moisture, in any form, arrives soon. Meanwhile, let us tolerate, even enjoy, what nature has delivered to our doorstep.

Manti Te'o Photo: US Presswire

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o (Photo: US Presswire)

It’s the dangerous side of sloppy journalism and poor independent fact checking.  Often, the size of the news organization has no bearing on who gets facts right, or in this case, gets it wrong. And some news organizations wonder why the public’s perception of their credibility keeps slipping.

It happened this week with the surprising revelation by Deadspin.com that Manti Te’o, Heisman Trophy finalist from Notre Dame University, was tied to a hoax. The hoax was that Te’o’s girlfriend died from leukemia. It was a false story amplified by news organizations who accepted fantasy as fact. The fake story played on the sympathetic emotions of millions of people.

Deadspin.com reported that it could find no record of the existence of Te’o’s alleged girlfriend Lennay Kekua.  Te’o claimed she had died Sept. 12 of complications from leukemia.

What’s unclear at this point is if Te’o was part of the hoax or victim of it.

Despite conflicting information in Manti Te'o's story, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick stands by him. Photo: US Presswire

Despite conflicting information in Manti Te’o’s story, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick stands by him. (Photo: US Presswire)

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick told the news media Wednesday that Te’o was a victim of the hoax. Swarbrick said Te’o only had phone or online conversations with Kekua but had never met her in person. There’s some confusion here, at least according to an article written by South Bend Tribune reporter Eric Hansen last October.

In the article, Hansen described Te’o’s first face-to-face meeting with Kekua  after the 2009 Notre Dame- USC football game.

Wrote Hansen:

“Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes. They could have just as easily brushed past each other and into separate sunsets. Te’o had plenty to preoccupy himself that November weekend in Palo Alto, Calif., back in 2009.” 

My question to Hansen: @hansenNDInsider Did you independently verify dead girlfriend claims when you wrote the Oct. 12 story?  I’ll let you know if I get an answer.

CBS also displayed this photo of the ficticious Kekua several times throughout the Morning Show report.

CBS also displayed this photo of the fictitious Kekua several times throughout the CBS This Morning show report. (From: Deadspin.com)

The myth wasn’t only perpetuated by the South Bend Tribune, the newspaper closest to the Notre Dame hoax story. The fake story was also given national life by Sports Illustrated, CBS, Fox Sports, ESPN, the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times.

As Deadspin reported: “Te’o’s story moved beyond the world of sports. On the day of the BCS championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama, CBS This Morning ran a three-minute story that featured a direct quote from Lennay Kekua:

“Babe, if anything happens to me, you promise that you’ll stay there and you’ll play and you’ll honor me through the way you play.””

See CBS report on Te’o

Today, CBS reporter Chip Reid appeared on CBS’ This Morning again with a story explaining the latest in the hoax story. “It turns out we were all duped,” said Reid. He didn’t explain if he had ever independently fact checked the story before originally reporting it.  (The report has since been pulled from the Internet by CBS.) 

Who knew what, when?
According to Swarbrick, Te’o told Notre Dame on Dec. 26th that he had recently learned Kekua never existed. Notre Dame sat on the news until after Notre Dame’s loss to Alabama in the Jan. 7th BCS National Championship Game. Swarbrick said the university did so to independently investigate Teo’s’ claims. Swarbrick added that a motive for the hoax was unclear.

What is clear is that, until the Deadspin report, news outlets didn’t fact check the story. If they had made a few phones calls the hoax would have been revealed immediately.  

The news media would have discovered:

  • Lennay Kekua was a fictitious name
  • She never dated Manti Te’o

According to the Deadspin article:

  • Lennay Kekua never existed
  • She was never in a car accident
  • She never battled leukemia and never died
  • She wasn’t a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when she and Te’o, according to the South Bend Tribune, “exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago.”

A story as popular and widely reported as this, and no news organization flagged the inconsistencies in it until Deadspin reporters Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey started asking questions.  Their answers, with solid attribution, told them the Lennay Kekua story was false.

