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Fair and Balanced? How About Important?
July 25, 2002

Regarding the 6 pm Friday press conference during which Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona announced Alejandro Avila had been arrested in the kidnapping and slaying of 5 year old Samantha Runnion, I want to talk about law enforcement and the media.

Firstly, one question. Earlier this week, Sheriff Carona appeared on television, addressed Samantha’s murderer directly and told him that he would not rest until justice was served. I’m wondering how many of you thought at the time, “just another macho cop spitting out empty words of bravado.” I didn’t, and I’ll tell you why.

Those of you who have been listening to my program since I started doing it last April, might recall that one Sunday night last year, my guests were 2 co-authors of a book titled “Save My Son”. The book addressed repeat drug offenders, and served as a plea for “programs, not prisons” for these offenders. One author was the mother of one such repeat drug offender, who had basically lost her drug-addicted son to the prison system. Her name was Maralys Wills.

My other guest was Maralys' co-author. He was a law enforcement official who ran the 5th largest prison system in the United States. He was the Sheriff, in fact…of Orange County. His name…was Mike Carona. Mike had become discouraged with the number of repeat drug offenders parading in and out of his prison system, and decided to do something about it. He scoured the country, researching other programs that had been implemented, learning which ones worked, the reasons for their success and how they were implemented. He took his new found knowledge, did some implementing of his own in Orange County, and his initial efforts were impressively successful.

After he met Maralys, the two decided they had a book, and “Save My Son,” was born, a powerful book I found to be as practical as it was heart wrenching. I, along with my faithful listeners, knew last year that Mike Carona was a man of action. Now, all of America knows it as well. When I saw him vow to bring Samantha’s killer to justice, I believed him. And once again, as has become his trademark, Mike didn’t disappoint.

The problem was, as usual…we, the American people disappointed. And I’ll tell you what I mean. I watched Friday’s 6 pm press conference whereupon Sheriff Carona announced Avila’s arrest, and detailed the efforts that were undertaken that led up to the arrest. I’m sure I wasn’t the only viewer who noticed that Carona was presenting a text book blueprint of what can be accomplished when law enforcement agencies work together; when people work together, both media types and private citizens alike; in short…when AMERICA…works together.

Working with two other agencies, (Riverside Police Dept. and the FBI), and demonstrating strong leadership, Sheriff Carona managed to overcome jurisdictional territorialism, bureaucracy and public scrutiny…and just got the job done. From such a tragic story arose a mechanism that can only be described as beautiful and efficient. Granted, this effort required the selfless efforts of MANY…but do you think they would've been so dedicated and committed, if not for the tremendous respect they shared for their leader…Mike Carona? Mike has learned the simple secret of leadership. You lead by example.

Now…once the initial part of the conference was over, before Sheriff Carona took questions, the networks took a break. I flipped from CNN to Fox, only to hear Sean Hannity announce that when they came back, they’d be joined by former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. At that point I said, "What the Hell is Newt Gingrich gonna’ add to THIS conversation about Samantha Runnion?"

When they did come back, my question was quickly answered. NOTHING. The program did a 180, immediately began addressing another topic, and naturally evolved into another partisan debate, with the eternally hypocritical Gingrich, (who apparently has never heard the old adage about “glass houses”), throwing stones in the Democrat’s direction, with the occasional limp retort from Alan Colmes, (you know, just to keep it fair and balanced).

I quickly returned to CNN, which in my opinion, had the best coverage and follow-up of Sheriff Carona’s earlier 10 am press conference. Again, CNN did not disappoint. At a time when one committed and patriotic American by the name of Mike Carona was demonstrating what is possible when America unites, Fox News apparently decided that divisive, partisan rhetoric was more important.

Shame on you, Fox. At a time when America NEEDED to see what was possible if and ONLY IF…we put aside their petty differences…you chose instead to focus on and evoke…our petty differences. I can only hope our President and members of our domestic security agencies were watching CNN.

Again I say, shame on you, Fox. You can parade hypocritical, right-wing blowhards like Gingrich in front of your cameras any time of the day. But when you have an opportunity to provide Americans with information that can only be described as “life or death” or “need to know”, especially given the dangerous and uncertain times in which they live…it is imperative you get your priorities straight. And in this humble reporter’s opinion, the partisan rhetoric that you offered (ala Gingrich), ran a very distant 2nd to the invaluable lesson Professor Carona was teaching.

Being "The Network America Trusts" involves more than a constant barrage of verbalizations to the same effect. It requires the insight to see the overall big picture, to recognize what’s really important at a given time, and if necessary, bouncing a blowhard or perhaps rescheduling his rant. And THIS time, in my humble opinion…you flat out blew it. Thank you Mike Carona. Thank you CNN.

And shame on you, Fox.

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