Sad songs, media say so much

LA Observed contributor Victor Merina writes from Nashville, where he is on assignment

Here in Music City, much of the conversation around town and on sports talk shows this past week revolved around a baseball player from Los Angeles who pitched for a team in New York and who never made it to supper in Nashville.

When his small plane exploded into the side of a Manhattan high-rise last Wednesday, the event made Cory Lidle a worldwide name even as many of us first sighed with the guilty relief that it wasn’t another terrorist attack. Instead, we learned the doomed aircraft belonged to a New York Yankees pitcher who died in the tragedy along with his flying instructor.

The 34-year-old Lidle was raised in West Covina and lived with his wife and young son in Glendora, cities that many people who cannot be bothered with the niceties of California geography find easier to just shorthand as L.A.

But for much of the media here in Nashville, chasing this dramatic story from afar, geography was indeed important because of that much sought-after journalistic twist that can turn a global story of disaster into a close-to-home reminder of personal loss.

It’s what journalists call “the local angle.” And it was reflected in last Thursday’s front page headline in The Tennessean that simply said: “Pilot bound here” ­ three words above a five-column color photo of a burning skyscraper on New York’s Upper East Side.

The subhead told the rest of the story in what could almost pass as the local vernacular: “Crash ends Yanks pitcher’s trip to visit poker buddy.”

In this media-drenched age, those words and that image were variations of a sad tale that the twin worlds of news and sports found themselves churning out as the storyline went from possible terrorism to tragic accident. All other matters aside, what we had at the simplest level was the story of a man planning to visit a friend before making his way home to see his family after a long season of work ­ and never getting there.

That friend was identified as David Whitis, who met Lidle at a poker game in Las Vegas where they quickly bonded. Whitis was preparing to pick him at the Nashville airport when he got a phone call to turn on the television and watch the wall-to-wall coverage. Across country, Lidle’s father in Covina was reportedly learning about his son’s death in much the same way.

The reach and efficiency of the media brought the news and all the grim details even to those who fervently wished it weren’t so. But that is what the media do so well, especially in this broadcast age of continual news updates crawling on the bottom of our screen as
reporters do live shots from the field and news readers look at us earnestly from their anchor desk.

The media inform us swiftly and repeatedly. They take our eyes and ears and reluctant psyches to the scene of any carnage. They pounce on a story and drive it exhaustively ­ and they often wrap the news in a quick narrative of life and sudden death.

In the case of Cory Lidle, the shorthand tale was of a journeyman pitcher playing for the most publicized team in baseball on board a tiny plane that had plunged into the heart of an already nervous Manhattan. He planned to rejoin his family in California. He hoped to see his poker pal in Nashville. He intended to stay the one night here at the city’s historic Union Station hotel. He would do none of those things. Instead, Cory Lidle’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday.

The storyline would be the stuff of country songs that abound here in Music City if it weren’t so awful to contemplate and so painfully sad to hear. Even in our thirst for news, some of us media-minded folks can still tell the real heartbreak from the musical kind.

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