Archive for April, 2009

Inspiration for Race Day
April 28, 2009

Inspiration. It’s not so much where it comes from as when it comes … and it always seems to be at the right time. For me, inspiration for perhaps my biggest athletic challenge in a decade comes from a friend I haven’t spoken to in two decades.

As you might have guessed by now, I have training the last two months for Sunday’s Pittsburgh Marathon  ( for me, it will be the half-marathon because I have only lost half my senses preparing for this ). Thanks to some inspiration from a friend of mine, I started running two months ago … which says something because I had never ran more than 5K in my entire life. Now, I am up to 10 miles.

However, I still have my doubts about Sunday. As I said, I have been running 10 not 13.1 and recently my calves have started to tighten up when I run.   Also, there is the mental challenge when you are sharing the road with 10,000 of your closest friends. All that being said, I do have some doubts.

That’s when inspiration stepped in.

I got a message on my LinkedIN account from one of my best friends from high school. His name is Ken and now works for a company in San Francisco. I had not seen him at any of the reunions and probably haven’t talked to him since graduation. In high  school, we were both athletes but while football was my game he was the captain of the cross-country team. The man could run.

He sent me a message saying he saw that I had an account and just wanted to say hi and see what I was up to. Ken’s life has certainly gone onward and upward. He’s not an exec at a financial services company in California and has a wife and two kids. He also is training for a triathlon. Looking at his picture, its obvious time has taken nothing away from his athletic look. 

He also wished me luck on Sunday. I really thought that was nice. I mean here I am worried about a half marathon and he’s about to take on the most grueling physical challenge known to man. It kind of puts what I am doing in perspective .. and motivates me as well. I mean, if he can do a triathlon then I can do a lousy half marathon.

Here’s to everyone getting ready to hit the streets and welcome back the Pittsburgh Marathon. Let’s just hope its cool Sunday morning. 51 would be perfect for me.

A Beauty Pageant Turns Ugly
April 22, 2009

You know something has become the center of national attention and controversy when CNN’s Larry King dives into it. Tuesday night’s show dealt with the controversy over the Miss USA Pageant. For those not aware, Ms North Carolina won the title, beating out Ms California.

What gave Ms North Carolina the edge? According to Perez Hilton, a blogger and one of the judges, it was the answer Miss California’s gave to a question about same-sex marriage. I won’t paraphrase. Here is the question:

“Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit, why or why not?”

Here’s is the answer by Carrie Prejean, Miss California:

“I think it’s great Americans are able to choose one or the other,” she said. “We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what in my country, in my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody there, but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be, between a man and a woman.”

Miss USA

Miss California answers Perez Hilton’s question about same sex marriage during the Miss USA Pageant.  ( Courtesy AP Photo )

The answer was followed by some boos in the audience, but that was nothing compared to the comments on Hilton’s celebrity blog which called Miss Prejean some rather unsavory things which I won’t repeat here.

Look, I’m not here to discuss whether her answer was right or wrong. Frankly, it did not matter because that is not the question Hilton asked ( read his question again ). Also, her response was not exactly a well presented argument. What troubles me what is happening to our common sense of decency and debate. Whether its a political or a discussion of same-sex marriage, its no longer listening and responding with  a well conceived argument.

Now, everything has been slanted into a political discussion where there is no room in the middle and opposite views can cost people a title, a career or maybe even their life.  Welcome to the world of cable news channels which started this mess by having someone on the left and someone on the right. Then, the cable channels gave up on having a representative on either side of the spectrum. They just began to take those positions themselvess.  

Just because Hilton favors same-sex marriage, does that mean someone who disagrees should be called the B-word? Of course not. Ms Prejean stated her feelings … and if anything, Hilton should be happy because its one less phone call he needs to make if he is looking for supporters to help pass same-sex legislation in other states. Hilton’s statement that the answer to the question lost her the ground makes Hilton as bigoted as the people he says are against same-sex marriage.

