Rob Douglas: NPR's pumpkin-headed report

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As the hometown of more winter Olympians than any other community in the U.S., Steamboat Springs is accustomed to seeing residents of Ski Town USA regularly mentioned by the national and international press.

Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

On the other end of the publicity spectrum, items from the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s “The Record” — the daily report of Steamboat Springs and Routt County police, fire and ambulance calls — have at times been fodder, with good reason, for late-night comics.

Perhaps the classic example of “The Record” going national was Nov. 30, 2009, when a Steamboat police report from earlier that month was featured on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” The report, as originally published in the Nov. 4, 2009, edition of the Steamboat Today, read:

“5:38 p.m. Police were called to a report of a suspicious incident in the 2900 block of West Acres Drive, where a woman reported that she found feces in her toilet that she did not think she put there. There was no damage to the house and no other reason to believe someone had been inside the house.”

If you know a thing or two about how editors and producers work, you understand they’re constantly combing through media resources looking for offbeat stories — like the November 2009 unknown feces report — or stories they can squeeze into one of the news themes of the day. Given that reality, it wasn’t surprising that on Halloween, NPR’s Morning Edition ran with a pumpkin-themed story that originated in Steamboat.

Before you read a transcript of how Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep presented NPR’s version of this Steamboat story, here are portions of the Oct. 30 news report, “Steamboat police use pumpkin to link man to graffiti,” published by the Steamboat Today.

“Steamboat Springs Police Department officers used graffiti on a pumpkin to link a man to several cases of tagging that occurred Tuesday night.

“Bo Wenger, 22, of Steamboat, was booked into Routt County Jail on Wednesday morning on suspicion of felony criminal mischief with damage exceeding more than $1,000.”

Police “identified about seven victims and 20 tags on buildings, homes and other property.” The police were able to track the tags to Wenger’s home where they “discovered a pumpkin that had been decorated with a similar tag to the ones they had been investigating. … Wenger was contacted, and admitted to doing the graffiti.”

Got it? Twenty acts of graffiti, causing more than $1,000 in damage to seven Steamboat residents and businesses.

Twenty acts of graffiti that NPR thinks were done by — are you ready? — a “graffiti artist.”

Here’s a transcript of NPR’s report, “Graffiti artist may have been done in by pumpkin.”

“Good morning, I’m Steve Inskeep. We hear of criminals who leave wallets or phones at the crime scene. That is exactly what a graffiti artist does every time — leaves behind some identifying mark. The trick is to escape anyway. And there a Colorado man fell short. Steamboat Springs police say the suspect tagged downtown properties. Might have been hard to find him except it’s Halloween. The local paper says police found a similar design on a pumpkin at the graffiti artist’s home. It’s Morning Edition.”

So in NPR’s and Inskeep’s view, an individual who criminally vandalizes public and private property with spray-painted gibberish is an “artist.”

Fortunately, Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae disagrees with nitwits like Inskeep who think graffiti is art. In a statement for this column, Rae said:

“The defacing of public and private property with graffiti anywhere in our city is an act of complete disrespect towards our entire community. Disgraceful acts of this nature are in direct contrast to the pride and values our community displays on a daily basis and certainly will never be tolerated by our community members and will always be taken seriously by our Police Department.”

NPR and Inskeep should reconsider their wrongheaded view that punks who damage property with graffiti are artists. If not, I hope Inskeep will volunteer the walls of his home, or those of NPR’s new $200 million headquarters in Washington, D.C., for a little artwork.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Comments

john bailey 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I know of a job site blue office he tagged too. ~;0) but at least he didn't take the important paper work with him

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Stuart Orzach 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Rob- I hope you have already addressed your concern directly to NPR and Steve Inskeep. Perhaps they will see fit to broadcast a correction of the story. However, it should surprise no one that the media place strong emphasis on entertainment, and that embellishment of the truth is common.

