Context-Free News

  By Shamus   Oct 27, 2007   28 comments

Once in a while you see a mistake in the news. Sometimes they spell the name of a city wrong, or misplace a comma in an amusing way. It’s funny to see when it happens, and sometimes good for a laugh.

But last night I saw this. The story hasn’t changed since I spotted it twelve hours ago, but I’ve saved the text in case they do:

HACKENSACK, N.J. — A huge stash of child pornography has been found at a North Jersey home.

Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa said police found hard drives containing hundreds of thousands of pornographic images at the home of Graham Hurley as well as a 72-inch television.

People could only get in or out of the second floor room containing the equipment by using a fingerprint identifying system.

Police said Hurley also hid cameras in the house to spy on young girls.

The discovery was made a week ago when investigators were arresting Hurley after receiving a tip he’d alleged molested a minor.

Zisa said Hurley’s family did not know what was going on.

Hurley was on suicide watch at Bergen Regional Medical Center.

It starts of talking about “child pornography”, but then refers to “four hard drives” with pornographic images and… a television? I’m sure the TV is germane to the case, but whoever wrote the story didn’t tell us why. We’re just left to guess. Televisions are not normally connected to computers and are not inherently illicit devices. Also, police usually seize computers, not hard drives. Again, the story doesn’t tell us why.

People could only get in or out of the second floor room containing the equipment by using a fingerprint identifying system.

I had to read this several times before I could make sense of it. It made it sound like they had to bring in their fingerprinting kit, and then use it to help them enter (and exit) the room. I assume they mean the suspect had a fingerprint scanner in his house, and that it was the only way to open the door to the room. That’s an odd thing to have in a house, and stranger still that you need to be scanned going both ways. This is such an unexpected thing to have in a residence that the author should have explained what this room was. (Basement? Bedroom? Underground vault? The entrance to the Bat Cave?) What sort of residence is this, anyway?

Police said Hurley also hid cameras in the house to spy on young girls.

Which seems an odd place to put cameras. If he wanted to spy on people, why did he put the cameras in his own house? More to the point, why were there young girls in this guy’s house? He used the cameras to record them doing… what exacty? The article makes it sound like the cameras are spread around the house, which means they are unlikely to capture anything more than security footage. Again, you can devise all sorts of ways in which the above makes sense, but that’s not why you read news stories.

The discovery was made a week ago […]

The discovery of…? What? The hard drives? The cameras? The fingerprint scanner? The child porn, which is not otherwise mentioned in this entire article? He had a hard drive with hundreds of thousands of images, but you don’t use movie cameras to get still images. It didn’t even say the still images was the illegal sort of porn. It just said he had lots of images. Which aren’t related to the cameras. Or the television.

The reader just isn’t given enough information to understand what this guy was doing. It lists the evidence, but not why the evidence was important.

[…] when investigators were arresting Hurley after receiving a tip he’d alleged molested a minor.

Emphasis mine. Just a silly typo. But it’s not clear what actually happened a week ago and what happened “today”. The discovery of what? The porn? I thought they found that when they came to arrest him today? What did they find a week ago, what did they find today, and why was there a week between the two events?

Zisa said Hurley’s family did not know what was going on.

Again: Context, people! They didn’t know what was going on while police were searching the house, or they didn’t know what was going on with the cameras? Or are you saying they didn’t know he had the motherlode of porn in his panic room? In which case: Duh. It would be a lot easier to catch these freaks if they told other people about it.

And while we’re on the subject of his “family”, are we taking his parents, or his spouse and possible children? Is this a 50 year old professional with six kids or a 28 year old unemployed loser living with his parents?

Hurley was on suicide watch at Bergen Regional Medical Center.

And so he’s at a medical center and not prison. Kind of odd. Did he get hurt? They can do the suicide watch thing from in jail, so it’s not clear why he’s in the sick house instead of the big house.

Note that this was on the front page, listed along with big national headlines. This was such a strange article because it was like reading something written by a kid. Once in a while my oldest daughter will write a book report (she’s 9) and it will flow like this article: A bunch of disjointed facts, related without context, without a clear order of events, and without providing enough information for the reader to actually understand what happened. But, you know: She’s 9.

