Tag Archives: newsworthiness

Bauerle: Now in Life & Arts

14 Jan

That was quick. 

The Buffalo News’ scary-important follow-up story, detailing that (a) Tom Bauerle was back on the air at WBEN on Monday; and (b) the town of Amherst is denying FOIL requests seeking reports of last week’s incident, was published in the Life & Arts section. Sunday’s story, by contrast was FRONT PAGE ZOMG. It didn’t take long for this Page Six gossip column to be relegated to the section where you’ll find the Golden Globes, a psychic, the Buzz, and a plan for an art barge on the Erie Canal. 

It would seem that the information the News obtained from two unnamed police sources was likely an improper release of private personal information, and cannot be corroborated. 

Though The News filed a Freedom of Information request regarding the 2:50 a.m. incident on Jan. 8, Amherst Town Attorney Thomas E. Jones issued a denial letter Monday.

“No crimes or arrests are reported,” Jones said. “The records do contain medical and other personal information concerning the subject. It is our opinion that the release of the report would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy as defined by the Public Officers Law.”

The relevant parts of the FOIL read, 

2. Each agency shall, in accordance with its published rules, make available for public inspection and copying all records, except that such agency may deny access to records or portions thereof that:

(a) are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute; 
(b) if disclosed would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy under the provisions of subdivision two of section eighty-nine of this article;

2. (a) The committee on open government may promulgate guidelines regarding deletion of identifying details or withholding of records otherwise available under this article to prevent unwarranted invasions of personal privacy. In the absence of such guidelines, an agency may delete identifying details when it makes records available.
(b) An unwarranted invasion of personal privacy includes, but shall not be limited to:

i. disclosure of employment, medical or credit histories or personal references of applicants for employment;
ii. disclosure of items involving the medical or personal records of a client or patient in a medical facility;
iii. sale or release of lists of names and addresses if such lists would be used for solicitation or fund-raising purposes;
iv. disclosure of information of a personal nature when disclosure would result in economic or personal hardship to the subject party and such information is not relevant to the work of the agency requesting or maintaining it;
v. disclosure of information of a personal nature reported in confidence to an agency and not relevant to the ordinary work of such agency; or
vi. information of a personal nature contained in a workers’ compensation record, except as provided by section one hundred ten-a of the workers’ compensation law.
(c) Unless otherwise provided by this article, disclosure shall not be construed to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy pursuant to paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subdivision…

…(2) Nothing in this section shall require disclosure of: 
(a) personal information which is otherwise prohibited by law from being disclosed; 
(b) patient records concerning mental disability or medical records where such disclosure is not otherwise required by law; 
(c) personal information pertaining to the incarceration of an inmate at a state correctional facility which is evaluative in nature or which, if disclosed, could endanger the life or safety of any person, unless such disclosure is otherwise permitted by law; 

So, when I suggested in comments that the HIPAA law might apply, I was wrong. It was the FOIL itself that appears to expressly prohibit release of information concerning Bauerle’s psychotic episode. “Karma” doesn’t make it newsworthy. “Bauerle is an asshole” doesn’t make it newsworthy. The fact that his guns were confiscated under the NY SAFE Act – something with which he said he would never comply – is newsworthy, however. 

I asked you on Sunday to consider what it was that made the Buffalo News’ original Bauerle story newsworthy. I explained that Artvoice didn’t reach the same conclusion, and explained why.  Several people misinterpreted my article as a criticism of the News – it wasn’t. Many people left comments here and on Facebook, and some of them were thoughtful and persuasive. Many of you understood that I wasn’t necessarily saying the News was wrong for publishing the story, but asking people to ask themselves, or explain, why it was newsworthy. 

Some of you pointed out that Bauerle’s hatred of the NY SAFE Act, and the fact that firearms were involved in the underlying incident that led to Bauerle’s police involvement made it relevant, together with his prominence in the community. I found that to be among the most persuasive arguments. 

However, I had a lot of people pointing out this WNYMedia.net article as a good counterpoint. I didn’t find it persuasive at all. In fact, it underscored my perception that many people in favor of publication were simply happy that an enemy had been exposed, and performed some mental gymnastics to justify it. Let’s take a look. 

If your social media news feeds are anything like mine, you’re probably scratching your head a bit at this faux empathy being kicked around today surrounding Tom Bauerle.

Fortunately, we don’t share that empathy.

I’m not sure there is any site in Buffalo who has criticized Tom Bauerle and WBEN more over the last 12 years.  Today, anyone familiar and fed up with WBEN’s resident whack job finally got the small verification we’ve been waiting for :

I don’t understand how someone can so quickly determine another person’s motives (here, “faux empathy”), but WNYMedia’s Marc Odien cannot read minds. He argues that it is impossible/incompatible/inconsistent to, on the one hand, hate things that Bauerle has said; and, on the other hand, believe that he deserves some modicum of privacy with respect to a health issue. I disagree. Over the past 10 years, I’ve written more than my share of “oh my God, look at this horrible thing that Tom Bauerle said” posts. So when he has a personal crisis, that’s front page news? 

