Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Calm After the Storm

I grew up in New Jersey. I still have a few relatives and many friends living there that I keep in touch with. Hurricane Sandy really concerned me, so, this morning, when I found out that everyone I know survived the mess safe and sound, I was quite relieved. Yes, there are massive power outages and downed trees all over the northeast, but no one I know was hurt. As of this writing, 89% of the population of Hunterdon County, where I was born and raised, is without electricity. Thank goodness for gas stoves, although not everyone has them.
Speaking of stoves, I spent eleven years in the restaurant business in the Garden State. I, quite literally, worked my way up from sweeping floors and dumping trash to, what my old boss once told me, becoming the best manager he ever had, and I did it in record time. I took great pride in that due to one thing; one person. I had the utmost respect for my boss, Jack Little, and I still do. He was the best boss a person could ever have and he helped raise me, whether he knew it or not. If I was his best manager, it was because of what he taught me as an employer, a father figure, and a decent and honest human being. It was the respect he showed others that was instilled in me. And from him, I learned how to be as cool as a cucumber under fire. Don’t panic! Think fast on your feet.
Inherent in any business, in order to be successful, is customer service. That’s the single most important factor, especially in a restaurant, where a customer wants to walk into a clean place, filled with smiling faces eager to serve you. It’s one of the cardinal rules of the service industry; service with a smile — and what you serve had better be just as good.
I was much younger then and it was not unusual for me to put in 80-hour workweeks; nominally, 60. I was quite sharp in those days, too. There was a time — I kid you not — that a series of events (call them major breakdowns) hit me all at once and I had to render split-second decisions. In the middle of a lunch rush, of all times, a deep fryer stopped working, a toilet overflowed, a customer complained that their order wasn’t prepared right, and two of the front counter girls decided it was the proper time to pick a fight with each other. Yup, in front of hungry customers, anxious to get their food and go back to work; customers who couldn’t care less about Debbie and Sue, nor their boneheaded boyfriends and who they flirted with.
From Jack, I learned how to work under pressure - how to deal with the daily events in the life of a restaurateur. Find ‘em and fix ‘em fast. He also taught me how to deal with people at all levels. After all, that’s what customer service really is, but it doesn’t stop there. It also includes the interaction between employees. How can a business run smoothly if there are underlying problems?
On that particular day, I called each girl to the back room, one at a time. By taking them out of the argument, I accomplished the first thing; they couldn’t fight. I told them that if I heard another word, I would fire them on the spot and handle the lunch rush without them. I had other boys and girls working at the time and we’d just have to work harder. Most importantly, they would be out of a job and I stressed that a thousand other kids were banging at my back door begging for work. Yes, they were kids.
“But, but, but,” they tried to explain in their whiny voices, “Debbie did this” and “Sue did that” and each boyfriend was somehow involved. I didn’t want to hear about it. 
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said, “but this is not the time or place. Customers don’t want to listen to your petty fights, do they?”
Basically, all it took was a minute to talk to each of them alone and things quickly settled down. I had learned a long time ago not to take sides, too. That was most important. NEVER TAKE SIDES because, in the end, I would be the only loser. And darned if it wasn’t the truth. After the lunch rush was over and things got cleaned up, wouldn’t you just know those two girls had already patched things up? There they were, taking their lunch break together, sitting at one of the tables and laughing up a storm. It was as if nothing ever happened. Had I taken sides, I would have been the real bonehead and worthy of the title.
Since those days, I don’t know what happened. I left the restaurant business in the early 80s. Today, at 60, I’m no longer interested in running a business, nor am I healthy enough to open one, but, somehow, I seemed to have lost that touch. While I still know a thing or two about customer service, something is amok on my blog and only I am to blame for not keeping it under control. No one else. Understandably, I must grab the bull by the horns. Right now.
As with any business that deals with the public, it’s the meet and greet people who make your business successful. While management works diligently behind the scenes, it’s the front counter people that make and break a business. While I was all about hands-on management, I couldn’t do it all. No one can.