It also doesn’t explain why this is a national story. They catch freaks like this all the time. What made this guy so special?

Very odd.

20828 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. Sarah says:

    Well…maybe the editor was taking a nap when this article was written?

    On one hand, I suppose the whole thing sort of depends on your horror of child pornography. Of /course/ the TV is filled with evil…he must have used it to watch all the young naked girls he had running around.

    …sounds like some kind of witch-hunt-style sensationalist news to me. There was a big t’do with a erotic dancer who claimed she’d been raped that had the same sort of “interesting” reporting going on. How silly.

    Upon checking my local newspaper, this story is right on the front page. What kind of slow news week is this?

  2. Darcy says:

    My mom calls the whole computer case the “hard drive”. She gets irritated by my repeated attempts to correct her, too.

    I suspect they’re mostly trying to translate a very circumspect police press conference. They probably figure that readers will fill in all the purient details for themselves. I’m sure that’s a better story than anything they could write based solely on the facts.

  3. C David Dent says:

    Using just a few relevant keywords from the FOX story and Google News I was able to find this story which elaborates some:
    northjersy.com

    It still contains some odd references:
    “Tangled wires connected a heap of hard drives to a 72-inch television….”
    What? Directly?

    “Police also found hidden cameras – tucked in air fresheners, humidifiers and a radio – that they said the unemployed Hurley used to spy on young girls who used the toilet or took showers, Zisa said”
    In his home or elsewhere?

    “Investigators said they seized hundreds of thousands of pornographic images and videos of children that took up nearly 1,000 gigabytes of memory”
    I’d like one of those 1T RAM computers please!

    “Zisa said family members told police they weren’t aware of what Hurley, 50, was up to. He is married with children, the chief said.”
    If I had spent that much money for all that computer stuff and a 72 inch screen and a FINGLERPRINT ID set in a room that only *I* could access…my wife would be asking some SERIOUS questions! Especially if I went in there for hours at a time and came out all sweaty and tired.

  4. Shamus says:

    Thanks for the link. That was interesting.

    But now I want to know: Where is this UNEMPLOYED guy getting the money for all of this high-tech equipment? I HAVE a job, and I still feel the bite when I just need to upgrade my graphics card.

  5. Ben says:

    The story is obviously poorly written, but it’s about what I normally hear or read from the AP, UPI, Reuters, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc. Compared to what I normally hear from the AP or TSN, for that matter, this story is fantastic.

    And some parts that seem illogical to you COULD actually be reasonable. It is actually becoming more popular to have a computer hooked up to your tv, especially if you have HiDef. It is also pretty common for porn addicts to have truckloads of external hard drives full of porn, as has come up in several child porn cases in the last few years, but it is also equally likely that “hard drive” is a mistaken reference. I also know many people who refer to their computer as the “hard drive”, as opposed to the “monitor”.

    It would be pretty easy to have a terabyte of porn on only a handful of drives, these days. Common techniques of child stalkers are placing “hidden” cameras in girls bathrooms and lockerrooms, even in their bedrooms; and trying anything to coax a child into their vehicle or home. Many start out by watching the child through their hidden cameras before moving on to actually attempting a sexual contact.

    And beyond that, no mention is given of his family situation, so we don’t really know why the family didn’t know.

    So…a poorly written story, which is very common these days, detailing an increasingly common activity fairly accurately, if, once again, poorly.

    • Andrew says:

      I think the previous post expressing surprise at the 1000 GB was referring to the fact that the article said “1000 gigabytes of memory”, when they almost certainly meant “1000 gigabytes of hard-disk space”. Not that you’d expect a reporter to know the difference.

  6. Katy says:

    lulz… Hackensack… Now I want to play hacky sack.

  7. Aelyn says:

    How many hard drives constitute a heap? Is that metric or English?

    Reminds me of a great news article in a Russian newspaper:

    Island of Aphrodite Is Breeding Opportunity

  8. WysiWyg says:

    Actually, I think it might be a case of the same way good horror-writer let’s the reader use their imagination to fill in the blanks.

    It starts out with the childporn, so that everyone knows that he’s the devil reincarnated, and then you can pick which one of the facts that suits your moral as to what is wrong and evil.

