Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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Blog posts June 2009

Weird til the End

Leave it to Michael Jackson. On the same day that cultural icon Farrah Fawcett passed away, only someone with the stature of the King of Pop could steal the headlines. Just when it seemed as though Farrah was about to get her last few moments of fame, MJ dies in sudden and mysterious fashion.

In the newsroom, the sequence of events on Thursday afternoon went something like this: Around 4:15 or so, one of the producers announced that Jackson had been rushed to a hospital in Los Angeles. From my post on the assignment desk, I began monitoring the Web site, which, initially, seemed to be the only outlet reporting anything. Shortly, ABC's live channel began showing aerials of activity outside the hospital where Jackson had been taken. TMZ continued to update its story, quoting Jackson's family and friends saying that "things did not look good."

As we continued to monitor TMZ, CNN and other Web sites for updates, the Associated Press remained oddly - for lack of a better word - unupdated. The AP, which will put out a news alert when some bill makes it out of committee or when some government from a country you never heard of gets overthrown, was reporting nothing. Nothing. It didn't even put out an alert which cited information from other media outlets. With nothing else to go on, we aired a story on our 5pm newscast citing the report from TMZ.

Anyway, one of the anchors then moseyed up to the assignment desk and we began chatting about our memories of Michael, the lack of updates, etc. Then, it happened. I don't recall the exact time, but maybe around 5:30 or so, I refreshed the TMZ page and saw the headline: Michael Jackson Dies.

It was the gasp heard round the newsroom.

The anchor and I both inhaled rather loudly as we read the headline. According to TMZ, the man who brought us "Thriller" and so many other pop classics was gone. With no warning. Just like that.

We now began looking for confirmation. Some other entertainment Web sites reported the death a short time later. But, an LA newspaper Web site reported that he was in a coma. CNN still said only that he had been rushed to the hospital. The Associated Press still had nothing. By the time it actually sent out a news alert reporting that Jackson had been rushed to the hospital, there was already no doubt that Jackson was dead.

So, the King of Pop remained weird til the end, dying under weird circumstances, and surrounded by weird happenings (at least in the media). Specifically, why was the AP so late reporting anything? Why did it take outlets other than TMZ so long to confirm the death? Where did that story about the coma come from?

Weird. Kind of like the time Jackson showed up to his child molestation trial on a stretcher and wearing pajamas. Long after his glory days as the King of Pop.

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On the Road Again

Just when you thought it was safe to travel Interstate 80 for free, along comes word that plans to convert I-80 through Pennsylvania into a toll road are not dead yet.

To recap: a while ago, the state legislature (I think it was part of budget negotiations in 2007) okayed Act 44, a plan that promised to solve all of Pennsylvania's transportation problems by turning Interstate 80 into a toll road and by privatizing the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Two years later, none of that has happened. The Feds rejected Plan A for I-80 and then turned down the revised Plan B. State lawmakers put the kibosh on Turnpike privatization on the grounds that the bid by a Spanish-led consortium just wasn't big enough.

Of late, I've not heard much about revitalizing efforts to privatize the Turnpike. But, there are rumblings of a Plan C where tolling I-80 is concerned. Word has it that the Turnpike Commission (which would take responsibility for I-80 if it becomes a toll road) is preparing yet again to ask the Feds to OK the plan.

About the same time those rumbling surfaced, along came efforts at both the state and Federal levels to stop those tolling plans before they get rolling again. In a news release dated May 28, GOP state reps from central PA urged constituents to write to Specter, Casey, et al and urge them to oppose any efforts to turn I-80 into a toll road.

Such correspondence may not be necessary if Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) has her way. It seems that tolling talk is also going on deep in the heart of her home state of Texas. So, on May 20, Hutchison issued THIS news release to let people know that she has introduced a bill that would ban adding tolls to existing federal highways. The news release reads, in part:

"Sen. Hutchison’s legislation would prevent states, private entities, or private-public partnerships from adding tolls on existing free federal highways, bridges, or tunnels built with federal funding. Furthermore, the bill would prohibit states from attempting to purchase highways from the federal government and place them under state ownership or lease them to foreign investors for the purpose of tolling them. The legislation does not prohibit tolls on new construction."

So, two years later, here were are. I-80 is still a toll-free highway. The Turnpike is still run by the Turnpike Commission. And, the roads in PA are still pretty crappy. Will any of that change in another two years? We'll see.

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