I understood, and still do, that I could serve the best hamburger in the business, but all it took was a couple of employees to throw it all away; not by being mean to customers, but by what the customers saw and heard coming from the front counter. If I walked in off the street, I wouldn’t care if you’ve got the best burger on the planet. By running a sloppy ship, I would wonder if your kitchen was just as messy, and I seriously doubt I’d want to come back, let alone order anything. Do you wash your hands?
While no one on my blog is an employee and readers are not customers, please remember that half of Marinade Dave is what I write and the other half is what commenters have to say. That’s the entire menu – the recipe for success and it’s the beauty of blogging. Failure is not an option.
I realize that today is Halloween, but coming here should not be a frightening experience. I want more readers! I want more comments! I don’t want people to be afraid of anything. While I would never expect everyone to agree with one another, let alone what I write, hiding behind the mask of anonymity does not give anyone a right to be uncivil. Be nice to each other. I realize that many years of writing comments about the Casey Anthony case (and now this one) have hardened us. Today is the day to wipe our slates clean! At least, on this blog, because it’s all that’s left. Please believe me when I say this…
Marinade Dave is not the name of a hurricane and now is the time for calm after the storm. I refuse to write if it ends in a fight. We are a team and that means all of us!

Friday, October 12, 2012

NBC: Liable for Libel?

The very first thing that struck me as exceptionally odd in this George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin fiasco came almost immediately after the news broke that he had shot a teenage boy dead. It had nothing to do with whether he or the victim were black, white, brown, yellow or red. It had nothing to do with color at all. It was simply the fact that he got out of his vehicle with a loaded gun. He knew as soon as he slammed the door shut that he was entering a very dangerous territory; one that immediately compromised his own common sense and sanity. Given what I know today, I feel the same way.
Forget the recording with the dispatcher for the moment. Initially, I paid little attention to it. Whether Trayvon attacked him first or not was not that important to me because, as far as I was concerned, Zimmerman knew exactly what he was capable of doing with that gun when he steadied himself and sidled into the unknown. No one walks with a gun without understanding the possible consequences, and that Kel-Tec PF9 pistol empowered him. It enabled him to play police officer, judge, jury and executioner with all of the bravado of Paul Kersey, and that's precisely what he did. Paul Kersey was the character played by Charles Bronson in the Death Wish movie franchise. Take away the weapon and George Zimmerman would never have moved stealthily into the darkness, confronting a fictional fear that was as frightful as the shadow he cast on that dreary Sunday night. There was no real danger lurking about; it was created by his need and strong passion to become some kind of legendary figure that haunted his soul for years. He had to prove to himself and others just who he was. To that end, he succeeded, but at a huge loss.
Trayvon Martin was a nobody in the sense that none of us are, but you cannot put a price tag on life. He was a typical teenager who would have spent his teen years in obscurity, like most other boys and girls his age -- listening to the songs from Mac Miller's Blue Slide Park and kickin' to the rhythmic beats of Akon. His world was different from ours as adults and unless we are in step with the minds of today's youth, we just don't get it. Right on and out of sight were as out of sync to him as lunchin' and tizzle are to us. Certainly, when Zimmerman was lunchin' that night, Trayvon was in a tizzle. (See: Hip Hop Slang.)
Because of what George Zimmerman did on the night of February 26, Trayvon is classified as either a martyr or a gangsta, when all that really matters is that he should have been left the hell alone. Because of Zimmerman, this child will never walk in his father's footsteps. He will never become what he aspired to be, whether his mind was made up or not. After all, he was still quite young. He was at an age when aspirations are supposed to run wild. Sadly, he was snuffed out by a thief in the night, whose only screams were for power and glory.