What Burke and Dickey did was admirable. It was also basic, solid journalism. That’s what journalists are supposed to do every day. Burke and Dickey kept digging though. I suspect they’re still digging hard today to find out the motive for the hoax. For this Burke, Dickey and Deadspin.com deserve praise for excellence in journalism.

By the way- Wednesday night it appeared the South Bend Tribune had pulled Eric Hansen’s October 12th story about Manti Te’o from its online archives. It’s been restored now and you can see it here. 

  • Or you can read Hansen’s story which also appeared in the Irish Sports Report.
  • Or you can see the full version of his story that I captured below complete with my mark-ups raising questions about Hansen’s missing source attribution or information in conflict with Te’o’s present claim that he never met Lennay Kekua in person.

What Dreams May Come Manti Te'o Article

Bank-of-American-New-York-City-Branch-RainingOn the cusp of the 2008 financial meltdown I wrote about Merrill Lynch’s $50-billion sell-off to Bank of America, America’s second-largest bank. The move, according to the New York Times, was an attempt between the two companies to avert a “deepening financial crisis.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was wrong. So were thousands of Bank of America investors. The financial crisis had already arrived at Merrill Lynch.

Merrill’s fourth-quarter loss in 2008 was expected to be $9 billion. According to court papers, the losses were actually closer to $15.84 billion.  The financial hit forced Bank of America to get a second, $20 billion taxpayer bailout, and fueled a 93 percent drop in B of A’s share price over the following six months.

Crying foul

merrill-lynch-logoFast forward to September, 2012 when a federal court judge approved a $2.4 billion settlement Bank of America reached with disgruntled investors to resolve securities fraud litigation over the 2008 Merrill Lynch takeover.

According to Reuters, Bank of America investors claimed in court filings that Bank of America directors, including former Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis, misled shareholders about Merrill’s losses.

According to court documents, those Merrill Lynch losses peaked at $15.84 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008. It included $3.6 billion in bonuses Merrill was doling out to employees at the time.

More litigation

Additional legal settlements involving Bank of America’s representation of Merrill’s losses in 2008 are pending. There’s also a $1 billion suit filed by the Department of Justice last October alleging fraudulent loan practices.

Bank of America this week agreed to pay another $11.6 billion to settle Federal National Mortgage Association’s claims and to resolve problems over the collapse of distressed mortgages, most of them made by B of A’s acquisition of Countrywide Financial.

Today, Bank of America stock is selling ($11.63 a share) at a 65-percent discount over what it was worth before tanking in late 2008

I was leery enough in September of 2008 to express my doubts about the wisdom of the U.S. taxpayer funded bailout support for the so-called “too big to fail” banks.  I was also leery of the B of A purchase of Merrill Lynch. I wrote:

Under the latest deal the New York Times reported that Merrill’s so-called “thundering herd” of 17,000 brokers will be combined with Bank of America’s smaller group of wealth advisers and called Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.  After this latest announcement, Merrill Lynch’s new Wealth Management title could be the biggest stretch of the decade.

More than five years later, the biggest stretch of the decade continues.

Two cases against Bank of America

Bank of America Securities, Derivative and Employee Retirement Income Securities Act litigation, 09-02058, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Nancy Rothbaum v. Kenneth D. Lewis, CA4307, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).

    

President Barack Obama's "fiscal cliff" update announcement on Dec. 31, 2012 was covered by every major cable and TV news operation with the exception of ABC News.

President Barack Obama’s “fiscal cliff” update announcement on Dec. 31, 2012 was covered by every major cable and TV news operation with the exception of ABC News.

NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox?  They were all there Monday providing live coverage when President Barack Obama delivered remarks saying it looked like an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff was “in sight.”  One exception: ABC News. The network was missing in action in covering the first tangible sign that an agreement might be hammered out between Democratic and Republican party leaders in the U.S. Senate. This has been a story that has dominated national news headlines.

“I realize,” said Mr. Obama, “that the last thing you want to hear on New Year’s Eve is another speech from me, but I do need to talk about the progress that’s being made in Congress today.” The president added that any deal is not yet complete and work continues.

