Category Archives: New York City

The David Letterman Sextortion Scandal And Confession Has Damaged The CBS Network !

From Murrow To Mediocrity…

The Fall From Grace At CBS

The Ed Sullivan Theater (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City, home of the Late Show, where David Letterman delivered his mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, admitting to sexual indiscressions with staff members (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Legendary CBS broadcasting giants, including Edward R. MurrowWalter Cronkite and Ed Sullivan must be turning over in their graves as a result of their “Tiffany Network”, the Columbia Broadcasting System, having its image tarnished by scandal in recent years.  The latest (sex) scandal to hit CBS involves David Letterman, his staff, and a CBS Producer named Robert Halderman.

Executives at CBS must regret the day they lured David Letterman away from NBC.  And the venerable Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City, where CBS tapes the Letterman show, has been forever sullied by the scandal that hit the news Thursday.  CBS began broadcasting from CBS-TV “Studio 50” in 1936, and renamed it the Ed Sullivan Theater in 1967.  The Ed Sullivan show was broadcast from there during it’s 23-year run, from 1948 thru 1971.

In the 1970’s, about the time that David Letterman was a weatherman on an Indianapolis, Indiana television station, we were working for a company in New York City that sold equipment to broadcasters.  They did business with CBS, and on one occasion our work took us to the Ed Sullivan Theater.  We entered that building in awe.  We felt extremely privileged to be in that space, where some of the most historic broadcasts in the history of television originated from.  Today however, we would be embarrassed to be seen entering  the studio where the Beatles made their U.S. debut, and where virtually every notable performer or group from that era appeared,  many of them multiple times.

Ed Sullivan would cringe if he heard what David Letterman admitted to this past Thursday, while standing on the same stage that Sullivan’s shows were broadcast from.  Ed Sullivan was so squeaky clean that it was commonplace for him to ask performers to change objectionable lyrics in the songs they performed on the Ed Sullivan show.  Performers that refused to clean up their lyrics would not be broadcast, and those that reneged on their promise to sanitize their lyrics (remember that this was live television), were never invited back to the Ed Sullivan show again.

This past Thursday, in what can only be described as one of the most bizarre broadcasts of the Letterman show (or any television show, for that matter), Letterman delivered his mea culpa, admitting to his sexual indiscretions, to an audience of people who were laughing like hyenas.  Apparently, the audience didn’t know what to make of the confession, and assumed it was part of his comedy routine.  Here’s an article published by the New York Daily News on Friday, which identifies a woman who worked for David Letterman, who they believe is involved in the scandal.  In any case, Letterman’s broadcast confession certainly gives a whole new meaning to the term “Worldwide Pants”.  You can probably find the confession on YouTube and elsewhere, but we aren’t going to link to it, since it seems that CBS has been asking YouTube to pull any excerpts people have been posting from the show, due to copyright infringement, and, no doubt, severe embarrassment.  Ya know, maybe CBS should have never broadcast it in the first place.

In the 1970’s Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon had his infamous 18- minute gap on the White House tapes.  Similarly, in the Letterman scandal, CBS has redacted the ten-minute mea culpa segment of David Letterman’s monologue from the official copy that CBS posted on YouTube (read this NY Times article about the missing Letterman segment).

As an aside, we think it’s worth noting that technology like cellphones, digital cameras, the VCR, DVDs, computers, the Internet and websites like YouTube have a way of  changing the status quo, and making existing law moot in many cases.  As many individuals and corporations have learned over the last few years, it is largely an exercise in futility to try and have something that has been posted on the Web taken down.  The harder you try to quash something, whether a photo, a video, an MP3 file or a point of view, the faster it propagates.  Remove it from one website, and it springs up in 100 other places.  The battle to protect intellectual property (IP) has been made infinitely more difficult as technology has made it a trivial matter to make high quality copies of materials such as music, movies, photos, etc.  Two events in particular stick out in our mind;  The introduction of VCRs in the late 1970’s, which had the entertainment industry scared to death about illegal recording of television shows, and the advent of music sharing websites such as Napster.  Blogs, personal websites, and the fact that virtually everyone can now have a “printing press” in their home has changed the publishing and newspaper businesses forever.  Organizations have learned that a different mindset is necessary to survive.  If you can’t beat them, join them.  As an example of this consider the fact that every major U.S. daily newspaper that has managed to survive also has a website.  Newspapers have even begun scrapping their paper editions, becoming Internet-only news outlets, a la The Huffington Post (see this NYTimes article about The Seattle Post-Intelligencer going Internet-only).  But we digress.