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Rob Douglas 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Stuart: Yesterday, as I was writing the column, I tweeted Inskeep to give him an opportunity to explain why he used the term "graffiti artist." I didn't receive a reply.

This morning I tweeted a copy of the column to Inskeep and NPR and Inskeep replied within minutes. We had a good-natured exchange on Twitter, but I don't expect a correction.

Inskeep's gripe with my column is he claims I wrote that he thinks graffiti is good. I pointed out that my gripe is his calling a vandal who damaged public and private property with paint an "artist." I tried repeatedly, but I couldn't get him to explain why he stated - particularly in the current circumstance - that graffiti is art.

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Rob seems to have obsessed on one word and missed its context. The NPR report uses the term ''graffiti artist" to describe those that write graffiti, but that term does not mean the person is an "artist" creating worthwhile art.

The NPR report starts with "We hear of criminals who leave wallets or phones at the crime scene" and thus the "graffiti artist" is clearly being described as a criminal, not as an artist. The rest of the report says he "tagged" and does not claim he left drawings or artwork.

Oh well, I guess NPR is written for a better educated audience that can understand that "graffiti artist" is a criminal that vandalizes by tagging.

Rob is like the great Saturday Night Live character Emily Litella by Gilda Radner giving opinions on misunderstood phrases like "Violins against women".

I fully expect a future column ranting about this town having "ski bums" and then arguing that local charitable efforts are helping bums whom place skiing over paying for their own food or having a place to live. That Rob will describe the craziness of a town with substantial number of bums so privileged that they can ski nearly every day.

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Doug Starkey 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Wow, way to tackle the tough issues Rob. Calling Inskeep a "nitwit" is a big, bold position, and a great way to strike at the liberal media's bias towards the criminal element. It was sure clear in that 25 second blurb that Inskeep was using graffiti "artist" the same way we use artist to describe the paintings of Picasso, Raphael, and van Gogh. Except the part where he leads with framing the graffiti artist as a criminal.

I know it's tough to come up with a column every week. However, taking one word out of context ,"artist", reframing the story and then calling someone a nitwit over your version is stooping pretty low.

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Brian Kotowski 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Doug - methinks thou dost protest too much. You've clearly never had to clean up after one of these "artists." If a low bar was met in Rob's column, it was achieved by being unnecessarily kind to the nitwit, and to the useless punks he finds so entertaining.

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Brian,

I think you missed Doug's sarcasm.

"using graffiti "artist" the same way we use artist to describe the paintings of Picasso, Raphael, and van Gogh"

That reads like sarcasm to me.

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Graham Waters 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I will have to agree with Doug on this one. Common sense would say Steve was just being cheeky and since sensationalism is better served on Fox News it's no wonder it fell flat.

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Steve Inskeep to Rob on Twitter:

Thanks for your note and courteous column, Mr. Douglas! Can you send over the quote in which I said graffiti was good?

Thanks, but you wrote an entire column about how I approve of graffiti. I'm sure you have a quote to support that, right?

Ah, it seems you don't have a quote after all. Surprising. Thanks for sharing column; I very much enjoy CO.


So when Rob posts "I don't expect a correction" it means that Inskeep twice challenged Rob to back up his claims and Rob couldn't. The person that should be issuing a correction is obviously Rob Douglas, not Steve Inskeep.

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Doug Starkey 5 months, 2 weeks ago

It would be great to see a correction of some sort from Rob, at least an apology to Steve Inskeep. Not holding my breath.

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Jim Kelley 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Come On Doug!

This is by far the most ridiculous thing you have ever whined about! I heard this on NPR on my way work and the mention of "Steamboat Springs" definitely caught my attention. I definitely chuckled at the story of another crime which which was solved via the stupidity of the criminal. That was the point of the lead in story,-----a little laugh before the real news started. Why on earth are you so offended by the term graffiti artist? To most, this term does not conjure up an artist but a vandal. For you, your intolerance of Inskeeps' terminology and your name calling of a well respected radio journalist shows me that you are wound to tight and indeed, has left me thinking that I can not take your columns seriously anymore. Inskeep displays himself as a gentleman while you appear the dimwit here.