But instead of celebrating a possible final reprieve to all the hate, racism and conspiratorial nonsense Western New Yorkers have to endure on a daily basis, anyone criticizing him, including the Buffalo News, suddenly became the villain.

Police report or not, of course this is newsworthy!

1. The police have been called to his house 13 times since November 18th. Anytime public resources are used that much in a short period of time, it certainly worth scrutiny and reporting:

The “villain” crack links to a Tweet that Chris Smith posted: 

 I had a similar reaction. In fact, when we recorded this Trending Buffalo podcast on Thursday January 9th, we considered talking about the Bauerle story, and agreed not to, because there’s a difference between criticizing crazy opinions and openly mocking what appeared to be mental illness.  No one accused anyone of being a “villain”. On the contrary, I merely asked people to think about it.  Chris merely asked people to be human. You know – “Buffalo, it’s the people” and “good neighbors” and whatnot. 

So, WNYMedia.net declared that, “of course” it’s newsworthy. The first rationale is 13 police calls. No one’s seen the reports. No one’s heard the 911 tapes. One source told the News that it was 13 calls since mid-November. Not all of them from neighbors. If true, it seems like a waste of police resources, and possibly a neighborhood issue. Point taken. Does Bauerle’s celebrity make that a front-page story? 

2. Whether you listen to WBEN or not, a lot of people around here do and often relate to the nonsense spewed over WBEN airwaves. Regardless of what you think of Tom Bauerle, his ranting and raving on WBEN since 9/11 has caused irreversible damage to society and falsely influenced thousands of other WNY’ers to buy into and believe his brand of craziness.

I don’t know what this 2nd rationale is supposed to mean, except to say that Bauerle is a right wing asshole and therefore he is a right wing asshole. So, because he’s said horrible things on-air, he has forfeited all rights to privacy? That seems unreasonable. 

Linking to the audio from Bauerle’s paranoiac rant of December 30th, Odien continues, 

3. Have you heard this?  Heads should roll at WBEN as to why this was allowed to continue for 17 minutes:

Saying Mental Illness is a “serious” matter is like asking if a “bear shit’s in the woods”.  OF COURSE IT IS !!  But that doesn’t negate the newsworthy of a trusted and influential radio personality officially going off the deep end. I have people very close to me who deal with mental health issues daily and of course mental illness isn’t something to “joke” about.  (except on twitter apparently)

Since they are not reporters, our friends and colleagues at Artvoice thought reporting on the Bauerle incident amounted to joking about mental health and instead published this post claiming they “knew all about” Tom Bauerle’s recent plunge into the mental health pool, but decided to take the high road:

Should heads roll at WBEN over that clip? Maybe. I’ve complained to Entercom and WBEN numerous times about some of the horrible things I hear on that station. They love it, when they don’t ignore it. 

Odien acknowledges that mental illness is “serious”, but concludes that, here, its seriousness is outweighed by the “trusted and influential radio personality” is “going off the deep end.” But he’s been going off the “deep end” on the air for years. The only person writing regularly about those episodes? Me. Didn’t we just go through a charade about mental illness being “serious” before dismissing this episode with a throwaway euphemism for an apparent psychotic episode?  It all detracts from the underlying thesis that this all scary-important information for the public to know.  

Odien goes on to cast doubt on whether Artvoice had the story at all. We did. He quoted the second paragraph of my story and went on to say,

Please… If you believe that, then I’ve got a Tom Bauerle conspiracy theory to sell you

The moment I heard the gist of what had happened (from two completely unrelated people), I tweeted this: 

When we began looking into it, I posted this: 

After we decided that this was more TMZ than Artvoice, I concluded with one of Bauerle’s declarations from the December 30th broadcast: 

Quoting from the part in the Buffalo News article where Bauerle supposedly told a cop that Cuomo’s spies had magical shoes that left no prints in the snow, Odien writes, 

The WNYmedia archives are filled with posts, articles, funny pictures, videos and podcasts calling Tom Bauerle and his ilk “batshit crazy”.  What’s been OK for the last 12 years is now suddenly a taboo subject according to your alternative news source?

However, this is a personal medical matter and one affecting perhaps his neighbors, but not you or me.

Maybe on the surface.

But what Tom Bauerle represents to this community and tea-baggers everywhere should not be minimized.  Nor should we minimize putting mentally unstable person on public airwave spewing hate, racism and other ridiculously false political claims in order to justify a warped political agenda for more than a decade.