What makes this country unique is that we can disagree without attacking each other – at least we used to be able to do that. There are countries in this world where you are not allowed to disagree with the government without losing a finger. This should not be one of them.

Of course, all she lost was her crown. Frankly, I don’t know why Miss USA even gets that question. More to the point, why should we care what Miss USA even thinks. Last I checked, she’s not making public policy. Reaction like Mr. Hilton’s gives her opinion more credence it deserves and makes those fighting for something they believe in seem as small as their opponents.

By the way, does anyone know what the winner – Ms North Carolina – was asked?





The Spin Room
April 21, 2009

Just finished moderating the mayoral democratic debate for WTAE. Candidates Luke Ravenstahl, Patrick Dowd and Carmen Robinson took aim at the issues – as well as each other – during a debate that was 60 minutes but frankly could have gone longer.

I won’t tell you who I think won tonight’s debate. Frankly, it’s not my place as moderator to say who won and who lost. Even more to the point, I thought all three candidates made valid arguments for why they should be mayor.

What struck me is how I was assured by some of those I spoke with before hand that this would be a “conversation” … as one candidate described the pre-debate atmosphere – and quickly became anything but. The accusations started flying early, much aimed at Mayor Ravenstahl. Of course, he is the incumbent and that should come as no surprise. However, the Mayor got back at councilman Dowd during one exchange when he read off a list of statements Dowd used in regards to the passage of a gun control bill … one that even Dowd admitted was weak.


Then, there was Carmen Robinson. Her position on the desk was determined before the debate via the coin toss, but she could not have been in a more perfect place. From her middle seat. she was able to serve criticisms and insights with equal measure. She was the third candidate going into the debate, by her own admission, but I think a couple of things have made her a more relevant opponent. Her performance during the debate and her 14-years as a city police officer as public safety moves to the top of the local agenda.

No matter who you thought “won” the debate, one thing is clear: the next mayor will face a myriad of challenges not seen by the mayor of this city since the 1980’s. Crime, unemployment, education are all issues of great concern to the city’s next chief executive. Issues that could sink this city if we are not careful.

While we all could play Monday Morning Quarterback when it comes to second-guessing politicians, I will give our leaders credit for taking the chance to lead. It is not an easy job and not one I want to have. While we don’t always agree with our leaders, at least they got into this messy business. Someone has to take out the trash.

So I’m not telling you who won, but I invite you to offer your thoughts. Our website has a poll where you can choose a winner from the debate. Log on and vote. Better yet, vote May 19th when the real debate begins.

The Quiz Bowl … and The Search for Questions
April 17, 2009

Editot’s note: WTAE is hosting the first debate between the three Democratic candidates for mayor of Pittsburgh. I will be serving as moderator Monday night at 7pm and I need your help. We are looking for questions for the candidates … from you.

You can submit those questions in e-mail form or on videotape by Monday. It’s your chance to ask the  people who are going to decide how your money is spent how they plan to spend it … or any question. Let your voice be heard … and get those questions in Now!

Speaking of questions, do you know the Pittsburgh native who became the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy? It’s one of the easier questions in the second annual African-American Quiz Bowl which took place today at Northside Urban Pathways School – a charter school in the cultural district.


Students relaxing after a hard day of questioning at the Quiz Bowl

The school came up with the idea in order to not only spur interest in African-American history among its students, but students all across the county. That’s right, there were other schools and there was quite  diversity: Canon McMillan, Central Catholic, Brentwood, Carlynton and Career Connections.

Even more encouraging? It wasn’t just African-American students. I saw white students taking part in this competition as they were tested on their knowledge in five catagories: Famous People, History, Sports, Sciences and the Arts. My role was that of  host, asking all the questions while trying to figure out the answers to many of the questions.