My thoughts on this matter have nothing to do with NBC or any other media organization. I think on my own two feet, thank you, and if racism ever crossed my mind because the victim was African-American and the perpetrator was not, I never jumped to that conclusion. Most certainly, had I, it would NOT have been because of something that appeared on the Today show. I've learned, like most people, that you cannot trust any one news source. Where the Wall Street Journal runs on the conservative side, for instance, the New York Times is at the opposite end of the spectrum; and since the advent of reporting on newsworthy events, from thousands of years ago, opinions have been an integral part. It's the nature of the beast. Who remembers the tears flowing from Walter Cronkite's eyes as he announced the death of JFK on live television? Who could possibly be neutral on the day the Twin Towers fell? As objective as media are supposed to be, they are not, and the only advice I can proffer is to consider all options; listen to every side, considering that all sources are multi-faceted and not always reliable. Remember when WFTV reported that George and Cindy Anthony inked a book deal with Simon and Schuster? Did you ever read that book? Was the story ever rescinded?
This leads me to whether or not NBC should be held accountable for a story that skewed the events of the night of February 26. Quietly, I will tell you that skews and news are pretty much interchangeable these days, but in this case, the report that originated at an NBC affiliate station in Miami, WTVJ, before it aired on the Today show, ran perpendicular to the actual event, where Zimmerman purportedly said:
"This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black."
The New York Post reported a slightly different version on the NBC coverage:
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good or on drugs or something. He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male.”
The actual transcript of the conversation between Zimmerman and the Seminole County emergency dispatcher clarified the error. Zimmerman did not say it like it was reported:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.
I will agree that the televised segment made George Zimmerman look like a racist because it appeared that he pointed out Trayvon's color without being prompted, and that's simply not true. However, does it rise to the level that warrants a lawsuit and monetary settlement? 
I'm not here to defend Zimmerman, but I'm not going to condemn him, either; certainly not on this one. Why? Because I have experience in this field and I can genuinely empathize with him. NBC clearly did him an injustice. The network does, however, have more going for it than meets the press, so to speak. For one thing, did George Zimmerman have a "good" name at the time of the report? While the incident happened over three weeks prior, the news of the event actually broke over a week before the NBC story aired. By then, Zimmerman's name was already festering, and rumors of racism had already abounded.
Many of you are aware of what happened to me during the Casey Anthony case -- that I was attacked ferociously and voraciously by a fringe element that labeled me as gay, with AIDS, an alcoholic with DUI convictions, and a convicted felon. Convicted of what felonies, I do not know, but the list didn't end there, nor did it end with me. My friends and family were insulted and accused of crimes, as well. Names and addresses were published. Online documents, such as tax records, were altered. My parents were supposedly card carrying gay communists with AIDS. Several of my e-mail accounts were hacked. I saw counterfeit documents with my own eyes, so I completely understand why Trayvon's family shut down his social sites.
I went to the police with what I thought was hardcore evidence on my computer. Granted, it's not easy to identify creeps that call themselves "DEAD DAVE" and other anonymous names, but they can be found. That's what computer crimes units are for. While it went nowhere, I also contacted a defamation attorney who helped me tremendously. Ultimately, between the two resources, I gathered comprehensive knowledge of what constitutes libel and what can legally be done about it.
First of all, here's a quick primer. If it is written, it's libel. If it is spoken, it's slander. Both are considered defamation. In NBC's case, it could be all of the above because it was seen, read, and heard. The problem is, it's tough to prove and the laws in the United States make it a very difficult nut to crack.
In my case, there was a genuine malicious design. The objective of those people was to destroy me, physically and emotionally. They wanted me dead and said so. That's what trolls do. In NBC's case, there was no such intent. Was there bias? Yes. Or maybe no. It depends on which side of the fence you're on. The media are supposed to remain truthful, but we know that, in today's world, it's far from reality; where even reality shows are well-choreographed. While Zimmerman's supporters will tell you NBC's report was so slanted against him it was sickening, Trayvon's people will tell you the complete opposite. NBC will tell you it was a matter of time constraints -- editing a story to fit in a defined time slot.