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Cresean Sterne 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I also listned to the npr news cast on the way to work and found nothing wrong with it unless you dont like humor.. First of all, graphiti is a form of art. So calling someone a graphiti artist is actualy correct. Now if someone takes that form of art and applies it without permission to property that does not belong to them it is now vandelism and trespassing. There is a famous graphiti artist in NY named Banksy that just sold a piece of graphiti art for $600,000 (so graphiti is definately an expressive version of art).. If someone painted a beautiful mnt with a colorful sunset without permission on property that was not theres it woud also be vandelism and trespassing. A specific style of art can be beautiful to one person and not to another. That why its art.. Tagging something (which is what this dummy actualy did) is leaving a mark, symbol or name that reckognizes himself as the one who did it. (kind of like a fingerprint) Hope this adds to the confusion...

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Collin Hare 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Let's add more to the confusion.... What about the graffiti tagging of gang signs where it is utilized to mark their turf. Is that considered art? I can't really answer that myself, but something to think about. Nonetheless, what a ridiculous column and unwarranted berating of NPR.

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Mark Ruckman 5 months, 2 weeks ago

We all have our own issues that causes to want to split hairs, I have a certain word that has been with me since childhood that was used as a put down to a disabled family member. When people use this word I'm ready to split hairs no matter the context.

Maybe Rob has a reason the use of artist rubs him very wrong.

For me the entire episode from the tagger through the Twitter exchanges has been amusing.

I think the next episode when the tagger is in court explaining his actions and pumpkins should also be amusing.

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Well, art can be anything done well. There have been robberies that have been admired as artistic and clever. That does mean the robbery becomes legal. In general, every artist's right to do work ends when it involves someone else's property. Even the highly regarded London graffiti artist Banksy has had his drawings painted over by upset property owners. Now, his work is so valuable that property owners hope that he will leave his work on their properties.

But neither the NPR report or Rob's column was concerned with question of what was art. The NPR report described the accused criminal as a "graffiti artist" using the common term to describe the person that paints graffiti. The NPR described it as criminal activity and tagging, never as art.

Rob's column emulated Emily Latila and went off on a rant saying what was done by the "artist" wasn't art. Mr Inskeep twice asked Rob where did Mr Inskeep say it was art. Rob couldn't. If Rob had a sense of humor then would further emulate Emily Latila and say "Never mind".

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John Fielding 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Has anyone commenting about this actually seen the "art" in question? I have, a thin line, square print style letter form, slight slant, almost legible. Letters about 2' high, entire script about 10' long, across the wall at Sposta's World Sushi. Monochromatic, sort of muddy orange. Little more than a name was my impression.

So is every "Joe was here" or Johnny loves Susie" art? Does it not need to rise to a certain threshold, or is any scribble worthy of the appellation?

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I have seen it. It is just tagging and not an interesting or creative tag. It has minimal artistic merit.

Artistic merit is a sliding scale with different people free to have different opinions. Generally speaking, the more thought, emotion and skill seen in an artwork then the greater the artistic merit.

But even if he drew a very well done drawing then the property owner could still be offended and consider it vandalism. As long as the graffiti artist paints on other people's property without their permission then it is vandalism.

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Doug Starkey 5 months, 2 weeks ago

The only person claiming this is "art" is Rob Douglas. He's the one that pulled "art" from "graffiti artist".

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Garrett Branson 5 months, 1 week ago

Hope you didn't strain yourself with this marvel. Obviously this tagger cannot hold a candle to the great street artists, but to completely discount the art shows your age and lack of appreciation for unique ideas. Why don't you go tell Banksy that he isn't an artist? http://arrestedmotion.com/2011/09/banksy-top-25-most-expensive-works-ever/

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