What I soon discovered is just how much these students knew about my history that I didn’t. I learned about the inventions of African-Americans that prior to this morning I had no idea. Did you know a black person invented the car air conditioner, advancement in hair care products and cataract lens? Seems sports was the only category in which I actually fared well.



With Linda Clautti, CEO of Northside Urban Pathways

We even had one of the questions challenged. Turns out Barack Obama was not the first African-American nominated by a major political party for the Presidency. I let you try and figure out the answer but it turns out the students were right with their challenge.

The point was that African-American history is American history and we should all want to learn it … and what better way than through a competition. Why not get your high school on board for next year’s competition.

Did I mention there are cool raffle prizes as well? Here’s the link to Northside Urban Pathways, the creators and host of this event.


The Tea Party Goes National
April 16, 2009

April 15th.

We all know the date.

It’s not a birthday, holiday or anniversary. For most of us, its a day of a dread when we have the face the tax man and either pay up what we still owe or perhaps get some money back. No matter what the bottom line says, we all have to see how much we owe in taxes … and it’s a figure that will make you feel ill if you allow it.

In recent years, that amount has grown but I’m guessing that’s not what angers taxpayers so much. It’s the way the government uses our tax dollars: supporting armed conflicts we don’t all agree with, paying people we didn’t vote for, funding programs we consider unimportant and bailing out companies we have no interest in saving.

I’m sure a combination of all these gripes led to the creation of the Tax Day Tea Party. For those of you unaware of what has been going on, in cities from Boston to Washington, organized protests have taken place today allowing taxpayers to voice their outrage over the amount we are taxes and where our tax money is going. We had one of those protests in Market Square where citizens said with one voice “we’ve had enough”.

In case you don’t know the history behind this action, the Boston Tea Party took place in 1773 in direct defiance of the Tea Act of the British Government. The dumping of the tea into Boston harbor was perhaps the first large scale American protest. Three years later, America declared her independence from Britain.


Partying  like 1773: Taking a page from history, cities all over the country recreated the Boston Tea Party today to protest the high taxes we pay on this deadline day, April 15th.

Fast forward to today. A protest outside the White House included a box of tea bags thrown onto the lawn. While it’s not likely to go down in American history, it nearly caused a riot similar to that of 1773 when Secret Service moved in, locked down Pennsylvania Avenue and inspected the package. Still waiting to hear whether it was Tetley or Lipton tea bags.

The point is here that its great to see Americans rally against something they consider wrong on a large scale. Whether it was organized by grassroots groups, political forces on the Republican side or Fox News ( as we have been told ), it shows a feeling of frustration on the part of Americans to the tax state of this nation.

No country receives more gross tax revenue from its citizens than the United States and yet, somehow, our government finds new ways to waste it. Unlike some of the protesters, I do not believe this began with the Obama administration. It has simply escalated with the deepening economic recession. Since we had a budget surplus in the 1990’s, we have been creating huge deficits while collecting more tax dollars. That says to me that when the government gets money, they spend it with reckless abandon and do not think about living with a budget.

I can only hope our new President, and more to the point our members of Congress, are taking note of the tea parties. We are mad at being taxed to death and seeing our dollars spent unwisely. If we all should have to live within our means during the current crisis, shouldn’t the government?

Anyway, I would prefer to drink tea instead of having to throw it at my government leaders. Of course, I wouldn’t ou it past the government to start taxing tea. It worked for the British.

Can We All Get Along? Yes We Can!
April 14, 2009

Ask anyone who works in television and they will tell you they have been asked the question ad nauseum.

Do you really get along with the people at the other TV stations in town?

We all answer in the affirmative because its true. While we may broadcast on different stations and are essentially competitors trying to beat the other guys, we do get along because we all do the same thing. We are all broadcasters and journalists and only turn into adversaries when we are fighting for the same story.

