News

Story on rescue squad volunteer who was former porn star to cost TV station $325,000

UPDATE

Some people think I’ve lost my mind in defending the TV station on this one. Most of those complaining about my view believe the news media had no business covering this to begin with, claiming it was a trashy, tabloid story and that it’s no one’s business if Tracy Rolan was a former porn star.

Here’s my reply. The FCC didn’t issue a fine based on anyone’s opinion of what news is. They aren’t in the business of being news editors. Their fine is based solely on three seconds of a small image that was accidentally aired showing a man’s penis being fondled. OSHA often levies fines of less than $30,000 for violations after a civilian or even a firefighter dies. No one died here. No one’s life was permanently altered by that short clip shown on TV. Seems to me the government has this one backwards.

EARLIER

In June of 2012, our good friend Willie Wines Jr. at IronFiremen.com ran a story about Tracy Rolan who was an EMT trainee at Cave Spring Volunteer Rescue Squad in Roanoke County, Virginia. Rolan was previously known as Harmony Rose, a porn star who had appeared in many videos.

As you can imagine, that story was of great interest not only in fire and EMS circles but for the general public. In fact, a local Roanoke TV station is still getting reaction to that story. The reaction is coming from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Yesterday (Monday) the FCC proposed a fine of $325,000 against WDBJ-TV for a three second clip in the Harmony Rose story  that showed an actress “stroking an erect penis” (read entire FCC ruling here).

VA Roanoke County Rose

 IronFiremen.com story on Harmony Rose

WDBJ-TV response to FCC

Our friend Willie was much more tasteful in his approach to the story, showing Ms. Rose in a black bra and panties and involved in no sexual activity. As you can imagine, WDBJ-TV intended to be just as tasteful in its 6:00 p.m. newscast but a video editor made a mistake.  When the photojournalist grabbed the images of Harmony Rose from an adult website he failed to notice that there were small boxes on the side of the screen that showed other videos. And that’s where you see the woman and the penis.

The FCC has gone a little overboard on this one. No TV station is going to intentionally air such graphic material. This was a mistake by one person and should not cost WDBJ-TV $325,000. Ridiculous.

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Something like this almost happened to me in the mid 1990s but it did not involve pornography. I was covering a murder in a forest near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania one Sunday. Before we raced back to Washington for our 6:30 p.m. newscast, photojournalist Greg Guise shot my on-camera portion of the story, known as a stand-up, very quickly.

In the edit booth, about three minutes before air, Greg put in the stand-up close of the story and began to rewind the tape (before digital non-linear editing). Something caught my eye and I told Greg to look at that stand-up again. He balked because we were the lead story. I insisted.

Sure enough, in the background standing at the edge of the woods, there was a hunter taking a leak. Greg was able to quickly slap on an alternate take and the story aired with no problem. But if I hadn’t been paying close attention, it’s likely WUSA-TV would have also received a hefty fine for transmitting a small image of a penis to TV sets in and around the Nation’s Capital and Greg and I would have had much shorter careers in TV news.

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