If we were running CBS, the Letterman show would be pulled faster than you can say “Top Ten List”, but for financial reasons, we doubt CBS will pull the show.  Moral and ethical standards are simply not what they were when William S. Paley was running CBS.  Certainly not at CBS, and not anywhere else in broadcasting, or society in general.  If Letterman can continue to do well in the ratings, his job is probably secure.  But we expect to see CBS getting hit with lawsuits from Letterman staffers, who will say that his conduct created a hostile work environment.

And of course, the “Top Ten” lists have begun to appear on the Web, in response to the Letterman scandal.  A fellow WordPress blogger posted “The Top Ten Reasons Why David Letterman Should Be Fired”, while this conservative Christian website posted their own Top Ten list.

– Routing By Rumor

P.S. – According to this article at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, “From Murrow To Mediocrity” was the title of a scathing 1987 New York Times op-ed piece written by CBS newsman Dan Rather.

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The Death Spiral At The New York Times

Extra, Extra… Read All About It !

The New York Times hikes its cover price yet again.

Another New York Times price increase.

Get ready to shell out more for your copy of The New York Times.

Extra, Extra !

Executives at The New York Times must be taking business strategy lessons from the same experts that have guided the once mighty General Motors to the brink of bankruptcy and needing to take federal bailout money to stay alive.  Shares of GM, once considered a “blue chip” stock that was among the most highly regarded of all investments, and which were trading at close to  $90 a share ten years ago, are now virtually worthless.

The New York Times has announced yet another round of price increases, the third in less than two years , that will hike the newsstand price of their Sunday edition to $5.00 or $6.00, depending on the geographic edition.  The weekday New York Times increases to $2.00 !  And you still don’t get any comics.  The price increases are effective June 1st.

$6.00 for a newspaper?  Are they joking ?  Perhaps New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. hasn’t yet taken notice of the new kid on the block.   Mr. Sulzberger, we would like to introduce you to Mr. Internet.  He’s big, he’s getting bigger all the time, and he’s eating your lunch.

The Internet is eating everybody’s lunch.  This Time Magazine article names the ten most endangered newspapers in America.  And according to this CNN article, at least 120 U.S. newspapers have folded since January, 2008.

Faced with a sharp drop in advertising revenue and falling circulation, the price increases at The Times are likely to just exacerbate the problems facing the newspaper.  Price increases will inevitably produce a further errosion in circulation, which is sure to further weaken advertising income.  A decision to increase prices at a time like this, for many businesses, is tantamount to committing suicide.  We believe that the New York Times has made the worst possible decision at the worst possible time.

Our readers will note that we have not raised the cover price here at Routing By Rumor;  reading our blog is still free!

Understandably, the bean counters at The Times are desperate.  They’re being squeezed from all directions.  But you have to wonder who made the strategic decision that may very well seal their fate.  Perhaps a price decrease, coupled with an agressive advertising campaign would have been the right course to follow.  We believe that with the increasing competition for readers that the Internet has created, along with belt tightening by consumers in the depths of this economic recession, and the drastically shrinking size (the number of pages) of newspapers over the last few years, including the Times, newspapers are increasingly becoming  irrelevant to more and more readers.  It’s not unlike a phone company that keeps increasing it’s rates, in an attempt to offset the loss of revenue from customers who are dropping their traditional phone service, and using cellphones exclusively.  Price increases will only serve to accelerate the trend.

Will the New York Times disappear completely? We fully expect to see a copy of the New York Times on the newsstand in the near future, with a headline of “THE END”.  The fact that you are reading this blog, when you could be reading The New York Times instead, isn’t helping the Gray Lady one bit.  We believe that their print editions are in mortal danger,with The Times becoming an online-only newspaper.