Still, some folks need proof that we all get along. For those not convinced, take a look at this picture snapped Monday night at the studios o0f WQED:


Working together: From L-R: Andrew Stockey & Wendy Bell (WTAE ), Tonia Caruso (WQED) , Ken Rice (KDKA ), Grant Oliphant ( President & CEO, Pittsburgh Foundation), Saleem Ghubril ( President, Pittsburgh Promise ),( WQED ) , Michael Bartley ( WQED ), Stacy Smith ( KDKA ), Darieth Chisolm ( WPXI ) and David Johnson ( WPXI ). Photo courtesy of Joshua Franzos.

You can see some of your favorite broadcasters from WPXI, KDKA and WTAE. We all came together – the on-air talent and the station – for one night for something we all consider important: the future of  Pittsburgh.

As broadcasters, our greatest responsibility is the public good and that’s what tonight and tomorrow night are all about. Monday we taped segments in a program that will air tomorrow night at 7:30pm on all three network stations and public television broadcaster WQED. It’s about the Pittsburgh Promise.

You have probably heard about the program, designed to keep Pittsburgh vibrant and growing by investing in the greatest resource we have in our city: our children. Through generous donations from foundations and individuals, and that mind-boggling $100M from UPMC, the goal is to guarantee those students who get the grades in the city school system will be able to go to college. The Promise that while these students will have many challenges on the road to a college education, money will not be one of them.

The program Tuesday night will tell you the story of the Promise, with each station presenting a story about the program. From its roots and its goals to how it has fared in other cities to whether city students are embracing the concept. Along the way, you will meet the powerful and the ordinary people giving this program life.

I speak very highly of it because I believe in it and have even donated to it. It’s motto is something I believe in: “Dream Big. Work Hard”. Most important, its a program that could make the difference in a city which teeters on the brink between success and failure.

I won’t give away the whole program, just take 30 minutes and watch on whichever station you choose. I think it will be well worth you time and you will get to see a spirit of cooperation rare in our business.

I promise we won’t sing “We Are The World”.

Editor’s note:  I was honored and flattered to be part of this well respected group. These are the people who bring you the news every night from the four stations. To be in this group is pretty overwhelming. I’m guessing I’m the only one in this group who is going home tonight to play “MLB ’09 on his Playstation 3.

Mother Government?
April 13, 2009

Editor’s note: I wanted to let everyone know how thankful we are here at channel 4 for the e-mails complementary of our coverage last week during one of the city’s darkest chapters in recent memory. We’re not out there to win emmys when things like this occur, but the hundreds of e-mails tell me that we struck just the right tone as a news organization during a time of tragedy. I personally received so many wonderful e-mails from viewers that I am a little overwhelmed, although it says to me that we as broadcasters are not the far removed from you – the viewer – in terms of  how we feel when these things happen. Once again, thank you!

There were a number of items that, understandably, slipped through the cracks last week. One of them was a plan being considered by Maine and New York state that would tax all carbonated beverages by 10% ( soda, pop, soft drink … you pick the name ). The idea is that such drinks have some much sugar that people, especially children, become obese and this contributes to their unhealthy lifestyle. By making it more expensive to buy, the hope is fewer people will purchase the item … and choose healthier fare instead.

The idea of  taxing things that are “bad” for you is nothing new. Just a couple of weeks ago, the feds imposed new taxes on tobacco products … some increase the price of various tobacco products by 1000%.  The thinking is if you can make smoking more expensive, fewer people will choose to do it.

That’s great … except for a couple of things. Last I checked, there are many people who drink soda who are not obese. In fact, some use diet soda as part of their weight-loss plan. Also, in this economy, should we penalize profitable companies like Pepsi and Coke because some people cannot control what their kids drink?

soft_drinksIn other words, since when did the Federal Government start playing the role of parent? This has always been a country of choice, and when the government starts to tell us what’s good for us then we begin to lose what makes a democracy a democracy.

Look, I’m not in favor of smoking. I find it a disgusting habit and one of the biggest turn-offs in the world. Still, I don’t think we should penalize smokers because they choose to smoke. It’s their right. However, when they invariably get sick and develop lung cancer, let’s not given the access to medicaid and other government-based medical funding.