President Barack Obama's "fiscal cliff" update announcement on Dec. 31, 2012 was covered by every major cable and TV news operation with the exception of ABC News.

Even Chicago super station WGN interrupted regular programming to keep viewers updated on the very real political drama. (Transcript of President Obama’s remarks)

Visibly absent: ABC News.

While every other TV and cable news operation devoted live, breaking coverage to the president’s remarks, ABC stuck with “The Chew,” a cooking show that’s part of the network’s regular daytime program schedule.

I tweeted several ABC News staffers to ask why the ntwork didn’t provide live coverage for the president’s remarks. Jonathan Karl, ABC News’ senior political correspondent tweeted this reply: “Not a lot of news … we would have taken the remarks if he was announcing a deal.”

 U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leaves the Senate Chamber early Tuesday. Photo: New York Times

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leaves the Senate Chamber early Tuesday. Photo: New York Times

Early Tuesday, the Senate approved a bipartisan agreement on a 89 to 8 vote. The House gave final approval Tuesday night to a bill blocking income tax hikes for about 99 percent of U.S. households, but allowed rates to rise for those with incomes above $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples.

Senate and House Republicans, in a notable move, were forced to abandon their party’s opposition to higher taxes.

So, what was happening at ABC on Monday when the other TV and cable news operations broke from regular programming to televise the president’s remarks? ABC audience members were treated to The Chew’s tour of soap star Julie Marie Berman’s (Lulu Spencer on General Hospital) home and her chicken pizza recipe. The Chew, an ABC program, was busy promoting another ABC program (General Hospital) at the time of Obama’s remarks.

ABC broadcast a segment   of The Chew featuring "General Hospital" soap opera star Julie Marie Berman's chicken pizza recipe while President Barack Obama told American's on the other TV networks that an agreement on the "fiscal cliff" budget negotiations was within sight.

ABC broadcast a segment of The Chew featuring “General Hospital” soap opera star Julie Marie Berman’s chicken pizza recipe while President Barack Obama told American’s on the other TV networks that an agreement on the “fiscal cliff” budget negotiations was within sight.

Not withstanding Karl’s reply, I wonder why ABC News stayed on the sidelines here? Who made the decision? Was ABC afraid of losing ad revenue by cutting away to Mr. Obama’s announcement? Why didn’t ABC run a crawl telling viewers they could watch the president’s remarks on the ABC News website?

If the president’s remarks on fiscal cliff developments didn’t warrant live coverage by ABC, what does? Isn’t staying on top of a major news story important enough to justify breaking in with live coverage.

Fair questions to ask. These are critical budget negotiations. They are a measure of how effectively elected members of Congress represent their constituents,,and special interests.  The negotiations also had a direct affect on the finances of all Americans. If no deal was reached, taxes would jump by $3,400 on average for American households, according to a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

The overall budget deal by members of Congress also impacted milk prices, unemployment benefits, and Medicare patient fees.  A political impasse, or going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” might also have re-triggered a national recession.

The Chicago Tribune put it this way:

“Unless an agreement is reached and approved by Congress by the start of New Year’s Day, more than $500 billion in 2013 tax increases will begin to take effect and $109 billion will be carved from defense and domestic programs

Though the tax hikes and budget cuts would be felt gradually, economists warn that if allowed to fully take hold, their combined impact — the so-called fiscal cliff — would rekindle a recession.”

In other words, this was a newsworthy and timely event. From the president’s remarks came important information regarding progress of the Senate negotiations that the American people should know about. A great strength of television is its ability to inform viewers about news events such as these when they take place. Many, perhaps most TV viewers depend on news operations to provide them with timely, breaking news as it’s happening, not after it’s happened.

In this case, news trumps entertainment. ABC should have covered the president’s press conference. I believe ABC let its viewers down by not providing live TV coverage of the president’s press conference.

Former President Harry Truman said “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” The implication of Truman’s words were that if you can’t cope, leave the work to someone who can.

I do wish that ABC had gotten out of “The Chew” kitchen to cover the breaking news on Monday.  If it can’t, perhaps ABC viewers will look elsewhere for a news operation that can cover breaking news live when the need arises.