M. Alex Johnson – Journalist at Large

An analog journalist in a digital world

Archive for the ‘Original’ Category

Michigan man may have intentionally infected hundreds with HIV

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Leon Hendrix of NBC station WOOD-TV of Grand Rapids, Mich., spoke to one of the possible victims.

Update: Smith’s attorney says he plans on “exploring all options” in defending Smith, saying specifically, “I am concerned about his mental health.”


Over at msnbc.com, I have the bizarre story of a Michigan man with HIV who’s been charged with sex crimes after he told police he intentonally set out to kill as many people as he could by having sex with them.

According to documents on file with Grand Rapids 61st District Court, Smith claimed to have had sex with “thousands” of partners, intending to kill them by infecting them with HIV. Some of those people are from outside the Grand Rapids area, including people Smith met over the Internet, he told police, according to documents.

Smith faces separate preliminary hearings on the two charges on Jan. 4 and Jan. 9. He remains in the Kent County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bond. Smith’s attorney did not answer calls seeking comment.

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Written by Alex

December 30, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Police Blotter of the Day: Bull shot to death after daring meat-plant escape

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Cross-posted from msnbc.com, where it originally appeared:

By M. Alex Johnson, msnbc.com

An animal control officer shot and killed a bull Thursday after it escaped on its way to a Maryland meat processing plant, charged a sheriff’s deputy and damaged a patrol car, authorities said.

The bull escaped Thursday morning in Mount Airy, Md., about 50 miles north of Washington, as it was being led from a truck into the plant, said Brian Horton, a spokesman for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office.

According to the sheriff’s incident report, the bull broke free, charged a bystander and ran off in the general direction of a day care center. Deputies followed him into a nearby field, where he then charged one of the deputies.

“Fearing for their safety, a deputy discharged two rounds from a shotgun, striking the bull, and causing him to retreat into a wooded area,” the report said. A county animal control officer then finished him off with two more shots.

Besides the bull, the only casualty was the taillight on a deputy’s cruiser, which the bull slammed into as he eluded attempts to corral him. The body of the bull — presumably no longer fit for human consumption as it was by then lead-contaminated — was released back to its owner.

Written by Alex

December 29, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Judge allows media to live-tweet Sandusky hearing

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Senior Judge John Cleland has reversed himself and says he will allow news organizations to report the preliminary hearing for former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky  through Twitter, email and text messages.

Pennsylvania law bans “transmission of communications from the courtroom by telephone, radio, television, or advanced communication technology,” but at a hearing Monday requested by news organizations, Cleland appeared to carve out an exception for live electronic text reporting, deciding that the ban applied to “neither ‘tweeting’ or the simultaneous transmission of a reporter’s account or impression of events as they occur in the courtroom.”

The state rule is intended to bar “an audio and/or visual record” of events, Cleland ruled — not the actual reporting of the news.

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Written by Alex

December 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Reporting: New diet rules curb Meals on Wheels

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Cross-posted from msnbc.com, where it originally appeared.

Federal guidelines meant to help Americans eat healthier foods are straining Meals on Wheels and other nonprofits already laboring to make sure the elderly get enough to eat at all.

Lanakila Meals on Wheels in Honolulu, Hawaii, already has a waiting list of 90 people, most of them elderly, who have asked for food the organization can’t afford to provide.

The program can always use more volunteers, but what it really needs now is money. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alex

November 29, 2011 at 10:16 am

Reporting: For some churches, the Internet clicks; for others it doesn’t

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Over at msnbc.com, I have a long piece examining how religious institutions regard the Internet and especially social media:

[T]he Catholic Church has a long history of being an early adopter of new forms of media, going back to the 1920s, when Catholic priests pioneered radio evangelism, Campbell said.

At the same time, other religious institutions, especially traditional U.S. Protestant denominations, are still sorting through the challenges as well as the opportunities posed by the Internet, and particularly social media, according to church leaders and administrators.

“I think there’s a lot of groups trying to figure it out,” said John Davidson, a fundraising and ministry consultant for churchextension.org, which supports the ministry of the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ.

I talked to the Rev. Bobby Gruenewald, the “innovation leader” at LifeChurch.tv, a very sophisticated worldwide online ministry. He pinpoints the divide this way:

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Written by Alex

November 23, 2011 at 9:21 am

Development of a news story: Is Obama’s high-speed rail a ‘train to nowhere’?

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Over at msnbc.com, I have a piece looking at the status of President Obama’s ambitious project to bring high-speed rail — think Japan’s bullet trains — to most of the country by 2034.

The assignment was to write about the ballooning costs estimates for the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco project, which has been widely covered. So the challenge was to find A) a new angle on a story everyone already knows about and B) a way to make an infrastructure budget story — a known click repellent — interesting.

The first part was relatively easy: Let’s put the California project into a national context and see what, if anything, it says about Obama’s overall plan. The second part was a little harder.

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Written by Alex

November 7, 2011 at 9:30 am

Crackheads aren’t coming to get you

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I tell MSNBC's Craig Melvin why sentences for crack will be closer to penalties for powder cocaine.

Cross-posted from msnbc.com’s Open Channel investigative blog, where it originally appeared:

No, thousands of “crackheads” aren’t going to start flooding America’s streets Tuesday.

That’s just one of several myths that have surrounded the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s vote in June to make federal sentence reductions retroactive for current prisoners convicted of crack possession or use.

What happens Tuesday is that some eligible federal prisoners who have petitioned for reduced sentences under rules Congress passed last year can begin being released. Those rules sought to address a disparity that meant crack offenders were given the same mandatory five-year minimum sentence as were offenders in possession of 100 times as much powder cocaine.

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Written by Alex

November 1, 2011 at 9:52 am