The same is true with soft drinks. Don’t penalize the person who buys soft drinks by taxing them. Instead, why not subsidize healthier food and make it cheaper for us to buy. I think people often buy soft drinks because it winds up being cheaper than some healthier drinks. Let’s bring down the price of the food that’s good for us rather than raising the cost of those things that are not so good.

Overall, I’m not into government intervention into such areas of our lives. I think people need to make these decisions on their own and if they choose wrong, then let them deal with the consequences. Most adults left home when they were 18. We don’t need to government serving as parent for us … when we become parents.

The Final Farewell
April 10, 2009

I’m back in the newsroom with Wendy Bell, Tara Edwards and producer Maria Dravecky working on the 11pm newscast. We are looking back at all the videotape that was shot and all the interviews that were done by our reporters and photographers.

I must admit, after six days of covering, reporting and discussing this shooting of these three officers on camera each night, it has been overwhelming and at times, it has not seemed real. Even as I sit here working I wonder did we really experience this tragedy times three?

Then, I snap back to reality. It did happen and I did see it from start to finish. From reporting that cold, fateful morning in Stanton Heights to sitting inside the Petersen Events Center on a picture perfect February day. I saw this story unfold from start to finish and went from seeing unimaginable tragedy to incredible solidarity.  And just like any great story, the final chapter was the best.

I was there at 9:30am at the Petersen Events Center and witnessed a stready stream of officers — from Pittsburgh and from points beyond. From Fresno to Florida and from Boston to Boulder. There were officers from this country and the Great White North, all there to show their support. It wasn’t just one or two officers from each department either. Boston brought a battalion of 150 officers … and I saw four officers from Fresno, all female.

They came with no game plan and no idea what their roles would be, but they were lined up in formation and standing at attention from 11am until the caskets had been escorted into the building. It was an awesome display of unity that, if nothing else, made you feel safe.

I sat inside the arena during much of the ceremony, moved by the words of the speakers. They ran the gambit, from the clegry to the commom man and from lawmakers to law enforcers. They were different in presentation and style, but similar in message and effect: remember these men.

After the ceremony, the officers left and headed to home to their respective communities, armed with the knowledge of what they had seen. Each officer strengthen by the show of unity, aware of the ultimate sacrifice, resolved to do their job even better.


The final somber farewell: Thursday’s memorial service at the Peterson Events Center ( Tribune-Review )

The final scene for me played out on WTAE. As the families and officers were leaving, Shannon Perrine noticed a young boy walking with his father who is a police officer. The boy, after a nearly three hour service, was skipping and walking playfully and had his father’s police hat on. The hat was clearly too big, but the young boy ( probably 7-8 years old ) didn’t care. He bounded to the top of the stairs, paused and then saluted another officer. It was life-affirming.

A final note:Thanks to all of you, both on-line and on my Facebook page, for allowing me to share the last six days with you. I did not know officers Scuillo, Mayhle and Kelly but now I feel as if I have known them all my life. From being there the day they were killed to the watching the final farewell for these three brave men, I feel as if I have lived a lifetime with them.

I also want to thank all of you for your kind words and praise of the coverage of WTAE. The people here have worked hard to bring you the best and most tasteful coverage we can. It has not been easy. Long hours, difficult circumstances and emotional events can take their toll on the best of us. That’s why I am so proud of all the people that I work with. We too are a family.

I promise to move onto other subjects in the days ahead, manyw ill be lighter in nature. However, I will never forget this week. It has changed me., how I look at our police officers and how I look at our city.

I am very proud to call Pittsburgh home. I always have been but never more so than now.

Gathering to Grieve
April 9, 2009

I was there very early on Saturday and saw the situation unfold in Stanton Heights … and shared what I knew with the viewers in Pittsburgh and beyond. Later than night, I began to think about what took place – the incredible loss of life. As the week continued, I shared with you the developing details during our evening brodcasts.

