By BILL SHORY | News Director
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - “Desperate, angry, bitter person.” “Religious Zealot.” “Out of your league.” “Unhinged.”
In days gone by, these were the kinds of insults you’d be treated to on a soap opera or a reality show. Today, they’re what passes for public discourse in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
For the past couple of weeks, smartphones have been dinging like slot machines with breaking news alerts, as high-profile Kentuckians slung nonstop mud at each other.
First, disgraced pizza mogul -- how is that a job title? -- “Papa John” Schnatter decided he wasn’t as sorry as he first thought about using a racial slur, and went on an offensive, during which he’s bashed his own company’s culture, accused board members of sleeping with one another, and claimed one exec was trying to “hook up” with former UofL basketball coach Rick Pitino.
For his part, Pitino fired back through a tell-all book in which he called Papa John “unhinged,” attacked the university’s leadership, and, for good measure, called Gov. Matt Bevin a “religious zealot” with a “puritanical streak.” The slow, strategic release of excerpts from the book guaranteed Pitino heavy rotation through at least three news cycles, including on national outlets.
Meanwhile, the governor, sticking closely to his “when they go low, I go lower” playbook, hitched his own wagon to that media wave by using his weekly radio monologue to explain that Pitino was simply a “desperate, angry, bitter person.”
However, the highlight of it all had to be the virtually non-stop, breaking news coverage when a guy who got let go from UofL sent a nastygram to his former employer, complaining about -- and I wish I was making this up -- the location of his father’s seats for football and basketball games. This tirade was apparently of such seismic importance that it merited yet another round of coverage the next day, when this former employee tweeted that he’d been misunderstood, and it was never about the seats (even though his letter referenced the seats five times).
Local media outlets scrambled all over each other to “break” the details of every one of these dustups, and, admittedly, WAVE 3 News was no exception. But maybe it’s time to break this cycle. When a 5-year old calls another kid a boogerhead, very few news alerts go out. It’s hard to see why the playground-level taunts of wealthy adults should merit any more attention.
Of course, some of this stuff can veer into newsworthiness. Papa John’s (the corporation, not the Disgraced Pizza Mogul) is responsible for thousands of jobs, and millions of dollars in the local economy. Anything that impacts the company’s viability is real news. By the same token, Pitino has a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against a public university, and the governor is our elected Chief Executive. We will cover all of them, but we will focus our coverage on the newsworthy context, and we challenge others to do the same.
So the next time some rich guy fires off a sternly worded memo to some other rich guy, let’s all just take a deep breath and avoid becoming a megaphone for nonsense. Let’s give this kind of childish behavior the coverage it deserves (see: “boogerhead,” above).
Bill Shory is the News Director at WAVE 3 News.