Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Amber Alert announcement on TV a pointless exercise

Last night watching television, several times an announcement flashed across the screen for a so-called Amber Alert informing us that a young girl from somewhere in Texas was missing and listing counties far and wide across the state where she might be with her abductor.

No name or description of the girl was given, no license plate for any vehicle - essentially no information was conveyed that might either be helpful to the public or enable the public to help. Basically the announcement served no purpose except to raise alarm in an entirely non-constructive way.

This morning I looked up the incident behind the announcement: A 15-year old girl in Fort Worth was abducted by her 16-year old ex-boyfriend who shot her 20-year old companion in the head and forced her into his own vehicle. Authorities had a vehicle type, license plate, and a full description of the truck and the girl but none of that was released on the TV announcement. He later turned himself in to Fort Worth authorities.

What is the point of emergency TV "Amber Alerts" if they give no details about the case? Couldn't they at least have told us the city where she was kidnapped? The license plate of her abductor's truck? Flashed her picture on the screen? How about telling us the abductor was armed and dangerous?

Instead the announcement listed counties all over the state where an anonymous, faceless missing girl supposedly could be in an unidentified vehicle with a nameless abductor. What were TV watchers supposed to do with this nebulous information?

Without that data, we all just fill in the missing pieces with our own assumptions. My wife says she tends to assume a very young child is missing when she sees these alerts. When I see one, I wonder if a divorced parent may have taken a child in a custody dispute. No doubt every viewer fills the gaps with their own preconceived notions, so any leads generated through such an exercise would be a complete waste of time.

The purpose of Amber Alerts on TV doesn't seem to be helping find missing kids but instead to generally and needlessly alarm the public. Certainly the vague, otherwise pointless announcement flashing across my TV screen last night served no legitimate investigative purpose.


Anonymous said...

Is there nothing you won't criticize? Lord, it must be a pain to be around you.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So what benefit do you see from the TV announcement, 7:36?

Bill said...

That's weird. The alphanumeric programmable traffic signs I saw on I-35 in Austin yesterday morning had the Ft. Worth info, her age, and the license plate number at least. I can't recall if they had the girl's name, too.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Bill, the weirdest part was the listing of counties far and wide they said should be on alert, yet no statement that she'd been abducted in Fort Worth. I was amazed when I checked this a.m. and discovered they had that level of detail and didn't give it.

Anonymous said...


The point was that the ad was useless because it provided no useful information. Someone forgot to eat their Wheaties this morning. :)

Soronel Haetir said...

I've certainly noticed that the entire Amber alert system has strayed vastly from the ideal. Perhaps it is simply a function of the broadcast stations not understanding their role, since other outlets such as the road signs provide the information that is supposed to be conveyed.

It would not surprise me at all if all the info actually was provided to the stations but they didn't understand that they were in fact supposed to tell everyone. If that is the case I hope someone has a talking to the station manager(s) responsible.

Of course, I don't know the TV range situation in Texas, if the stations you were watching covered a different region they shouldn't have carried the alert at all.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that they would put it on the TV to begin with. Most people will either turn the channel or forget what they saw to begin with.

I am all for the signs on the highway, as they provide a function. But seeing that most people are on Cable or Sat. anyways, makes it a bit worthless to put on Channel 5 or whatever. Only goes to create even more false fear in the population.

HazmatIsFun said...

I agree Grits. I watched the alerts flash across my Television and wondered about the "who" and "where" of the incident. Interestingly, the National Weather Service posts Amber Alerts and that's where I went to learn that the alert was for an incident in Tarrant County.

Don Dickson said...

The pointless intrusion on my TV screen even said that the "watch area" or whatever you want to call it extended 20 nautical miles out to sea. But yeah, there was no information given about the incident, only a bunch of seemingly disjointed locations in the "watch area." Nothing about the girl, nothing about the alleged abductor. In fact, the alerts that I saw attempted to convey the message that the alert had ended....to which I replied under my breath, "okay, I guess that means I can continue to sit here in my recliner and watch football." Which is what I had planned to do anyway.

Anonymous said...

