Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 2002 / 14 Kislev, 5763

Jerry Nachman

Jerry Nachman
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Consumer Reports

The tale of the dumb TV station --- and the even dumber crook -- If the story sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't. So last week, a woman called a couple of Seattle television stations claiming to have won the state of Washington's mega millions jackpot with a payoff of $93 million. One station put the woman right on the air live and then the next day they followed her to a car dealer, where the brand new winner kicked the tires of her dream car.

It was a $140,000 Hummer sports utility vehicle like the one Arnold Schwarzenegger goes around L.A. in.

More great television: She signs papers to buy the SUV right on TV. One tiny problem. No one at KCPQ TV Seattle ever asked the supposedly lucky lady to show them the ticket.

Another station, KING TV, did it the right way. They said "Show us the ticket." The alleged winner dragged that TV crew down to a bank saying it was stowed in her safe deposit box, but never produced a ticket. KING TV passed on the story.

But wait, there's more: Sheriff's deputies saw the first story, recognized the person on screen as someone they were looking for on theft and fraud charges. Seems the same woman had been convicted on check writing charges and had already done time for theft. And new charges were pending on subsequent scams.

Oh, and then more: The lady wasn't. It turns out 'she' was a 'he' and liked to cross dress, not that there is anything wrong with that.

By the way, something like that happened when I was editor of the "New York Post." A serial hoaxer held a news conference and trotted out the winner and the purported winning ticket of a lottery. It had all the right numbers, but they had purchased the ticket the day after the drawing and smooshed over the date. We weren't alone in falling for that scam.

Asking a lottery winner to produce the ticket before putting her or, in this case, him on TV, is pretty basic journalism. KCPQ TV never did that. Afterward, the station pronounced itself red-faced and said it was sorry, did an on-air apology and promised to be a good boy next time.

But here's what makes it worse: Had just one person at that station done the right thing, sent up a flare, asked a question, this might have been prevented. There is nothing more poisonous in a newsroom than when the "Oh, wow" fever takes hold, permitting the "let's get it all on the air now" juggernaut to roll over everything.

So for going big with the lottery story without a lottery ticket, KCPQ TV in Seattle gets this week's Hacky award. And this week's Nachy award goes to KING TV for passing on the story because it did not smell right.

But this will be a Nachy* award (with an asterisk). Because, as I frequently tell the urchins around here, don't expect an award just because you did what you were supposed to do today.

JWR contributor Jerry Nachman is vice president and editor-in-chief of MSNBC, and the host of “Nachman,” which airs at 5 p.m. ET, weekdays on MSNBC. A former radio reporter, newspaper Editor-in-Chief, and even Hollywood screenwriter, he is the recipient of the prestigious Peabody Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association and an Emmy Award, plus numerous others. He has served twice as a Pulitzer Prize Juror in the Journalism competition. Comment by clicking here.


© 2002, MSNBC