Better buy your Amazon Kindle now !

– Routing By Rumor

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Walking On Water

//www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/01/15/us/20090115-PLANECRASH_3.html#

Photo is part of a slideshow at http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/01/15/us/20090115-PLANECRASH_3.html# (click photo to view)

When we started this blog just over a year ago, we decided to place a photo we took of the New York City skyline several years ago at the top of our page. The photo was taken from the deck of a New York Waterway ferry, traveling from their West 38th Street terminal in Manhattan, to their Port Imperial terminal in Weehawken, New Jersey. Little did we know at that time, that New York Waterway ferries, quite possibly the very boat we took our photo from, quite possibly piloted by the same captain, would be involved in this story.

That stretch of the Hudson River is the exact spot where Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger (see his page at linkedin.com) landed US Airways Flight 1549 yesterday afternoon. It landed in the middle of the river, near, or just slightly South of where the USS Intrepid (pictured in our banner photo), and now a sea, air & space museum, is permanently moored on the Hudson. That would put it right around the center of the frame in our photo. Then, because the lower Hudson River is a tidal river, subject to very strong currents, it quickly floated South, towards lower Manhattan. It was eventually manuvered to the shoreline off Battery Park, where it was tied up, awaiting a barge and crane which will lift it from the River.

How strong can the currents on the Hudson get? I don’t know what the typical ferry boat’s top speed is, but when the tide is going out, and the river is flowing South in the area of Manhattan, ferries we’ve been on can barely make any headway when heading North, against the current !

Just after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in Queens, New York, and heading to Charlotte Douglas Airport (CLT) in Charlotte, North Carolina, it is believed that the Airbus A320-214 with 155 passengers and crew aboard struck a flock of Canada Geese, and injested birds into both of its CFM56 engines, disabling them.

Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger

Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, III

Flight 1549 pilot, Captain, Chesley Sullenberger, age 57, a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, has flown for US Airways for almost 30 years. He is also the owner of Safety Reliability Methods, Inc., and you can view his profile at their website. A point we found most interesting about Captain Sullenberger, is that in addition to a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Northern Colorado, he holds a Master’s degree in Psychology with a concentration in Human Factors, from Purdue University. Prior to that, he received his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Basic Sciences from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. “Human factors” certainly played a role in averting disaster yesterday.

With the aircraft traveling West as it struck the birds over The Bronx, Captain Sullenberger reportedly considered attempting to reach Teterboro Airport, which was approximately eight miles away in Northern New Jersey, but he opted to turn South, and make an emergency water landing on the Hudson River instead. With the loss of both engines, he was at the controls of what was now a very heavy glider, and apparently felt he might not make the airport. He was also undoubtedly concerned about overflying heavily populated Northern New Jersey in his crippled aircraft. It turned out to be an excellent call. That’s the value of having someone like Chesley Sullenberger, with almost 40 years of flying experience, in the Captain’s seat.

The decision to make what turned out to be a textbook water landing undoubtedly saved 155 lives on the plane, and countless lives on the ground. It even seems that once the intact plane is pulled from the river, the passengers will eventually get their checked baggage returned to them, even if it doesn’t smell quite as fresh as it did when they checked it. We’re really hoping that there weren’t any live animals in the cargo hold, since they would have certainly drowned.

The fact that Captain Sullenberger happened to ditch the plane on that particular section of the Hudson River also played a big role in saving lives (Sullenberger indicated to accident investigators that he deliberately landed his plane close to river traffic, to “improve chances of recovery”).

It is heavily traveled by various watercraft, including ferries and tour boats. With the plane filling with water, and it’s passengers standing on the submerging wings and sitting on the deployed escape chutes, as many as 14 New York Waterway ferries, and at least one Circle Line tour boat converged on the aircraft, some reportedly within a minute or two of it’s hitting the water (read this NY Times story about some of the rescuers). Every passenger on the plane was rescued, with some suffering hypothermia and non life-threatening injuries. With an air temperature around 20 degrees Farenheit, and a water temperature in the 30’s, the plane’s passengers would not have survived very long in the near-freezing water of the Hudson River.

