Rob Douglas: NPR’s pumpkin-headed report
October 31, 2013
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.
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.
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"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.