  9. Joe says:

    “Where is this UNEMPLOYED guy getting the money for all of this high-tech equipment?”

    My guess: Selling child porn. The sale of legal pornography is ludicrously lucrative. I don’t know much about the economics of child porn, but if it’s at all analogous to pharmaceuticals (where the legal industry is ludicrously lucrative, and the illegal industry is super-ludicrous), then I’m sure someone dedicated to the pursuit could make a pretty penny at it. As a bonus, it’s tax-free. The downsides are a strict requirement for a chaotic evil alignment, and the certainty that if you are ever discovered, you will be universally despised, incarcerated, and most likely brutally killed. From what few facts we have, it looks like this guy wasn’t just a casual consumer, but a producer and distributor.

    Actually, I shouldn’t say “few facts”. There are plenty of facts. What’s lacking is the cohesive framework to hold them all together. Although, sometimes it’s good not to have that cohesive framework. That tends to be the hallmark of a persuasive style of writing, where the author attempts to fit facts together in order to convince the reader of things that may or may not be true. If my news reporting has to fall somewhere on the continuum between persuasive propaganda and disjointed reiteration of facts, I’d rather them err on the side of disjointed. But that’s just me…

  10. Shamus says:

    Joe: Interesting points, both on where he gets his money and why grocery lists of facts are good.

  11. C David Dent says:

    @Joe:
    But isn’t the selling of child porn (regardless of its legality) still a job? The article implied that he was unemployed – a state that implies a lack of income.

    As for throwing out a bunch of facts and allowing people to make their own conclusions reminds me of the parable of the three blind men and the elephant. Sometimes you have to provide a cohesive framework to appreciate where the whole is going.

  12. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    C David Dent:
    Actually, the reference to “unemployment” could have been made the same way as many of us are thinking the reference to “hard drive” was made: just as the writer (editor?) is unaware fo the difference between a hard drive and a computer they may also be unaware of the difference between self-employed (legally or otherwise) and slave..I mean, gainfully employed. Sorry…my dislike of working for the Man was showing. :)

    Alternately, the term unemployed could have been used here to indicate that he did not have a legal source of income. We were not told that he had an illegal one so maybe we were supposed (in the author’s mind) to infer the illegal nature of his money-making. On the other hand, I am not sure I can believe that a reporter so devious and underhanded really exists outside of the movies. Maybe.

    Richard

  13. James says:

    I think you will have a hard time arguing that producing and selling child porn is legitimate employment. What does this guy put on his income tax return? For that matter, I would put him in a similar category of lowlife as drug producers… are they legitimately employed also?

  14. Rich says:

    From what I recall from catching this on TV last night, he was secretly taping his stepdaughter and her friends in the bathroom. I wasn’t really watching it all too closely.

  15. Joe says:

    @C David Dent:
    Depends on your definition of “employment”. Until recently, my wife was considered by many as unemployed, but I personally referred to it as a job too important for W-2’s. I’d bet that what the paper means by this is that he’s collecting unemployment benefits, which just puts the cherry on top of the whole evil sundae. Kinda like the end of the charges against Lincoln F. Sternn “…and one moving violation.”

    As for the parable of the blind men and the elephant, that’s all fine and good when your cohesive framework is wrought around the concept of “this is an elephant.” When you ask the blind men “describe the pillars you just touched” you end up with one blind man who’s confident and wrong, and the rest are just confused, sitting around scratching their heads and saying “it seemed like a very… rope-like pillar??? WTF?” To me, it comes down to a matter of trusting my own ability to reason. I generally have more faith in my own reason than in others’. *Someone* has to judge whether the elephant in the dark is actually an elephant or a pillar, and I’d rather it be me than someone else. Actually, it’s not even necessarily about believing that I’m a better judge of darkened elephants than someone else. The English language does not do a good job of conveying degrees of uncertainty. Moreover, media tend to avoid the available facilities of the language when it comes to trying to convey uncertainty.

