Bad Week for Good News

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

We've been away from this spot for a couple of weeks, but in that time the summer's run of disturbing local news hasn't eased up a bit.

There's been a gruesome and tragic streak of murder and mayhem. Martin Luther King-Harbor Hospital was finally told to close, leaving the vast flats of South Los Angeles without a functioning emergency room.

Of course it was always hard to know whether Killer King really deserved the label of functioning. But at least it was there if you had a car accident or a heart attack, or got hit by a stray bullet.

It had to shut down after the feds declared what the county Board of Supervisors never could -- that running a vital urban hospital as a community jobs program just doesn't work.

So far this summer we've also all learned that there's an epidemic of rats at the Angels' home stadium in Anaheim -- and of bed bugs just about everywhere.

We've become acquainted with a pedophile who has a camera and a website -- and who keeps being spotted uncomfortably close to children. He was finally arrested outside an infant care center at UCLA. And again later that night after being featured on the 10 o'clock news at Channel 5.

Summer took its own sad turn for the people at Channel 5 when their beloved anchor and managing editor passed away. Hal Fishman had filled the anchor chair -- and set the newsroom culture at KTLA -- since 1975.

He was a familiar face on local television for longer than that.

His break in TV news came when he was invited as a young college professor to report on the Democratic convention in Los Angeles. The one where John Kennedy was nominated at the Sports Arena in Exposition Park -- in 1960.

After being around for so long, Fishman's passing brought out heartfelt, emotional reactions from viewers. Hundreds and hundreds of them sent in memories to the station's website.

The producers seemed determined not to let the outpouring end -- or to lose the ratings boost. They have been re-airing Fishman's old commentaries all week, reminding us of his thoughts on subjects like carpool lanes and the arrest of rapper Snoop Dogg.

If you ever watched Hal, you probably know he was a pilot who covered every last scrap of aviation news. He intoned with great seriousness whether the story was a minor mishap on the taxiway or a major catastrophe.

I found myself wondering how he would have reacted to one of the most infuriating stories of the week -- the shutdown of international arrivals at LAX due to a bad computer.

I know how it made me feel -- embarrassed.

Seventeen thousand passengers were stranded in their planes for hours because agents for Homeland Security could not screen for terrorists or other unwanted visitors.

Imagine flying across an ocean to land in Los Angeles, eager to get home or catch your next flight -- or to start your vacation in California. Then imagine sitting on the ground most of the day, stuck a few yards from your destination, not knowing what's going on.

It got so bad that airport officials set up a crisis center and put forty ambulances and plenty of cops on standby. Jets were re-fueled on the tarmac just so they could keep using their air conditioning.

The post-mortem analysis of what went wrong has not been encouraging. It took four hours for a computer tech from Sprint to arrive, and only then did they find out he couldn't fix the problem.

The cause of this global black eye for Los Angeles wasn't anything dramatic like a system crash or a security breach. Nah, it was just a single malfunctioning network card in one computer.

It took the geniuses who protect us from the terrorists all day to figure this out. And do you think they had laptops on hand to work around the single bad computer? No they didn't.

Sounds like human error to me.

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this has been LA Observed.