However, it was not until Wednesday afternoon in front of the City-County building that the proceedings began to get to me emotionally.

It’s true when you present stories each night on death and destruction, murders and killings, that they can have less impact because of their sheer numbers and the great anonymity of the victims. However, this tragedy became real for me standing next to Janelle Hall as we broadcast the arrival of the hearses for today’s viewing.

Three silver hearses, each containing a casket. Inside each casket, a man sworn to protect us. Officers Eric Kelly, Stepehn Mayhle and Paul Sciullo II arrived in those caskets. Behind them, literally thousands of police officers from around the region and around the country. The scene was dramatic in its presentation, amazing in its precision and overwhelming in its symbolism.


The caskets of Officers Kelly, Mayhle and Scuillo carried into the City-County building on Wednesday ( Courtesy: Tribune-Review )

When the bagpipes began to play and the honor guard removed the caskets to escort them through the portico of the City-County building, the impact of the events on myself moved to another level. You could feel the anguish of the family, the pain and anger of the officers and the shock of this moment having to take place. If you could not feel it, you just weren’t human.

Along with the officers and the families, there were ordinary citizens stations across the street. Some watching, some taking pictures with their cell phones but most just observing an event unprecedented in this city’s history. They were much like me: they did not know these men but they could not turn away or ignore this moment or these men.

And this is just the beginning. The mourning will continue overnight with public viewing and tomorrow when a procession of police like we have never seen escort the hearses to the Petersen Events Center for tomorrow’s memorial service. It’s a difficult two days for the city, but we have dealt with grief before. Remember, it was a little more than two years ago we said an “all-too-soon” farewell to Mayor Bob O’Connor.

I often wonder what is it about the deaths of police and fire fighters that captures our attention and brings a city like this closer together. The answer is the camaraderie of those on the respective forces. Their love for each other and their shared sense of duty in the face of danger.

After I leave the office tonight following the late news, I plan to head down to the City-County building to pay my respects. I did not know these men but now I feel the grief of the city because today it finally hit home. I thought it had, but today’s events make it more real, more tangible.

A Terrifying April
April 8, 2009

There was a story this week in the news connecting some of the most horrific acts in recent memory to the time of year – April. From the siege of  the Branch Davidian compound in Waco to the Oklahoma City Bombing to the massacre at  Columbine. Even the recent shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, all linked because they occurred in the month of April.

I thought that was just bunk … an eerie coincidence at best. That was until this first week of April our fair city. Since April began, we have seen less rain showers and more showers of violence.

It started with the Saturday morning killing of three officers responding to a domestic call in Stanton Heights. The very next day, a wife shoots her husband multiple times and holes up in her Pine Township home for an afternoon stand-off. Monday, a home invasion in East Liberty leads to a man being shot, but not fatally wounded. That night, a would-be robber gets into a gunfight with police in the West End. Finally tonight, a mother and daughter are killed in their home in Stowe Township.

Experts in this sort of thing say the change of season and the increase light that April brings can cause a sometimes violent change in manic individuals. That’s just bunk as far as I am concerned. To excuse violent and deadly behavior based upon atmospheric conditions is only giving such persons an excuse.

A think many factors go into violent actions … too numerous to name. The point is its happening … and as police Chief Nate Harper noted …. in a way that doesn’t happen around here. This is Pittsburgh. We are a community where we do more than know our neighbors, we watch out for them. Things like that don’t happen here because we, as citizens and residents, don’t let them happen here.

While we as residents of this region are not too blame for the recent string of violence, we can do something about it. We have to be the eyes and ears of our community and we can’t just see perilous situations developing and just walk away. What struck me about Saturday in Stanton Heights was just how many people in the community knew the gunman … and his proclivities. While no one I spoke with could have predicted the level of violence, few were shocked he had the capability to be violent.

