Here is my initial coverage of this story, Epic Fail.
And then there is Epic Fail, Part II.
Since the local rag contained the same error as the Daily Telegraph, I started to wonder where they got their information.
The Police media centre of course. A quick look at the Police media archive found this:
About 2.10am today (Sunday 14 December 2008), a stolen blue Toyota sedan was being driven east on Byrne Avenue at Russell Lea when the driver lost control and the vehicle went over a rock ledge, dropping five metres into the river. At the time of the incident, the car contained the driver and six male passengers, one of whom was travelling in the boot of the sedan. The passengers were aged 17 or under and were affected by alcohol. The driver fled the scene prior to the arrival of police. Investigations into the incident are continuing.
At least the Police got the name of the road right, showing that Michael Mapstone at the Telegraph can't even copy a press release accurately. Must have been a ripper Christmas party at the paper the night before. It must be a tough life, copying press releases and trying to pad them out to make an exciting story.
However, the Police press release itself contains one howler of an error and two blunders.
The howler of an error of course is the "five metre" drop. If the Police are having problems measuring distances at the scene of a crash, I hope they are managing to calibrate their radar detectors properly this Christmas season. Think about that if you get a speeding ticket over the next two weeks.
As for errors, the car did not go over a rock ledge. The banks of the river have been lined with stone walls to prevent erosion - I think a fair bit of the land might be reclaimed as well (over to Bruce to explain). It wasn't a rock ledge - it just went over the stone capping at the top of the sea wall.
On top of that, the car didn't go into the "river". That implies wetness. The only dampness evident would have been the wet crotches from those in the car when they wet themselves in fear as they went arse-wise into the river bed. Or stinky mudflat, as I prefer to describe it.
For scale purposes, I took a photo of this shopping centre today. The two fellows in the middle of the photo are not 2 metres tall, but they provide enough scale to show that the roof if maybe five metres off the ground.
If I told you that we put a car on the roof of this shopping centre, stuffed 7 teenagers into it and then drove it backwards off the roof onto the concrete path below, how many ambulances would you expect to send to the crash?
Zero? Seven? Somewhere in between? Maybe the odd Coroner's wagon? How many fire trucks would be required to turn up with cutting equipment to extract the survivors?
Would you expect the driver to hop out and run away?
These, you would think, would be fairly obvious questions to someone with an inquisitive mind (like a "reporter").
How, for instance, did the seven people in the car manage to get out and clamber up the five metre wall to safety? If they landed in the river, why are they not wet? If the car dropped five metres into the river, why are there no photos of Police divers preparing to go into the water to attach a tow rope to the sunken vehicle?
I doubt the Police media centre has a single real copper working in it. If there was someone in there with experience of frontline policing, they probably would have picked up this anomoly in an instant. As far as I know though, the pubes doing that job were all brought in from RailCorp, and I doubt any of them ever worked on the frontline at a station before they started issuing stupid press releases about on-time running. They know diddly about trains and squat about plod-work.
Over the last 20 years, every government agency has centralised the function of media liaison within a specialist department, and these departments have grown and grown and grown. Back in the early 1990's, I had to deal with the media bloke at CityRail. That was it - one bloke. I read a story earlier this year that said they now have something like 31 people doing that job.
Your taxes at work.
Most of these people have no frontline experience whatsoever in whatever agency they are fronting for. You don't have medical people briefing the media about health issues, or ex-teachers doing briefings about education. They have all come from the media itself, meaning that they probably have some sort of media studies degree, and no life experience to go with it. They certainly have no technical expertise in the area they are paid to represent.
In short, they don't know what they are talking about. But they know how to handle the media (or so they think), and that's the important thing. It gives the Minister and the CEO a warm, fuzzy feeling that the media is being managed by "experts".
They think they know how to handle the MSM, but I get the feeling that most of them are yet to discover the blogsphere. They've heard of Facebook and MySpace, and might have even attended a conference (at your expense) on how to deal with this new media.
But they still don't have a clue. They won't let frontline staff talk to the media - contravening the media policy in most government agencies is about the worst thing you can do. You can stuff up and kill someone, but for goodness sake, don't talk to the media about anything at all. That will get you fired. Killing someone - well, that's just unfortunate.
Anyway, it frustrates me no end to read a story like this, and find that the facts diverge in several areas from what the public has been fed. If you can't trust the Police to get the facts right, who can you trust? For fuck's sake, these people are supposed to be the type that turn up in court on a regular basis to testify about the facts. Facts, people - facts. Facts, facts, facts.
It's a sad reflection as well on the print media that covered this story, particularly when our local paper got it wrong. I can partly understand the Telegraph screwing it up, since they wouldn't know Russell Lea from a cup of tea - until you look at the photo that they published of the crash, which clearly shows a drop of much less than five metres.
But our local paper is based not far from the scene - you'd expect local reporters to be able to conduct a reality check on a press release, especially one that happened a kilometre or two from their office. Would it really be that hard for a reporter to pop down to the scene and have a look?
Note to Police - next time so juveniles get drunk, steal a car and run it down a short drop off onto a mud flat, try this.
Zap the little bastards with your tasers and watch them roll around in the mud. See if you can get two or more of them to "mud wrestle" as they jerk around under the influence of 50,000 volts. Don't relent until the tide comes in.