Only in New York !

Interestingly, there has been next to nothing in the news about the other four crew members, who should also be recognized. We found the identities of the other crew members in this Wall Street Journal article, which we excerpt here…

According to an internal US Airways flight roster, the first officer on the flight was Jeffrey Skiles, and the three flight attendants were Donna Dent, Doreen Welsh and Sheila Dail. One of the three attendants was injured and taken to a Manhattan hospital.

This Chicago Tribune article says that First Officer Skiles, age 49, lives in the town of Oregon, Wisconsin. He is a former flight instructor, who began flying at age 15.

New York Waterway, whose ferry Captains and crew members were instrumental in the rescue, is an interesting company. Started in 1986 by Arthur E. Imperatore, who previously operated a major East Coast trucking company, APA Transport, along with four of his brothers (see his bother George E. Imperatore’s obituary in the NY Times). New York Waterway service expanded after the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center shut down the PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) subway line between New Jersey and the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. When the PATH service eventually resumed, ridership on the ferries dropped off precipitously, nearly bankrupting New York Waterway. New York Waterway is now run by Imperatore’s son, Arthur Imperatore, Jr. Here’s an article about Arthur Jr.

The New York Waterway ferry ride between Weekawken, New Jersey and midtown Manhattan(they also operate other routes) is a pleasant five-minute voyage, albeit fairly expensive when you add up the fare and the parking fee. They offer free shuttle buses on the New York side, which will take ferry passengers to and from many parts of Manhattan.

Of course, the quintessential New York ferry ride is the city-operated Staten Island Ferry, which is actually free ! The 25-minute trips between St. George on Staten Island and lower Manhattan operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Our guess is that President-elect Obama just might be inviting the heroic crew members of US Airways flight 1549 to the White House soon after his inauguration on January 20th. It was reported that President Bush phoned Captain Chesley Sullenberger. And we hope US Airways shows Captain Sullenberger (and the other crew members) their appreciation, despite the fact that he got one of their aircraft a bit damp.

Making Water Landings More Survivable

If this flight had made the same successful water landing in an area where immediate assistance from vessels in the area was not possible, the outcome would have been drastically different.

While we’re not aviation experts, we wonder if passenger aircraft might be designed to be boyant, whether or not the plane’s hull is breached. The Airbus A320 that was involved in this accident is equipped with what is called a “ditch switch” (see details and photo here). which the pilots can activate prior to a water landing. Assuming the hull remains intact, it is supposed to close the ports and other openings in the belly of the aircraft that would permit water to enter. In this incident, water quickly filled the airplane, so it seems like the hull was probably compromised in the landing. We suspect that this will be one of the things that investigators will be looking at. Perhaps airbags or other flotation devices that deploy when an aircraft hits the water are feasible.

The accounts we’ve read indicate that water in part of the cabin was chest-high before all the passengers could exit the plane. Passengers who were standing on the wings, awaiting rescue, found themselves sinking below the waterline as the fuselage took on water. Given the water and air temperature, it’s doubtful they would have survived, had rescuers not arrived almost immediately (see NY Times story).

It also seems to us that the U.S. Coast Guard, which licenses and regulates vessels such as the numerous ferries and tour boats that are found around New York City, might enact regulations that will help crews on those boats be more effective in rescues. For example, might some sort of platform that could be lowered to the water level be made required equipment ? Perhaps a motorized winch with a basket that can be lowered to the water would be valuable for water rescues. One of the ferries was using some sort of roll-up ladder which they unfurled over the bow of the ship, but injured, severly hypothermic victims or babies would not be able to climb a ladder. Would requiring vessels like ferries to have a few survival suits on-board for crew member use be feasible ?

If we’re not mistaken, the FAA only requires life rafts on aircraft that fly overwater routes. We doubt that a New York to Charlotte flight is categorized as such, but as flight 1549 demonstrated, being on a freezing river is probably not much different from being on the open ocean, in terms of the need for equipment such as life rafts. It appeared to us that some of the passengers on flight 1549 were sitting on inflated escape chutes (one chute at the forward door on each side of the plane), and not on life rafts. If there had been sufficient life rafts available on this flight, it seems that the crew would have had time to deploy them, and the crew would not have told passengers to jump into the water, as some have claimed !