So, this is a matter of critical public import because Bauerle had a breakdown of some sort and he has a hateful on-air persona? (I Googled “Batshit crazy” + “Bauerle” and it’s not a common combination, and not one that I have ever used). Calling someone “batshit crazy” because he espouses opinions that are batshit crazy does not give me license to mock and expose him if it turns out that there’s a genuine psychiatric problem. There’s a difference. 

Artvoice stopped looking into it; the News canvassed the neighborhood – notice the News went to the neighbors, not vice-versa. I took to Twitter to mock the mockables – shoes with no footprints and Treebeard surveilling Williamsville radio guys.  But that was it.

A guy running around the neighborhood with a loaded gun, thinking trees are out to get him is a problem, for sure. If you’re in the immediate area. But is it one that needed front-page coverage by the Buffalo News? Is every neighborhood disturbance to be in the Buffalo News now?

As I explained, I didn’t take a shot at or criticize the News for doing their job, I wanted there to be a conversation about what people thought made the story newsworthy. 

Alan Pergament took to his blog to blast WBEN’s handling of the whole thing, and added this: 

I sympathize with Bauerle and hope he gets help.

But anyone who doesn’t think this story has journalistic merit needs to go back to Journalism 101.

The Bauerle story fits several textbook criteria of what makes news –  including prominence, conflict,  timeliness, proximity and novelty.

Additionally, Bauerle is an influential voice in the community and should be held to a higher standard. He has constantly used his daily show to oppose Gov. Cuomo’s NY SAFE Act.

However, politics is a secondary issue of this story. The primary issues are the safety of the community and how a radio station can keep a guy on the air who has exhibited such bizarre behavior without giving him enough time to recover.

Shame on WBEN management for apparently failing to realize that it crossed the line of worrying more about the bottom line than of the health and safety of its own employee, its staff and the community.

A lot of people think that Kate Middleton’s baby bump, or Kim Kardashian’s most recent pronouncements merit journalistic attention. Some think it’s important whether the separated Eliot Spitzer has a girlfriend whom he *gasp* might be sexing.  The question of journalistic merit is an interesting one; hence, Sunday’s post. 

But one unifying theme among the people defending the Buffalo News against non-existent criticisms is that it’s important because Bauerle has said crazy things on the air. Well, yes. He has. Where have you guys been

Almost exactly a year ago, for instance, Bauerle decided that the U.S. Government was a “greater enemy than al Qaeda.” There was a sitting NYS Assemblyman on the phone, who remained silent as he said it.  I wrote about it at length here. The Buffalo News didn’t deem that to be newsworthy. Neither did WNYMedia.net. 

WNYMedia and The Buffalo News did not write anything when Bauerle gleefully, but incorrectly reported that Americans now predominately fear the government. They didn’t write anything when Bauerle suggested that Islam is “not compatible” with Western Democracy

When Bauerle devoted an entire show in 2009 to the topic: are liberals “insane”, “psychotic asshats” who want to “destroy America”, the Buffalo News wrote nothing. During that same show, Bauerle  spoke approvingly of a new civil war in America, hoped for an armed, military coup against the federal government, and suggested that the military side with the “people”, rather than with the “liberals”. The Buffalo News’ newsworthiness radar was broken. WNYMedia paid attention because I wrote about it there

When the brother of blogger Mike Blake made a phony phone call to Bauerle’s show and was subsequently the target of harassing texts, the Buffalo News was silent. Nary a peep from the News about this or this or this; you get the picture.

There have been quite a few outrageous outbursts on hate radio in the last several years, and suddenly now it’s important? What Bauerle said on December 30th is downright tame compared to his earlier suggestion that al Qaeda was better than Obama. 

So, I’m not the person to lecture about the horrible things that WBEN has allowed on its air. Pergament’s criticism of WBEN management is beside the point, 

Additionally, Bauerle is an influential voice in the community and should be held to a higher standard. He has constantly used his daily show to oppose Gov. Cuomo’s NY SAFE Act.

Yes. I have acknowledged that this is a good argument in favor of disclosure. 

However, politics is a secondary issue of this story. The primary issues are the safety of the community and how a radio station can keep a guy on the air who has exhibited such bizarre behavior without giving him enough time to recover.

How can you reach this conclusion without a medical degree or an examination of the patient? Bauerle expressly addressed this on Monday, explaining that he was medically cleared to be on the air, that WBEN gave him unlimited time to get himself right, and that he was on-air of his own volition. He sounded perfectly normal. 

I don’t know. It seems to me that a lot of the arguments in favor of publication come from a base, ‘screw that guy’ place. Many other arguments are, ‘we should know because we deserve to know’. That’s not enough for me. Whatever.