April may very be the month of the greatest tragedy, but it can also be the month where we are our most alert. We need not surrender to violence and let it take over our city. We can fight back by being diligent and saying “no” to such crime. Instead, we can say “yes” to making sure we watch for the unscrupulous and the suspicious.

Perhaps then April, and every succeeding month, can be sparred the carnage we have witness just 7 days into this April.

Misplaced Attention
April 7, 2009

I think owe you an apology.

Monday, a half-awake Andrew Stockey wrote a very stream-of-consciousness  view of the shootings Saturday in Stanton Heights. I shared with you how the day unfolded from MY point of view, MY feelings of  what I saw and how it affected ME. I spoke of a life and career changing moment — for ME.

However, some close to me pointed out my mistake in that hastily-written blog. They told me I was selfish … and had missed the point … and they were right.

Saturday’s events are not about me. They were about three men who were doing their job when they were killed. The events were about the family, friends and communities in which they lived as they grieved for their fallen friend. Saturday was about the men in blue who serve and protect us who lost one of their own. Finally, it was about a city which had never suffered such loss on such a massive scale.

I  guess I began to refelct on my personal feelings when I received Facebook comments from friends which said “stay safe” and “pray for you”. While they were welcomed, I certainly was not in the line of fire. I was a reporter describing events from afar with little information. I was safe and never in harm’s way.

I cannot imagine the pain of what these men’s families must be experiencing or the horror of the officers trying to rescue their downed comrades.

I think there was a quote from Robert Duvall, playing Michael Keaton’s editor in “The Paper”. He said, quite simply, as journalists “we move in their world but it is their world”. That has both good and bad connotations. That means you may have access to Ben Roethlisberger but you don’t live the lifestyle he does. It also means that you are not in the line of fire when a man with an AK-47 starts firing on SWAT teams.

I did on Saturday and I do it again now: my heart goes out to the officers and their families. I wish them peace as they try to deal with the most difficult moment of their lives.

I am changed by this experience, but that matters little. I got to leave when the coverage was over and go home to the safety of my house and my bed. My thoughts and feelings might have been changed, but not my life.

Saturday Morning in Stanton Heights
April 6, 2009

By now, you have all read, heard or see the tragedy in Stanton Heights: the death of three city police officers in an encounter with Richard Poplawski at his home in Stanton Heights. The details will continue to emerge in this tragedy as the days and weeks go on.

Right now, I just want to take the time to tell you one person’s story. My own. A morning which began for me leaving town at 7am, bound for Ohio University to speak with journalism students at my alma mater. I brought my suit and a change of clothes, wearing just jeans, a golf shirt and a leather jacket … and my glasses. Before I passed Bridgeville, I got a call from my office. They needed to get a reporter ASAP to a shooting in Stanton Heights and I was the person they reached. I turned around.

A half hour later, I arrived at the corner of Stanton and Woodbine. As I walked towards Fairfield Street and the disturbance, I witnesses dozens of officers in bullet-proff vests. They were armed with all sorts of weapons and running down the street. Moments later, the gunfire began. Lots of gunfire. They say it sounds like firecrackers going off … and initially it did. But as this barrage went on for 10-15 minutes, it was clear this was gunfire … and quite  a bit.

I have been asked whether I was scared by the shots … and the answer is no. I guess I realized that this was a major story and whatever “reporter” is inside of me came out. I got together with my photographer Ken Murray and we went to work. I asked neighbors, police, anybody I could find for information on what happened and what was going on. Some people gave me the polite brush-off. Others were not so polite.

It was like putting together a puzzle. We got brief bits from people on the name of the shooter, his family and how the officers were doing that initially responded to the call. While accumulating information, we needed to be very careful and very sensitive. Even if you instincts and all evidence at the scene told you the officers were dead, you needed to be sure before saying anything.