Perhaps investigators should ask the passengers that survived this water landing what equipment they would want on future flights.

About This Airplane – N106US

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, US Airways flight 1549’s “tail number”, N106US, is registered to Wells Fargo Bank Northwest. The plane is 9 years old, having been delivered in 1999. There is already an extensive article about it at wikipedia.org !

Sunday, January 18 2009 Update…

US Airways flight 1549 being raised from the Hudson River late Saturday (photo and story at nytimes.com/2009/01/19/nyregion/19blackbox.html)

US Airways flight 1549 being raised from the Hudson River late Saturday (click on photo to see article and photo at nytimes.com/2009/01/19/nyregion/19blackbox.html)

Late yesterday, salvage crews raised flight 1549 from the Hudson River, and placed the plane onto a barge. The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were recovered and sent to Washington for analysis.

Crews continue to search the Hudson for the missing left engine from the Airbus A320.

In an interview on Saturday with National Transportation Safety Board investigators, Captain Chesley Sullenberger indicated that he made the decision to ditch the plane on the Hudson River to avoid “catastrophic consequences” if they would have attempted to return to LaGuardia or make it to Teterboro Airport in heavily populated Northern New Jersey.


– Routing By Rumor

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Using Website Visitor Statistics As An Early Warning System

Like the canary in the coal mine, warning of the presence of deadly gases, or the seismograph warning of an impending tsunami, website (or blog) visitor statistics provide a valuable early warning system of current events, breaking news stories, and things that will be making news in the days ahead.

Google has known this for quite a while. Google’s Zeitgeist provides statistics that show the latest search trends. You can even go back and see what searches were hot on a previous date.

Like many bloggers and Webmasters, we keep tabs on Routing By Rumor’s traffic statistics. In the past 24 hours, we’ve seen a spike in visits that are related to several of the articles we’ve written in the past. An unusually high number of visitors have landed at our doorstep after doing searches for “Walmart” (or “Wal-Mart” or “Wal Mart”), “Ashley Alexandra Dupre” and “Blackrock layoffs”. We welcome the “business”, but we’re always curious as to why people end up here.

Searches for “Walmart” have always been a top search engine source of traffic to our blog. We’re guessing that a few items related to Walmart that have been in the news in the past few days have a lot to do with the sudden spike in traffic related to Walmart. Perhaps the news coverage of Walmart’s (and other retailers) day-after-Thanksgiving “Black Friday” sales have a lot to do with the increase in search engine traffic.

Ashley Alexandra Dupre is the alleged prostitute allegedly associated with the (alleged former New York Governor) Eliot Spitzer scandal, who received some coverage in this alleged blog a few months back. But why is she suddenly a top search engine topic once again? A bit of research gave us the answer. It seems that Ms. “Dupre” will be interviewed by Diane Sawyer, in a piece that will air on ABC’s 20/20 broadcast this Friday. Who ever said that crime doesn’t pay ?

We were scratching our head on the “Blackrock layoffs” searches that were bringing visitors to our blog. We wrote a piece last winter about layoffs at WCBS-AM, which we titled “Bad Day At Black Rock”. Black Rock is the nickname for CBS’s New York City headquarters building, owing to the dark granite facade of the skyscraper. But we had not heard of any new layoffs at CBS, so why the sudden interest in layoffs at “Black Rock” ?

A bit of digging yielded the answer. There are rumors floating that a round of layoffs are about to be announced at investment company Blackrock, Inc., the largest publicly traded asset management firm in the United States. Nothing to do with CBS, but close enough that it created a spike in visitors to my blog !

So, Webmasters and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) experts take note. If you see unexpected increases in traffic to your site that you can’t explain, dig deeper to find the source. Search engines rarely lie. It may be a case of mistaken identity, as with our “Black Rock” visitors. Then again, it may be an early warning of something you should know about, possibly relating to your website, your company, or a competitor.

