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This Just In: A look at local news online and on the tube

Wendy Bell Has an Existential Crisis (So You Don’t Have To)

Wendy Bell Has an Existential Crisis (So You Don’t Have To)

Wendy Bell is upset. More like angry, fretting for the future of the human race and, probably, blocking me from her “verified, public figure” Facebook page as you read this. While the thought of that cuts me deep, I cannot let it prevent me from doing my job.

The anchorwoman’s anger was most recently evident during an embarrassing-for-all-of-us interview with Rick Flinn, the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. It occurred in the wake of a winter-storm-fueled turnpike shutdown near Somerset on Jan. 23, which left motorists stranded for nearly 24 hours. The interview pretty much went like this:

click to enlarge Screen cap from Wendy Bell's interview with Rick Flinn
Screen cap from Wendy Bell's interview with Rick Flinn

Bell: “What would you like to say to everybody who’s watching?”
Flinn: “[Doesn’t matter to Bell.]”
Bell: “[WRATH! Accusations! Rhetorical questions! Mention of higher tolls!]”
Flinn: “You’re absolutely right.”
Bell: “So, you believe that this was handled as best as it possibly could have been? Because I got a lot of people who are emailing us here at Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 and they are not in the same boat with you. They’re outraged.”
Flinn: “Again, the issue is responding to the event …” [Bell cuts him off.]
Bell: “I think folks at home … you know, ‘I’m sorry’ might go a long way.” 

Bell’s misguided attempt to play an incendiary, populist Nancy Grace-type character was irresponsible. But even worse was a missed opportunity to elicit useful information for viewers. When the goal of an interview is to beat an apology out of someone, it’s time to step back. This interview was a sobering demonstration that the line between Bell’s on- and off-air “personalities” (read on) has become blurred. That muddles the credibility of the news she delivers. Bell is peddling outrage, yet her Feb. 13 Facebook post decries “outrage culture.”

During the confrontational interview with Flinn, Bell emphasized that folks were “scared to death.” Meanwhile, that’s the very thing that local news does on a daily basis. It aims to scare you, because studies confirm you are more likely to pay attention to negative information. 

That might be why WTAE hasn’t pulled the plug on Bell’s WTAE Facebook page, where she regularly chronicles her existential struggles and doles out Old Testament-style love. In a Feb. 8 post, she declares, “We’re Ruining Our Kids. This isn’t a blame game. It’s the truth. We’re raising an embarrassingly co-dependent, whining, lazy bunch of finger pointers who don’t even know how to answer the phone. Has your child ever addressed an envelope? I just had to teach this. TO MY 14 YEAR OLD [sic].

Oh, the humanity. She also apparently worries about kids who don’t exist, playing “if I had a daughter” in a Jan. 28 post:

When people who don't know me learn that I have five sons, they often ask if I’m disappointed that I never had a girl. To be honest ... I’ve never once thought about it … She would have been Katie. Katie Bell O’Toole. Katie Bell. This, tonight, is what I would say to Katie if she were Michael, my soon-to-be 16 year old [sic] who’s trying his hardest to be himself in a world where everyone else seems to be doing the opposite.

She goes on to tell her imaginary daughter to be herself, stand up for others, pray, work hard, etc. She even describes her “shiny brown hair” and the “green flecks in your eyes.” She also tells her followers to “share this with someone you love. There’s a Katie Bell out there tonight in your life who really needs to hear it.”

“If Katie were Michael?” Why can’t that advice just be for the children you actually do have? 

In her Jan. 25 entry, Bell also agonizes over whether her sons would have survived the Siege of Bastogne:

When the DVD [Band of Brothers] finished, Joe [her spouse] and I sat starting [sic] at the TV. I looked at him. He looked at me. And we nearly said it together. We’d be in trouble today if our boys were the ones fighting that battle. I love my sons. They are funny, handsome, smart little monsters who give me indescribable joy. But I worry about how far we’ve drifted from The Greatest Generation.

Please, stop doubting your kids. If you won’t do that, then at least stop doubting everyone else’s kids, and using the word “we” when you’re talking about you. The world isn’t ending; but I could see how, after watching the TV news, you might think that. Things are no worse now than they’ve been; they’re just bad in a different way. Guess what? They’re also good in different ways.

I know that local-news folks are responsible for supplying their own wardrobes, but self-righteous indignation doesn’t look good on anyone.

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