Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Self-Righteous Hypocrisy Masquerading as Investigative Journalism: Pittsburgh's KDKA TV Airs Seedy "Online Gambling Seduces College Students" Piece

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." --- the fictional Arthur Carlson of "WKRP in Cincinnati"

If there's one thing that sets off your faithful Kick Ass Poker Blog scribe, it's media dishonesty. I rail against it constantly, and I'd like to point out that there's a difference between dishonesty and ignorance or stupidity. Everyone has their ignorant and stupid moments, including especially me, and I at least try to correct myself when I find I've bitten off another chunk of what turns out to be my own shoe. I'm quite familiar with the taste of OdorEaters, thanks.

But what's going to receive, courtesy of me, Instant Scorn? How about "investigative journalism" that's not only trite and misleading and contains no supporting statistical evidence, but stands within a blatantly hypocritical framework?

Sounds tasty, I know.

Pittsburgh residents who were tuned into a recent episode of KDKA-TV News were treated to a lovely piece by "investigative reporter" Andy Sheehan, titled "Allure of Online Poker Entices Many College Kids." You should realize something's up right away when you see Sheehan/KDKA's preferred choice of the word "Kids" in the title --- that's salesmanship right there.

Anyhow, KDKA's been nice enough to cross-post the story to their website, where you can find this selectively edited text version of the piece, and they've even linked up the short video that is the on-air expose itself. Very nice. In the story, Sheehan interviews a Carnegie Mellon University student named Jeremy Olisar, who recently won $15,000 in a tournament on Absolute Poker and plans to use it to further his own music education. But did Sheehan mention to Olisar that the real purpose of his visit was to trash online gaming? It sure doesn't look that way --- Olisar's just shown talking up the game, playing a small-stakes hand, and the piece goes on to its own purpose. (Note to Jeremy: You've been rolled.)

A second college-aged player, University of Pittsburgh sophomore Stephen Bennett, is also trotted out as an example of the "successful" college player, having won "probably about $20,000" this year.

But there's always a counterpoint. And, natch, KDKA's lame-assed Sheehan can't be bothered to do any real research, so he trots out the sad but convenient tale of Lehigh University's Greg Hogan, who robbed a bank to attempt to recoup some of his gambling losses. Here's how Sheehan pitches that one to his audience:

"Consider the case of Lehigh University Class President Greg Hogan who became addicted to internet poker and racked up a $5,000 debt on his credit card.

"Hogan was arrested and convicted of attempting to rob a bank to pay of his debt."

Now, an honest reporter would have noted that Hogan's actions themselves show that not only was Hogan a highly addictive personality, but that he may well have been stilted by his upbringing as the son of a Baptist preacher. Hell, Hogan stole bonds from his own preacher daddy, but that had no chance of getting mentioned here. Instead it was the "using credit cards" thing, and that's not even strictly correct as stated by Sheehan. Hogan circumvented the checks and balances in the credit-card system on his own, irrespective of the nod to the UIGEA that Sheehan tosses in at the end of his pathetic piece. But, you know, not once in all this "evils of society" finger-pointing has anyone bothered to mention that Hogan Sr.'s upbringing of his son almost certainly skewed his son's moral compass. I mean, how else can robbing a bank seem like a better option than asking Daddy for a few thousand -more- bucks? What the hell did you do to that kid, Reverend Hogan?

I doubt I'll be welcome at the next Baptist Ministries wailing about the "Evils of Society." But that's largely bullshit, you see, an easy crutch for those who find it more convenient to blame others for their own lack of self-responsibility. Research has shown that being Baptist approximately triples the chance that the Devil really did make you do it.

And though that was a juicy digression, let's get back to KDKA and this idiotic expose. After bringing up the sordid Logan affair, the piece then goes back to Pitt student Bennett, and points him out as someone whose talents are going to waste. The Bennett tape looks as though it was spliced in from another piece, because it features another interviewer, not Sheehan. Here's what the text version offers as part of its wrap:

"But Bennett, a Pitt business major, is actually considering 'going pro' and becoming a full-time internet poker player.