While my trolls wanted me dead, I had no direct threats. No one said they were going to kill me and without any real menace, veiled or otherwise, law enforcement was powerless to act. That's when I decided to contact a defamation attorney. While I had no money to mount any sort of lawsuit, the attorney did tell me he would freely advise me if I found a local attorney to take on my case. I never did pursue that venue, but he continued to help. One of the key aspects of proving libel deals with search engine standings. A lot hinges on how search terms stack up in the hierarchy, and engines differ in their results. If you do a search for "marinade dave", how long do you have to scroll before something nefarious shows up? The higher the defamation in the pecking order, the more of a case you may have. Still, in my situation, I couldn't go after any one person or even a group because no such entity existed. There was no structured organization; no corporation and no headquarters. In Zimmerman's case, there's NBC.
So what does Zimmerman have stacked in his favor? Not much, really. When the news broke, he automatically became a public figure. Actually, it began the moment he squeezed the trigger, whether he knew it or not, and just because it wasn't reported right away, which it was, locally, he was no longer a private citizen. While I was merely a bit player in the Casey Anthony case, he became the star attraction; the center ring in a vast media circus. While media outlets could have looked at me as a culprit in my situation, they chose not to. In Zimmerman's case, he is either guilty or he's not, and there's no in between. I think we've already established that the media is not always fair and impartial, and to be frank, there's no law that forces them to be.
According to The Florida Bar, the "mere fact that a person does not like the way an article portrays him does not entitle him to damages. Rather, a defamatory communication, in its classic definition, is one that tends to hold a person up to hatred, contempt, or ridicule or causes him to be shunned or avoided by others."
If people are shunning Zimmerman, could it be because of his own doing, not NBC's?
In Florida law, there's also the element of substantial proof: 
While "truth is a defense" to a claim of defamation, Florida common law has taken that notion slightly further by permitting publishers of allegedly false statements to show those statements are "substantially true" or that portions that are untrue are so insignificant that a typical reader neither would realize the difference nor draw a different conclusion about the plaintiff if the false statements had not been included. In determining, then, whether an article is libelous, Florida courts review the article as if the allegedly false statements had been omitted. If the article purged of the error would not affect the mind of the reader differently, the article is not libelous. This test allows a defendant to demonstrate the general truth of the report, even though some portions may contain inaccuracies.
If we remove the NBC report from what we know to date, would it change our minds about George Zimmerman? Did the report motivate anyone (or enough people) to turn against him by altering their opinion (at that time) regarding whether or not he was a racist, and what kind of adverse effect  could it have on his future? Who or what is more to blame, NBC or George himself?
It's very difficult to prove libel. It's very expensive, too. Who or what is prompting the defense (or George) to file a suit? Robert, Jr.? Where will the money come from? Because this would be a civil matter, how would his criminal defense attorneys fit into the equation? Zimmerman would be up against a huge corporation, so, unless he is hoping for a quick out of court settlement, what kind of risk is he willing to take considering his odds of winning or losing?
I understand that this situation is far removed from what I went through, but in the case of media, there are issues concerning time constraints that would work in their favor. I question how difficult it would be to prove that the network set out to destroy George Zimmerman's reputation. One other thing to take into consideration is the competitive nature of an industry where advertising revenue is based on ratings. Scoops are what count. Yes, news outlets should strive for the truth, but tell me honestly, aren't shocking stories what we really want ? Aren't they called headlines?
I have one more question that I'd like to address, and this one goes to George Zimmerman's most ardent supporters. It deals with the goose and the gander. If NBC should be held responsible for destroying his "good" name, who should be held accountable for the horrible smear campaign against Trayvon Martin? What Website(s) wrote: "TRAYVON MARTIN WAS A DRUG DEALER" and "A YEAR OF DRUG USE CULMINATES IN PREDICTABLE VIOLENCE..." with nothing to legally substantiate the claims? Do they fit the description of defamation?
Incidentally, George Zimmerman was on drugs, and that's the truth. You can't sue me. Whether he took them that day is something else, but why not try Googling "trayvon martin was a drug dealer" and see what you get on the first page? Hmm... Could that be a lawsuit just waiting to happen?
Cross posted on the Daily Kos

Sunday, October 07, 2012


I lost my little girl tonight. She had a great life, though. I think she was 19.