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HOWARD ROSENBERG

Channel 2's Carjacker: A B-Movie Plot

April 26, 1993|HOWARD ROSENBERG

It's ugly, it's shocking, it's terrifying, it's utterly criminal and all right-thinking citizens are praying that it will end.

Nevertheless, Los Angeles television's epidemic of newsjacking continues.

The latest sickening episode occurred on the 5 p.m. edition of KCBS-TV Channel 2's "Action News" last Wednesday. The catalyst was the city's headline-making rash of lethal carjackings, of which there had been two that morning.

On the screen, being interviewed by new-to-KCBS, new-to-L.A. reporter Stephanie Frederic, was someone she identified only as B-Dog, an 18-year-old ex-con brashly boasting of being a carjacker.

At the bottom of the screen was a Channel 2 graphic boasting: "Only on Action News."

Frederic reported from Koreatown that B-Dog had admitted murdering for a car. His face masked by a red bandanna and his eyes covered by dark sunglasses, B-Dog told Frederic that he felt no compassion for innocent victims of carjacking violence: "You run into somebody like me, and you don't get outta your car, and you're bound to die."

Frederic and the masked B-Dog strolled through a public park where youngsters could be observed lolling on a playground in the distance. Frederic and the still-masked B-Dog next cruised Crenshaw Boulevard in an unmarked Channel 2 news van from which the "coldblooded carjacker" pointed out cars he fancied.

With the masked B-Dog sitting on the passenger side with his arm partially out his open window, the van pulled alongside an old-model car stopped for a light at a busy intersection. Starring down at the female driver, B-Dog told Frederic that this car "should be got," and he spoke admiringly of its motor.

A masked man sitting in an unmarked van stopped at an intersection next to another car? The scene was almost surreal.

"She's hip to it," B-Dog said as the female motorist abruptly pulled away and made a sharp right turn. "The woman was so frightened, she turned from the middle lane of this busy intersection," Frederic added in a voice-over.

Later, B-Dog displayed his "sidekick," a semi-automatic weapon, which he then proceeded to use in a demonstration of his own violent carjacking technique, rushing up to a van and thrusting the weapon through the open window at the occupants. Although it looked staged, viewers had to draw their own conclusions.

Whoever he really is, B-Dog got his two minutes and 25 seconds of fame. But it's "Action News" that belongs in a "B" movie.

First, how could Frederic know if this guy was really a carjacker? She pulls into a crummy neighborhood, asks for a volunteer carjacker, someone raises his hand and off they go?

Second, even if he was genuine, what justification was there for a reporter taking a walk and riding in an unmarked van with someone wearing a mask? No wonder the woman in the car coveted by B-Dog panicked and sped off. But what if she had crashed, injuring or killing herself and others? What if she had produced a gun in self defense and there had been a shootout? In fact, the what-if possibilities for disaster were almost endless.

Third, it's one thing to protect the identity of a purported felon in the interest of a story whose message produces some greater good for society, but quite another when the purpose appears to be only sensationalism.

*

The purpose of this story, viewers initially were told, was to teach L.A. about carjackers' "motives." And yes, you can imagine how stunned the city was to learn that B-Dog's motive was profit, that he wasn't carjacking from the rich to help the poor.

Another message from this trashy, irresponsible story was that if you're approached by a masked man in an unmarked van, well, be suspicious. Especially if the van is owned by Channel 2.

Channel 2 news director John Lippman was unavailable for comment. But the carjacker story was defended by Steven J. Gigliotti, the station's vice president and general manager.

Gigliotti said he was confident B-Dog was an actual carjacker because Frederic's sources "corroborated the fact that he was." He denied that the story was irresponsible, saying there was no "intention to frighten" the woman motorist.

"The intention was to show our viewers how ruthless these criminals are," he said. "I'm a person who lives here. I drive a BMW. I learned from that piece that it doesn't really matter whether you drive a luxury car. You're targeted because you're in the right position at the right time."

Gigliotti also asserted that there was "no staging involved whatsoever." Then he backtracked, admitting it was Channel 2's own van that B-Dog rushed with his weapon. "That's obvious," Gigliotti said. "It would have been (made) more obvious by the word dramatization , which should have been on the piece."

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