We wonder whether mainstream media has caught on to this as a news gathering tool. It is no secret that journalists often “find” stories because they have already been covered by another newspaper, TV or radio station. Search engine statistics should be able to scoop other sources of news. The statistics are real-time, not requiring the printing of a newspaper, or the taping and editing of a television or radio news report. We would like to think that if the Internet existed back in the days of The Daily Planet, that cub reporter Jimmy Olsen would be using his computer and Google to scoop the other reporters.

We were wondering if we would get credit for coining the term “zeitgeist journalism“, so we decided to Google the phrase. Edward Rothstein, for one, used the term in this New York Times article about trend-spotting a dozen years ago, although obviously not in reference to Google, so we probably can’t claim ownership. Maybe we’ll just call it “Google journalism“.

Great Caesar’s ghost !

– Routing By Rumor

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Bloomberg Hits The Nail On The Head Regarding Economic Stimulus Plan

NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

There was a piece on the radio this morning which discussed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s comments about any future economic stimulus plans. Unfortunately, our searches for his comments have come up empty, but we’re guessing that he made these remarks yesterday. If we’ve misquoted Mr. Bloomberg, our apologies. We are going on our recollection of what we heard on the radio this morning.

Mr. Bloomberg (his middle name is “Rubens” – how many of you knew that?) said that the first round of economic stimulus checks the government mailed out amounted to a program that allowed Americans to go buy Chinese-made widescreen TVs at Circuit City. We couldn’t agree more. In fact, if you’ve followed RoutingByRumor, you know that we have said that the first round of economic stimulus checks amounted to little more than a subsidy for Middle East Oil producing countries, big oil and China, Inc. (You can rest assured that no matter how low the price of oil goes, no matter how much demand drops, that ExxonMobil will continue to post record profits in the quarters and years ahead.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Mr. Bloomberg said that any future economic stimulus program should fund infrastructure projects, which would be similar to what the United States undertook to help lift the country out of The Great Depression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s Works Progress Administration (WPA) created almost eight million jobs between 1935 and 1943. Just as importantly, this New Deal agency built highways, bridges, schools and other public works projects across America that still serve our nation today. New York City has more than it’s share of crumbling infrastructure, and like other American cities, would benefit greatly from a modern-day WPA.

Mr. Bloomberg has been critical of the Federal government’s economic stimulus plan in the past. In fact, he’s been against it all along. Last February, he said the then-proposed first round of economic stimulus checks were “like giving a drink to an alcoholic”.

Athough not in relation to the current debate on future economic stimulus spending, Mr. Bloomberg appeared before lawmakers on Capitol Hill this past June, in his capacity as co-chair of Building America’s Future.   He gave this testimony about the need to invest in infrastructure projects.

At a time when there’s more layoffs in the news every day, and the scope of those job cuts are getting wider and wider (today’s news brought word of Citibank planning 10,000 job cuts worldwide), we desperately need a government program that will give American families more than fleeting relief. We need a program that will keep the economic stimulus money the government spends here at home, instead of it being an indirect subsidy for China, which doesn’t benefit American families one bit. Walmart is doing very well, thanks to American families desperate to stretch their income. There is no need to provide Americans with stimulus checks they can take to Walmart, to buy more Chinese made goods. We’ve read that something on the order of 80% of the goods on the shelves at Walmart are made in China.

There’s slim chance that outgoing President George W. Bush will try to implement a program that will put Americans to work while also rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Our hope is that President-elect Barack Obama will seize the opportunity to lift America out of hard times by proposing a program styled on Roosevelt’s WPA. If Washington is going to spend billions of more dollars in an attempt to prevent an economic collapse, doesn’t it make sense to spend it on projects that will benefit America for generations to come, while keeping our money here at home ?

– Routing By Rumor

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Here’s Proof That Tasers Can Kill !

And tasers don’t just kill the people they are fired at.

We have written here previously, and here also, about our concerns regarding the increasing use of tasers by the nation’s police departments. We feel the weapons are too ripe for abuse and misuse to justify their use by police. We believe, as do many human rights organizations, that they can be used as weapons of torture, and that they can be lethal. We believe that many police officers, whether out of fear, ignorance, a desire to punish, or for their own amusement, have, and will continue to misuse the weapon.

