December 2007


Boise’s Sleazy Scott Picken

I’m a big fan of This American Life.

As an expatriate it has helped me stay in touch with my American roots—often with uplifting and cheerful stories that get at the heart of American culture. I defy anybody who listens to Sarah Vowell’s discussion about Thanksgiving specials on television and not feel both enlightened and amused. It’s also the show that found, so to speak, David Sedaris, thus bringing me news of how one can work as an elf at Macy’s, this time of year.

At other times, it can be outright depressing—take the second half of this week’s episode, The Competition.

Today’s 6, the ABC affiliate in Boise, decided to ruin a 30-some year old man’s life because he was a registered sex offender working as an ice hockey referee during youth matches.


It’s why I despise television news so much: they get a little scrap of news and run with it. One single station made it their top story for days with live shots, and the sexual offender? Oh, he was never convicted. If they’d bothered to contact him, he would have given them his side, which, as presented on This American Life, admits youthful guilt and the fact that he’d complied with all the laws and had made no secret of his past.

The news director, one Scott Picken is astonishingly proud of what his television station did to the sex offender—and when he watches the coverage of the “news”, he talks about how far his television station has come since the coverage—how the production values have improved, complete with a new set.

I’m thinking about dropping him a line, but quite frankly, I have no idea what I would say to him beyond telling him he’s why I’ve lost faith in American television journalism.

Sure, there was a sex offender working as a referee for youth hockey at the local hockey rink—but it was years in the past, he had been honest with his employers about it, and a committee of people had felt that he was not a credible threat to the young children he would be refereeing.

Instead they put up video of little kids playing hockey juxtaposed with a black and white photo making it look like he was a child molester who was about to pray on the community’s children.

After you listen to the program, if any of you would like to drop him a line, I’ve sussed it out of the internet’s ether. Feel free to send him something at spicken@journalbroadcastgroup.com

6 comments to Boise’s Sleazy Scott Picken

  • Well, my faith in your ability to figure out news items in the American media is restored a little bit.

    I’ve had a personal incident in my life (not what I write about below) that made me truly understand what the news media and law enforcment in the US is all about – shock, crock, and schlock.

    Recently, the newspaper in my hometown in California spent 2-3 days reporting on a sheriff’s office sting to close down a glory hole at a park. OK, that’s fine, but was it necessary to regurgitate the same story, adding only the details of the occupations of the people involved? By the way, doing so would easily ID who they are.

    Of course they had to add the whole, “but the poor little children…” angle to it by mentioning a kid could have wandered up on this at the park (though at 1:30 on a weekday, I’d question why a kid was there).

    It’s the first time in years I contacted a story author directly. There was more to it than what I state here, but I was outraged enough to write.

    Perhaps I should take this person to lunch while I’m out there in a couple weeks and set them right?

  • I hope this item is being listened to in Journalism schools across the country as an example of what can happen if a reporter chooses career path over ethics. She had a choice whether to go live that night, knowing – SAYING to her colleagues – that they were going to ruin his life. But she was thinking of the next rung up the ladder, I bet. In TV news in the States, it’s all about the market. You start off in Anchorage, market 324 or whatever, move to Arkansas, 221, and on and on and if you make it, you end up in NYC at number 1. That’s competition too, same as her slime-ball boss Pickens was competing in the local market for ratings. I had to smile when listening to his description of how the station has improved: all cosmetic changes – so typical. And you can tell he’s trying to sound sincere but not quite making it when he defends their news judgment.

    The whole story is a good argument in favour of maintaining public broadcasters, who aren’t affected by this competitive pressure and are bound by certain standards. But I guess I’m biased there. 😉

  • @cq: I’ve always been able to figure out things in the American media quite easily. I once wanted to be a journalist. As for the glory hole news, I would suggest that having lunch with the reporter won’t get you anywhere. It’s not worth it. See my comments to ian.

    @ian: I doubt journalism students are listening to it, mainly because journalism has a strange complex like education. Those who can’t do, do journalism, and those who can’t do journalism, teach journalists. People on the front lines of journalism have very little idea about what they are covering–many of them couldn’t name the three branches of government in the USA, nor how laws affect people. They just skim off the easy stuff and then sensationalize it. This is especially true in television where stations live and die by their day to day ratings.

  • I seem to remember a recently sensationalized story here in Conservative Hell that you relied on the “news” media to get your information from. We won’t go into the subject matter here, but I think you will remember it. That’s the basis of my previous comment.

    Regarding your comments to Ian, I agree. Nobody actually get both sides of a story anymore. The story in my hometown a case in point. They relied exclusively on what the sheriffs office told them, but didn’t bother to do any investigation on the other side of the story. IE interviewing people in the gay community to get the other side of the story…

    My question to the “journalist” was, Would two randy heterosexual teenagers get arrested and hauled off to jail, names published in the paper, etc. for screwing each other on a picnic table in the same park “where children could see them”?

    I’d say no, they would have been let off with a simple warning.

    These men were hauled off and treated the way they were because they are gay, and that’s why I took the “journalist” to task for failing to do her job.

    I never faulted her for reporting it, I faulted her method.

    I’m glad you didn’t end up in that world, you would have wanted to report actual news where your handlers would have wanted you to report on the latest Britney Spears snatch sighting.

    Media is sad. 🙁

  • Well the world is changing a hell of a lot faster than I am I suppose, or perhaps I’m just not familiar with what’s going on in the States. In Canada you’d be out on the street if you tried to push through a story like that, at least it would have been the case where I was working.

    As a journalist married to a teacher, I agree only to a point with the “those who can’t do” saying. There are bad teachers, bad journalists, but the good ones get that way through dedication and hard work. It sometimes pays off, even.

  • @cq: I think i know which story you are talking about. I made a moral judgement that went beyond the media coverage–it should not have been on the news, and what happened should never have happened–there are failings in the health care system in Amerika–too numerous to count.

    Furthermore, the point is that there aren’t two sides to every story. That’s a myth that the media likes to believe in–the truth is that there are multiple sides to every story and that the news media, in general, is too shallow and too rushed to actually find out why what happened, happened. They look for easy answers and avoid explanations that actually tell you the root causes.

    @ian: News in Amerika is driven by ratings and profits. There are few news organizatons that are above the fray: NPR is the main one.

    I don’t want to disparage all teachers as being bad (nor all journalists), but the good ones are too few and far between in the States. When I think about my good elementary school teachers, I think of my first grade teacher and my fifth grade teacher. The rest were, at best, quesionable, and in at least two cases, quite horrible. When I think about the people I know who wanted to become journalists, in America, a surprising number of them hate political science classes–even the introductory classes that explain the three branches of government.