I stopped watching local news years ago. It was Jeffrey Dahmer
that did it. This was in 1991. One story of the bodies found in his
apartment was enough. But 20 minutes of a 25-minute newscast, for
days at a time, with each story giving more gruesome details, was
more than I could take. Sometimes the headlines are all we
When I've glimpsed local news since then - mostly when my
parents are in town - I see it hasn't gotten much better. It's
occurred to me that during the 20 years since I stopped watching
local news, Illinois has had two governors convicted of crimes, the
country has witnessed the dismantling of any safeguards on our
financial system, we've seen scores of kids killed while standing
on the street corner, our education system has lowered dramatically
compared with the rest of the world (we are now ranked 18 out of 36
industrialized nations) and we've been plunged into a recession. I
wonder how much better our country would be if the broadcast media
had focused on any of these things before they became out of
control and did damage. Instead, we got cursory looks at the stock
market, against the backdrop of incessant reporting on Jeffrey
Dahmer or Casey Anthony or Balloon Boy or OJ.
But I digress.
Recently, a friend of mine has been touting WGN news in the
morning as fun and entertaining, while still reporting about
important things. So, since I was wide awake at 5:30 this morning,
I headed downstairs to get in a quick workout - and thought I'd see
what the show was all about.
Problem is, I wasn't alone. Ever since her other mom (her Uma)
moved to Florida last month, Dixon has been my shadow. I can't pee
without her following me - even at 3am. This morning, just as I
tried to sneak downstairs, her head popped up. So off we trudged
The first thing she noticed on the news was that the Sox were
playing the Twins today. "The Twins" is a specific phrase that, in
Dixon's lifetime, has mostly been used when referring to her and
her sister. So she was confused by the baseball game.
"The twins must be part of the Sox team," she said.
"No, the Twins are a team from Minnesota. They're named that
because there are two big cities in Minnesota, and they're right
next to each other, so they're called the "Twin Cities."
"But...are there TWO of them?" she asked.
"There are two cities, but there's only one team."
"And that one team is called the Twins?" she clarified.
"But there's only one team."
It was more of a statement than a question. She got it, but she
thought it was kind of nonsensical.
I should mention here that my children do not like sports. I
have no idea where this came from.
The next story on the news was about four teenage boys who were
shot in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood around 10 o'clock last
night. The newscasters, who had just been joking about a lame story
about dieting, seriously described random shooting on a crowded
street of a late summer evening.
"People were shot in Chicago?" Dixon asked.
Let's digress for a moment. I live in the suburbs, but I bring
my kids to the city every chance I get. I want them to be city-wise
and unafraid. It was one of the issues I dealt with when we decided
to move out of the city. It would be easier in the suburbs, but I
was not going to allow my kids to be sheltered. But Dixon's world
is rocked right now, and suddenly she gets to add murder in the
city to her worries.
"There's a section of town that is having a real problem with
violence right now," I said. "The places we go are pretty
"We NEVER go to that section of town?" she asked.
"No. We never go there."
I declined to tell her how lucky she was that she had a choice,
that the people who live there don't want the violence either, but
they can't do much about it. That's a discussion for another
The next story on the news was about a woman who was shot in the
head playing dice last night.
"Wow," Dixon said, "there's a lot of murder and shooting."
"Mostly on the news," I answered. "The news doesn't report good
things. They only report bad things. So when you watch, you get
this weird sense that only bad things happen. That's why I don't
watch news that often."
This seemed to mollify her, and I was spinning hard on my
trainer...until the next story, which was about a mom who was
getting out of prison after having abandoned her baby in 2009. She
wanted the baby back.
To Dixon, this is worse than murder.
"She left her baby in the bushes!" she said with some alarm.
I stopped pedaling.
"Yes," I said, getting off the bike. "She was probably very
young and very scared and her family probably would have done
something bad to her if they found out that she had a baby - or at
least she probably thought they would. She didn't know what to do,
but she probably just wanted her life to be like it was before she
got pregnant. So she did something stupid. They actually have a law
where if you're in that situation, you can bring the baby to the
hospital or the police station or the fire department and they will
take the baby and the mother won't get in trouble."
Dixon looked at me. I could see the film playing in her head as
if it was being projected on a movie screen.
"But they only have that for babies, right? Not bigger
"No. They don't have that for bigger kids. Most people don't
want to get rid of either their babies or their bigger kids. Most
people love their kids. But sometimes women are scared and abused
and they don't know what they're doing, so they give the baby
"Like Quinn did in 'Glee,'" she pointed out, then added, "Except
Quinn didn't leave her baby behind a bush."
"Yes," I said, "like Quinn in 'Glee.' Except Quinn was smart and
made choices and gave her baby a good home. She wasn't desperate
"And," I added, "you will never be desperate or scared either.
You have a family that loves you and supports you."
She nodded. I resumed my workout. A few minutes later she jumped
"I've got to call Uma. I've got to tell her that I watched the
news and it was all about murder!"
She ran out of the room to get the phone. I turned to ESPN.
Carrie Kaufman is the new digital content editor at Chicago
Parent. Contact her at [email protected]
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