'Well, I love poker,' said Bennett. 'I do want to be a productive member of society at some point in my life.'"

Sound like something is missing? How about the fact that in between the two paragraphs above, the interviewer injected a strongly leading question? Almost lost near the end of the video, the missing piece goes like this:

Interviewer: "Well, we hope that you go with the business deal; we don't want you to be playing poker on the Internet all the time."

So much for objectivity.

Then again, if you had any doubts, let me toss in another excerpt from the piece, bold-faced mine:

"On-line sites also offer kids "play money" to learn and stake them real money to get started.

"It's encouraging kids to think about gambling as an occupation or investment rather than as just an entertainment," said Keith Whyte of the National Council on Gambling.

A recent study estimated that almost 2 million of America's 17 million college kids have gambled on-line, and for an increasing number, internet poker is replacing the part-time job as a way to support their education."

Last I checked, these people are legal adults having attained the age of majority and who are deemed mature enough to go do lots of things, including dying for their country. But they are "kids" when it serves the purposes of this dreadful piece. If this level of hypocrisy isn't enough to give you a splitting headache, then wait; we're not through yet.

Do you think that apart from the single quote from Whyte, the manic-'n'-frantic anti-online gambling freak, that there is any sort of research or hard data included in the piece? Of course not. Nowhere is there any mention of studies on gambling behaviors, personality disorders, or even an acknowledgment that having somebody playing poker in his dorm room is a behavior a helluva lot safer to society than crashing around from bar to bar every weekend. Yes, I'm ranting here, but this piece is a pathetic exercise in self-nonresponsibilty.

And, now, in the KAP Blog tradition, the kicker. From the very same web page housing the report and video, as above:

Yes, indeed. At KDKA, getting a link up to those lottery numbers outranks even the Steelers.

(image sources:

. . . . .

Thanks to Waffles for indirectly pointing out that it wasn't Les Nessman that actually stated the quote at the top, it was Gordon Jump's Arthur Carlson character. The Nessman character is central to the scene, though; Waffles also located a wonderful YouTube link to the lst few minutes of that episode, which has been listed in several "all-time greatest sitcom episodes" lists. I defy you to watch it without howling. That said, it's only my second favorite "WKRP," after the one where the WKRP and WPIG mascots (carp and pig, respectively) get into a brawl.


SirFWALGMan said...

That has to be one of my favorite WKRP's ever!!!! Turkeys flying from the sky and bombarding people at a shopping mall is just beyond funny.

SirFWALGMan said...

Oh come on! The Mascot episode is not as funny as Turkeys flying downwards towards innocent Christmas shoppers at hundreds of miles per hour.. I am still laughing my ass off.

Haley (a.k.a. "Cawt") said...

They are both great episodes, Waffles. For those of you wondering, the second "WKRP" episode mentioned above is the also-classic "Fish Story," which is the one that interweaves the mascot battle and Johnny and Venus's on-air alcoholic-impaired reaction time test with the state trooper. The sight of someone inside a carp costume trying to flipper his way under a locked restroom-stall door ranks right up there in high-concept sitcom moments.

But the above episode, "Turkeys Away," did feature Nessman forever trashing the classic news line, "Oh, the humanity!" Sick. But truly, truly funny.

Geez, and this was such a -serious- post, too. Did I mention that the reason I dug up the quote in the first place is that the investigative reporter, Andy Sheehan, actually reminded me a little bit of Les Nessman?

Stephen Bennett said...

You make excellent points. It was painfully obvious that Andy had a clear bias against online poker when he decided to do this segment.

Almost all the questions he asked me were skewed. I spent most of the interview refuting his assumptions - especially about the characteristics of most serious college online poker players.

BTW, it's always nice when you get asked a dozen questions and your two most insignificant responses are the ones that get aired.

Haley (a.k.a. "Cawt") said...

Thank you for visiting, Stephen, and best of luck to you.

Nancy Garero said...

You guys abolish it real straightforward for all the oldsters out there poker online.