    To give a comparison: first, I personally experience an elephant’s leg. I think it’s somewhat pillar-like, but I’m really not sure.

    second, someone tells me “there was this thing, in the dark. It was rough, and round, and seemed very solid”, and maybe I think it sounds kinda like a pillar, but once again, I’m not sure.

    third, someone tells me “in the dark, there was a pillar that was rough and round and very solid.” So I think it’s a pillar. I’m just as wrong as I was the other two times, but this time I’m both wrong and *certain*. And to me, the chance of that happening is more of a liability than the chance of someone telling me that an elephant is an elephant when I wouldn’t have guessed it myself from the facts is an asset. Hope that makes some sense… I think I’ve drained this parable for all it’s worth now.

  16. ShadowDragon8685 says:

    Ummmm… Generally the Police have to have more to go on than an allegation to arrest someone. Since, you know, you could make the life of anyone you cared to harass miserable by getting a disposable cell phone and making an anonymous tip alleging that so and so (your enemy) molested someone.

    Though, if the room were to be used as a makeshift prison to hold, say, a kidnap victim in, I can see why you’d want a fingerprint scanner on both sides.

  17. Joshua says:

    “What does this guy put on his income tax return? For that matter, I would put him in a similar category of lowlife as drug producers… are they legitimately employed also?”

    Actually, having taken a tax accounting class, the IRS considers you obliged to report all of your illegally-gained income as well. They’re likely not going to turn around and give the info to the police(although it’s pretty good evidence if you are actually caught), but if you’re busted for dealing and didn’t report the income, they can throw on tax evasion charges as well. :)

    Interesting country, eh?

    • Darkstarr says:

      Even though I know pretty much nothing about the tax laws, I can attest to this–from what I know, it was the IRS that brought down Al Capone for tax evasion when the FBI couldn’t touch him.

      (Feel free to insert a “death and taxes” joke here…)

  18. “It didn’t even say the still images was the illegal sort of porn.”
    That should be “still images were…” This amuses me, given the context of the post. I wouldn’t say anything, but you mentioned “alleged molested”. :-)

  19. scragar says:

    that news story is completely useless from my point of view, the story doesn’t flow and there are no actual facts(asides from name and state, not very interesting unless you know the person), everything is either allegedly or vague.

  20. El Jaspero says:

    This is exactly why I’ve pretty much given up on my local newspaper and TV news: poorly written and edited material without context that it turns out doesn’t matter anyway.

  21. I’m having the same reaction to an article about a guy named McNair who was just captured in Canada. First, the article says he’s been on the run and taunting law enforcement for twenty years. Then it says he escaped in 2006. Huh?

  22. Shishberg says:

    Darcy:

    “My mom calls the whole computer case the “hard drive”. She gets irritated by my repeated attempts to correct her, too.”

    I had the same thought. And if you hadn’t gotten here first, I may well have written exactly that sentence. Although I probably would have said “annoyed” instead of “irritated”. And I would have said “mother”, or at least the Commonwealth spelling of “mum”.

  23. Shishberg says:

    Joshua:

    “Actually, having taken a tax accounting class, the IRS considers you obliged to report all of your illegally-gained income as well. They’re likely not going to turn around and give the info to the police(although it’s pretty good evidence if you are actually caught), but if you’re busted for dealing and didn’t report the income, they can throw on tax evasion charges as well. :)

    Interesting country, eh?”

    There was a story here (Australia) a few years ago where the tax office went after income tax from a convicted drug dealer. He then claimed as a deduction an amount of money that was stolen from him in a raid, or something along those lines.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/2968938.stm

    The funny thing at the time was the immediate public reaction of disgust that someone could claim a deduction on drug money. The fact that the tax office had already decided that it was taxable income, which is why the whole thing came up in the first place, was widely ignored.

  24. Wakela says:

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the headline.
    “New Jersey Police Seize ‘Huge’ Child Porn Stash”
    i.e. a porn stash of huge children. Not merely big, mind you, but HUGE.

  25. Nyxia says:

    “Investigators said they seized hundreds of thousands of pornographic images and videos of children that took up nearly 1,000 gigabytes of memory”
    !!!! How long has this dude been collecting these things? A WHOLE TB??? How long does it take to amass such a collection? He must be pretty dedicated. If that’s not a porn addiction, I don’t know what is.

  26. LeRoy says:

    About the headline, what’s with the quotation marks around huge? If even half of that 1T is child porn, that is seriously huge. It felt like the writer wasn’t sure what the average amount of child porn on a computer should be.

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