Monday, October 8, 2007

Community News From Harrington, Del.

Today's front page headline tells a sweet story: "When cash dried up, strangers stepped in." It tops a four-column family photo of a returning war vet and a smaller two-column picture of dad in a wheelchair cradling his infant daughter.

Ahh, I thought: A story of hard times arriving on the heels of patriotic sacrifice, mitigated by the kindness of strangers. I grew genuinely excited to see the byline: Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press Writer. It's great when a national news service find a good story in little old DeSoto County or nearby Hardee, or Polk or even the metropolis of Punta Gorda over in Charlotte County. .

I dove into the story in all its tender detail: The family hails from Delaware. Dad joined the Arizona National Guard (Arizona?) and moved the clan to Phoenix when he shipped out to Iraq. He was injured. The time and expense of his recovery put the family's finances on the ropes. They were rescued from ruin by a nice couple from Pennsylvania who paid the mortgage and heating bills. Another charitable group, For Our Troops, built them a new house with an exercise room. There is just one problem.
None of this happened in southwest Florida, much less DeSoto or Charlotte counties.

The report is chock full of human interest, highlighing the plight of one soldier who came home wounded (but not so badly that he couldn't make a new baby). But it raises the question of why my local newspaper, which bills itself "America's Best Community Daily" can't find a local veteran who'd benefit from having his or her story told? This couple went from being on the ropes to getting on the wires -- and they've already been helped.

Even overlooking the omitted local angle, this story falls apart on so many other levels. There's not one number in the story reporting how many soldiers and their families find philanthropists to pay their bills. There's not one sentence about how to locate a benefactor, or how many houses the charitable organization has built for vets, and no mention of whether similar programs or services are available locally. Need I mention the picture readers get of bright pink skin, the Leave it to Beaver-era nuclear family of five, mom with nicely streaked blonde hair? This is not even a representative family.

It's a one-shot, feel-good story that says essentially nothing, helps no one, and sheds no light on what awaits the next war-wounded family -- say a single mom with decidedly darker skin. An angel who pays the bills? I doubt it.

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