We also realized that our broadcast was playing a role in the incident. Officials told us to back up from the street entrance because the shooter could see our broadcast and gauge where police where. In essence, he had his back covered by our broadcast so we complied.

Still, you did not need to be on top of the scene to know what was going. To witness the officers frustration at not being able to assist their comrades who had fallen and to see the family of Poplawski agonize and wonder why he was doing this.

A Saturday at my alma mater quickly turned into a day in the city, following a story that took twists and turns every minute. A day that did not end until 7pm that evening following our last broadcast from Pittsburgh Police headquarters.

I wanted to take this moment to tell you covering something of this magnitude does not happen in a vacuum. It takes dedicated producers and newsroom leaders back here at the station. It takes reporters and photographers on the scene gathering information … sometimes amid gunfire. It also takes an anchor, and mother-to-be,  like Janelle Hall who kept her cool and calmly guided viewers through four hours or live coverage. It takes interns willing to do the grunt work. I could not be prouder of my colleagues on this most difficult days.

As for me, I think I will be forever changed being among the first on the scene to witness this tragedy. My background is sports … and that’s what I did for 10 years in Pittsburgh. I have spent three years as a news anchor,  learning along the way. However, this was an education unlike any other .. and in many ways, if not for my sports background I would not have been able to do my job. Years of ad-libbing and doing play-by-play allowed me essentially to describe what was going on in a clear and calm matter.

Now that I have had some time to let this sink in, I am saddened by what I witnessed. I am so sad for the family. At the same time, I am so glad more people were not hurt or even killed.

It’s interesting. The day before I spoke at Point Park University to a group of 200 high school journalists. I told them the greatest moment of my career was covering the Inuaguration and the Super Bowl in succcessive weeks. While it may be a career milestone, it cannot possibly shape the world the way the events one morning in Stanton Heights have.

Missing the Big Picture
April 2, 2009

Just finished watching Larry King Live, although I don’t really know why.  Larry just finished another rousing hour discussing the Obama’s vist to England and the G-20 summit. What was the focus of Larry’s discussion? Not the pending economic meltdown, but rather how the Obamas fared when the met the queen. He actually had a panel of experts discussing the protocol of the situation …. and whether Michelle Obama was proper in making contact with the queen, swinging an arm around the Queen Mum for a picture.

All this may make for a great picture and photo op, but it does an even better job of distracting us from the real issues. Did anybody notice that yet another Obama cabinet nominee has run into tax troubles? This time, Kansas governor and nominee for the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Seems she found an “unintentional” error in her taxes the last three years and paid $8K on back taxes to makes amends for the mistake. This wouldn’t be a big deal, but this isn’t the first time an Obama nominee had failed to pay taxes in the past … and had to fess up.


The Obamas meet the Queen Mum. Excuse me, was anybody back at home vetting the candidates for cabinet positions?

Treasury secretary Tim Geithner might be the most prominent of the nominees to either forget or just flat out not pay his taxes, only to have the “oversight”  brought up during confirmation hearings. I’m not sure what’s worse: people who make the kind of money these folks do failing to pay taxes or the Obama administration failing to do their homework during the vetting process. I mean, I’m talking about the treasury secretary! This is the man responsible for the nation’s money during this time of economic duress and he can’t account for his own cash?

This missing of the big picture by the larger media … and maybe by us as Americans … has become troubling. Think about it. We spend billions to bail out financial firms and get no accounting of where that money is going or how it is spent. At the same time, the country is ready to have a coronary because these firms doled out $165 million in bonuses.

I know that – as a nation – we have the attention span of a five-year old after they have eaten a half bag of candy on Halloween. Still, we need to keep our eye on the ball and watch the bigger picture. That’s how the current economic crisis took place. That’s really how any bad situation gets rolling. We don’t see the forest through the trees.

As long as we are talking about Obama and his journey onto the world scene and protocol, what is the deal with giving the Queen of England an iPod as a gift? Is that the best our country has to offer.