Last Thursday, New York City police tasered an emotionally disturbed, naked man perched on a building ledge, who then fell to his death on the sidewalk below. Iman Morales (also spelled as “Inman” and “Iam” Morales in news reports), 35 years old, and a resident of Brooklyn, had fled from his apartment via the fire escape, screaming “you’re gonna kill me” to the approaching police. He was perched on the ledge, armed with nothing more than a fluorescent light bulb when he was shot with the taser. If you’ve ever handled fluorescent tubes, you probably know just how fragile they are. We can’t imagine anyone causing much damage with one.

No doubt Mr. Morales was having a bad day, and the police that responded to the call were about to have a bad day. The catalyst that turned a bad day into a tragic day was the availability of a taser, and the apparently misguided eagerness to use it. We doubt any police officer in their right mind would have even considered pulling their 9mm or their .38 and opening fire, yet the use of a taser was apparently considered acceptable, at least to the ranking officer at the scene. The end result was the same, nonetheless.

And yes, of course you can see amateur video of the incident on youtube, proving once again that Andy Warhol was correct. Here’s more news coverage posted on youtube. (We think that venues such as youtube have become the 21st century’s court of public opinion. Little of consequence occurs these days which doesn’t quickly show up on a youtube video. It also gives an ordinary citizen as much of a voice as the most powerful media outlets. Is the Internet great, or what?)

Morales’ mother, Olga Negron, had called police seeking help for her disturbed son, who reportedly had a history of psychiatric problems. Instead of the help his mother was seeking, quite tragically, Mr. Morales got exactly what he feared from the police. Was this a self-fulfilling prophecy, or was Mr. Morales just an excellent judge of character? We’ll never know.

New York City Police Department brass have acknowledged the tasering of Mr. Morales, under the circumstances, appears to have violated department guidelines on the use of the weapon. We think it violated common sense, human decency, good police work and the law.   Lieutenant Michael Pigott, the 46-year-old police officer with 21 years on the force, who ordered the use of the taser against Mr. Morales, was stripped of his gun and shield, and placed on desk duty. Nicholas Marchesona, the police officer who actually fired the Taser was also put on desk duty but kept his gun and badge, and, we assume, his taser.

This morning, on the day that Mr. Morales was to be buried, and less than a week after the deadly incident, Michael Pigott, the police lieutenant who ordered the use of the taser against Iman Morales, committed suicide (also see WCBS coverage of the suicide). Since the homicide last week, Mr. Pigott had told reporters that he was “truly sorry for what happened” to Iman Morales. This New York Times story provides some background information about Lt. Pigott.

Did guilt drive Mr. Pigott to commit suicide? Did the public shame of having video of the incident show up on youtube play a role? A suicide note reportedly mentioned concern about facing charges for his role in Mr. Morales’ death. We will probably never know for certain what drove him to take his own life, or for that matter, what possessed him to order the inappropriate use of the taser against a disturbed individual who posed little threat to anybody but himself. We think it’s fair to say that both Mr. Morales, and Mr. Pigott were killed by a taser, even if that won’t be the proximate cause of death listed on either death certificate. (A physician once told us that death certificates often fail to accurately identify the true cause of death.)

There are many who still believe the taser is a non-lethal weapon. Has anyone asked the Pigott family or the Morales family if they believe that?

From all accounts we’ve read by people that knew them, both Mr. Morales and Mr. Pigott were decent men.  Had it not been for the terribly misguided decision to arm New York City police with tasers, both men would likely be alive today.  That is the real tragedy.

How many dead bodies need to pile up on American streets, before our government acknowledges the fact that the taser, and similar devices, are indeed lethal weapons ? Our laws should treat the taser as a lethal weapon, regardless of who is pulling the trigger.

– Routing By Rumor

P.S. – Here’s an article by another WordPress blogger, that details the taser death of a man by police at an airport in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. His crime appears to be that he could not speak English, which seems to be a capital offense in Canada (with the exception of Quebec).

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