While I was in the Metroplex yesterday the "Amber Alert said, "Girl abducted in Fort Worth, Green Ford Ranger Pickup" Almost as useless as the TV spot.

Ricksama Bin Perry said...

Fear Fear Fear your fellow man.

Trust us, we're from the government.

Trust us. We are here to help!


editor said...

I think you've answered your own question (playing devil's advocate here). Maybe the point is to have the assailant see himself and turn himself in, which is apparently what happened. Just a thought. I'm not sure why they wouldn't give out details across the TV, maybe a function of broadcasting limitations. But apparently, the amber alert was effective, just not in the way you are thinking.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

editor, I think the incentive to turn himself in would be GREATER if he thought the public were specifically on the lookout for him.

elvez1975 said...

I saw the same warning here in Austin. There was also something in there that said the warning extended from Baffin Bay to Port Aransas.

1) There actually is a Baffin Bay, Texas. It borders the King Ranch.

2) More importantly, the warning contained no information and the geographic locations and counties had no correlation (other than maybe the TW Cable viewing area) to a crime in Fort Worth or along the Texas Coast.

Completely pointless.

editor said...

Point well taken.

doran said...

I saw this Amber alert on WeatherBug. They ran it under their Severe Weather service, which is announced with a cricket-like chirping noise. The only useful information was that the abduction had taken place in the Fort Worth area. The useless information was a "map" of Texas with a whole lot of North Texas counties colored in yellow, as the alert area.

Senseless. Fear mongering.

Anonymous said...

Based on the poll on the top right of the blog, I'd guess the "16 year old ex-boyfriend" is innocent.


Anonymous said...

Just for the record. You are a dog Plato;)

Unknown said...

Being the eternal cynic that I am, I truly believe that the so-called "Amber Alerts" that we saw were only meant to lead to advertising revenue and not intended to be of any real assistance.

Time was, not so long ago, when the business departments and editorial departments were completely separated, we would see real informational journalism. However, in the 80s we began to see a new business model (thank you Mr. Murdoch) that conflated the business and editorial functions for the sake of improved revenue generation. This has led, IMHO, to the creation of today's "infotainment" journalism which appears to be more concerned with the color of Mrs. Obama's dress than the content of Mr. Obama's speeches (you may substitute Mrs. and Mr. Bush as well).

ckikerintulia said...

CJ system has a vested interest in keeping the public scared.

PirateFriedman said...

I just wonder whether Amber Alerts even work. Any studies done yet?

Anonymous said...

Fear Fear.
Spy on your neighbor.
Everyone is a policeman.
Government is your friend.
Someone is going to jump out of the bushes and grab you.
Help me government nannies!!!!!

scott in Dallas said...

They did run a photo of the girl here in Dallas and on TXCN. However, there was little information on the Green Truck or much about the boyfriend.

These Amber Alerts and the news generally is so silly. I had a customer who was insistent that I cut down the thicket of trees that had grown along the back fence of their Highland Park home for fear that someone would come abduct their two blond headed daughters from the alley.

I told her that she should then watch her husband and herself as I assume that 99.9% of these abductions always seem to turn out to be an immediate family member. I told them, I'd be happy to build them a fence, I just found the rationale she offered paranoid. (Keep in mind that these people were tight as can be, and second guessed every dollar in every design we had. I thought the natural thicket along the back fence might save them some money. I lost the job on that one.

It's amazing the stupidity of people and this couple were a pair of successful attorneys. They are in the employ of the gov't which, come to think of it may well be telling.

Lisa Mac said...

I just found your blog while doing a search to attempt to find info on an alert that is now appearing over and over again on my television. There is even less information than what you saw in the posting you write about. I know that there is a child abduction alert, and I know it covers numerous counties in & around the DFW area of Texas, and that it's in effect until 12:46 tomorrow. What use is this? It says "a" broadcast station has issued the alert -- not even which one. I've tuned in to the various news sites for area TV stations and searched, but find nothing.

What the hell? I wonder how much this system costs us - and it's useful HOW? I see no use whatsoever if there is no info contained, or even a note telling where we can find info on our own.
Brilliant idea - really, REALLY bad execution.