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Ineptitude rules as NBC6 airs police misinformation about CL

WCNC reporter Nicole Allshouse isn't one of those journalists who lets mere facts, or the necessity of confirming them, stand in the way of a good story. And like Allshouse, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Detective Ginger Lowe isn't the kind of person to let inconvenient facts hamper her latest criminal crusade. Put the two together and you've got a hatchet job waiting to happen.

That's what occurred last Tuesday, March 16, during an NBC6 newscast. The staff at Creative Loafing is still trying to figure out if the story that resulted from a team effort by the talented pair was a poorly thought-out hit piece, or an example of what can result when really sloppy reporting and really bad detective work collide.

Either way, the result was a televised news story that claimed Creative Loafing contributed to prostitution problems in South End because CL had run ads for massage spas, including two, Bahama Spa and Belle Spa, at which prostitution arrests have been made over the last two weeks.

Over the course of the NBC6 story, Allshouse prominently displayed CL's logo and the logos of various spas from ads in the back of the paper, claiming that the vice unit had contacted CL in the past and asked us to stop running the ads. Other than the fact that the first we heard of the problem was from NBC6 on the day of the newscast (Lowe didn't actually call anyone at CL until two hours before the broadcast), there are other problems.

What WCNC and Lowe didn't mention in any of the three versions of the story that ran, although both were aware of it, was that the Charlotte Observer -- with four times the circulation of CL -- runs the same ads on its sports pages.

As a matter of fact, in the two weeks before Lowe and Allshouse trashed CL on the news, CL ran a total of 17 spa ads in the back half of the paper. During that same period, the Observer ran 43 massage spa ads in its sports pages, including 10 ads for Belle Spa. In fact, the Belle ad ran in the daily paper on the day of the WCNC story. Yet the Observer ads didn't merit a single mention by Allshouse or Lowe in the station's stories.

In an interview with CL three days after the WCNC story ran, Detective Lowe claimed that she would "call any other publication that's advertising for these people" and ask them to stop. When asked why she hadn't called the Observer to ask the paper to stop running ads for Belle, Lowe claimed that she couldn't find any ads for Belle or any of the other spas at which the department had made arrests in the Observer.

"I just checked the Observer yesterday and they only had two and we haven't made cases on those two," Lowe said.

She's right. The Observer didn't run an ad for Belle Spa on Thursday, the day Lowe checked the paper. But the Observer did run Belle Spa ads, as well as 14 others, for three days in a row before that, as well as on most weekdays during the past couple of months.

When we pointed this out to the ace detective, not once but twice, she finally became exasperated and asked, "What are you wantin'?" before hanging up on us.

As of Friday, neither Lowe nor her boss, Captain Tim Jayne, had bothered to call the Observer about the ads, despite the fact that both had been made aware of them, which leads us to wonder what the vice unit is more interested in combating -- Creative Loafing or prostitution.

"My people do monitor and do look at the (Observer) and try to track who is advertising what and where, but if we were to call the Observer and say look, we made an arrest at Belle and they don't immediately yank the advertising, it is not for us to say good or bad," Jayne said. "I know how hard especially that one detective works and she has a huge responsibility with the number of sexually oriented businesses that are operating in this city and I'm asking one person to do a whole lot of work, so if she missed a couple of days where one paper ran it and the other one didn't or whatever, I really can't fault her for that."

When contacted on Monday, six days after the WCNC story ran, the Observer sales manager we spoke to was still unaware of the Belle Spa arrests. Unless vice officers contact their paper, an Observer sales manager told CL, sales representatives wouldn't know that the police have made arrests at these spas unless they happened to hear about it. The same applies at Creative Loafing.

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