What Is Gossip?

What  Is Gossip?

According to definition, it is “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” In daily life, such useless banter drives me nuts. It accomplishes nothing positive for either the gossiper or the gossipee. I suppose those who indulge in this pastime feel ‘superior’ by diminishing others. It’s kind of sad.

Even sadder is how the Fourth Estate has devolved to an enterprise for the delivery of half truths, untruths and gossip. The days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite are behind us. No longer is news and journalism a service to society. It has turned into a circus of ambulance chasers intent on harvesting ratings and sponsors.

Let me illustrate with an example: In October 2007 we had a wild fire ravage San Diego County. We called it the Witch Creek, or Witch Fire. It burned almost 200,000 acres, destroyed 1125 residences and 509 outbuildings, injured 40 firefighters, and killed two civilians. Those two civilians were friends of mine. How the news media slandered these victims was shameful. With no research or verifications, reports were delivered publicly over the newswires that characterized my friend as an eccentric lunatic.

Better Times

Chris and I were school mates. We shared many memorable experiences. I knew him as a bright, enterprising and fearless companion. Prior to building of the community of Mira Mesa and the lands west of Black Mountain, we would go hunting small game in this area. Chris had an old Ford pickup that would be our chariot. Our activities would not be acceptable today. We’d probably get a Swat Team response in current times, but in the mid-1960’s no one cared. During the Christmas vacation of our Senior Year (December 1966) Chris and I drove his VW bus to San Francisco where we witnessed the Hippie Culture before the so-called “Summer Of Love”.

The Tragedy

Just after noon on October 21, 2007 a fire started east of Ramona when Santa Ana winds whipped power lines to the point of arcing. The fire worked its way down the San Pasqual Valley by nightfall. Fire fighters established a line near the San Diego Wild Animal Park. My friend Chris and his wife Vicky lived on a hilltop west of this location. Later the winds caused a failure to a transformer behind the fire line, and the 70-80 mile per hour winds carried the new flames westward, consuming all, including my friends, in its path. This fire marched on for many days, destroying property along its way, but Chris and Vicky were the only fatalities.

The Smear

The ugliness of this episode started prior to the media fiasco. My neighbor Jim, another school pal, was a partner in business with Chris. Chris, a mortgage banker, and Jim a retired school teacher, owned several properties together. On Monday (the fire started on Sunday), Jim could not reach Chris by phone. The area where Chris lived was behind police barricades to prevent looting. Jim asked the police to see if Chris and Vicky were OK. The apparently brain-dead policemen drove by the property and saw the pile of ashes that the two-story (over a garage) structure had been reduced to. They decided that no one was there, and told Jim “Stop bothering us and tell the family to stop bothering us”.

Chris and Vicky’s son was attending school at UC Santa Cruz and saw the broadcast news from a helicopter flyover describing the scene. There were numerous burned cars parked in the neighborhood that the reporters attributed Chris’s eccentric tastes. (They belonged to a neighbor who survived the fire by jumping into his swimming pool.) Chris hated the cars and would grumble as he would drive past them on his entry and exit from home.  As the helicopter flew over his parents house, the son could see both of his parent’s burned out vehicles. If his parents got away as the police claimed, how did they leave? It took a campaign of phone calls to get a gubernatorial order to send in cadaver sniffing dogs. On Tuesday night they found one body, and on Wednesday morning they found the other.

Now the news media had another tack to follow, still they did not let facts impede a ‘good story’. They circulated completely made up stories about Chris and his eccentricities. They made him out to be a kook who refused “reverse 911 calls” with orders to evacuate. There were no such calls. In fact, I learned that at mid-night, another school friend (Jerry) from Valley Center called Chris to warn him of the fire. While carrying his portable phone, Chris walked the perimeter of his property and reported to Jerry that he could neither see, smell, nor hear any sign of a fire. I’m sure he subsequently went to bed, feeling there was no threat. Later, the wind blew down the transformers that started the second stage of the “Witch Fire”. Those deadly Santa Ana winds raced the flames to Chris and Vicky’s home and killed them.

A Half Year Later

The following summer we celebrated our 40th High School Reunion. These reunions can be a mixed bag of dread and joy, even without the addition of outside drama. Of the ~170 members of my class at Poway High, there are still quite a few alive. Not everyone who graduates from a high school class remembers it fondly enough to attend such affairs. I don’t recall ever seeing Chris at any of the preceding soirees. I don’t believe they were important to him. Those who attended, remembered Chris in their own way. We had a small memorial table with cards from his friends. I put pen to paper and shared stories from our good times and left it there on the table.

And Then Came The Vultures

Enough time had passed since Chris and Vicky died. The true facts about how they were killed came to light. I am unaware if any statements of apology were ever issued by the media. No corrections to earlier false and hurtful statements were given in subsequent news reports.

Word leaked out that the high school reunion for Chris’s graduating class was to take place this summer evening. The ‘News Teams’ showed up in force, looking for more cheap headlines. They asked if we would allow them to bring in their lights, cameras and microphones. We said “NO”. This was an event for old school mates to visit, reminisce and catch up with each other’s lives. We made them stay out in the parking lot. Eventually the teams and their trucks lowered their satellite booms and left the facility. No doubt they were disappointed that we refused to let them walk all over us with the glare of blinding lights and rude people jamming microphones in our faces.

I do not trust, nor do I respect the Fourth Estate.