Hark, Hark: Thank God for Paula Lopez. With the town abuzz over her sudden disappearance and equally sudden re-emergence, we have ample conversational fodder for problems other than “sequestration,” the $85 billion equivalent of a swift kick between the legs.
Or who shot the young honky-vato gangbanger from Ventura on a Santa Barbara street just spitting distance from Santa Barbara High School. Or how it is that a sinkhole 20 feet deep and 20 feet wide managed to sneak up on a 37-year-old Florida man and swallow him whole as he slumbered in his bed. Or how it is that salmonella poisoning managed to taint a batch of yellow marshmallow eggs, precipitating a recall. I thought salmonella could only afflict actual food matter, not wholly synthetic materials found nowhere in nature.
Or I could mention that a scientist with the United States Geological Survey just issued a report insisting that what we don’t know about the seismic faults running near Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant could actually hurt us. This report stands in stark contrast to recent don’t-worry-be-happy edicts issued about Diablo Canyon by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But who would listen?
The only subject on anyone’s lips these days is the subject of Paula Lopez, the reigning queen of Santa Barbara TV news for more years than I have fingers and toes to count. To a certain extent, people are entitled, and such talk is to be expected. The manner in which the news was suddenly broken — and then unbroken — could not have been much worse. Likewise, I understand the concern that maybe the helicopter and dogs dispatched by the sheriff to find Lopez — who also happens to be married to Judge Frank Ochoa — might constitute preferential treatment. Still, I have to say I have been seriously creeped out by the nastiness of some of the remarks getting posted on the Internet. Yoikes! It makes me want to take a very long shower, but frankly, I doubt there’s enough water in the reservoir.
Let’s get one thing straight. When it comes to the actual facts surrounding the Paula Lopez incident, I don’t know jack. In that regard, I’m like all of you. We do know that late Wednesday afternoon, KEYT reported that Sheriff’s deputies, Search and Rescue teams, dogs, and a helicopter were out beating the bushes for Lopez, and had been since 10 a.m. that day. A family member was said to have spoken to her a half-hour earlier. The story instantly became all the buzz with a capital B. Not just here, but all over the world as media outlets picked up the case of the mysteriously missing anchorwoman.
Immediately, people were struck by how briefly Lopez had been missing. Would they get similar treatment if one of their relatives went out to buy a pack of cigarettes and didn’t come back in time for Jeopardy? A reasonable question. Then, in about two hours, it was announced that Lopez had returned and that the family would have nothing more to say on the subject.
The chattering masses went ballistic. They wanted explanations. Failing that, they’d conjure up every nasty scenario a human brain can conjure and post them on any available website.
The Sheriff’s Department denied preferential treatment. They send out the copters — in this case only one — and the dogs, they explained, when they deem someone is at risk. There is no policy of waiting 24 hours. That’s strictly TV stuff. In this case, the sheriff deemed Lopez at risk because she might need medical attention. What kind, exactly? Who knows. I asked how many times the copter was sent out to look for a missing person before 24 hours had elapsed. That, I was told, would take a lot of time to determine.
Whatever the facts, one can’t help but feel for Lopez. Clearly she’s going through something, and who wants their something to become grist for such angry, snarky commentary? Being in the news business doesn’t change that, nor does being married to a judge. We all go through things. We all have experiences about which we won’t lie, but neither will we tell the truth. Sometimes the tent poles of life can no longer keep the sky from falling.
No doubt, in hindsight, it would have been nice had Lopez had made it a public teaching moment. Kind of like how former Mayor Marty Blum used her public position when she went through a double mastectomy because of breast cancer. And maybe Lopez still can. But for the time being, give her some space and let her breathe.
In the meantime, it would probably behoove the Sheriff’s Department to provide a clear and detailed accounting of all the times the copter and dogs were sent out in the past year, for whom, and under what circumstances. It would be interesting to know how often the copter stayed on the ground. I have a hard time imagining the sheriff didn’t respond a little faster given the identities of the parties involved. Last time I checked, that was the way the world worked. The good news, I suppose, is that the treatment afforded Paula Lopez will now become the level of service to which we will all expect to become accustomed.