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Washington’s full of journalists, but it’s sadly lacking in a certain kind of media type: the histrionic local TV news “I-Team” reporter. D.C. has the requisite corrupt politicians, so why can’t we get somebody to ambush them with a microphone and camera crew?
Maybe we’re about to. When I first heard that WUSA9 reporter and Anderson Cooper lookalike Russ Ptacek was doing a story on cab drivers who won’t pick up black passengers, I groaned. What was there new to report on? Cabs have been refusing to pick up black passengers for as long as there have been hack licenses.
Judging by a portion already posted online, though, Ptacek’s investigation has that special blend of serious issues and theater that makes for a good local TV investigation. Ptacek has two men, one white and one black, stand about 20 feet from each other on a busy street. When the black man asks to be taken to Alabama Avenue SE, the driver refuses. But when the white guy asks a few minutes later, the cabbie agrees to take him.
Suddenly, Ptacek’s in the middle of the street with his head in the taxi, questioning the driver like he’s Chris Hansen and the cabbie’s holding wine coolers and condoms. The cab driver doesn’t put up much of a defense, explaining that he doesn’t pick up “brothers” because the last time he did, his passenger stiffed him on the bill. When Ptacek asks why he would take a white fare instead of a black one, he claims that he didn’t even realize that his passenger was white.
Ptacek’s investigation, with 40 cabs tested, airs at 11 tonight. Hopefully, it’s just the latest in a long line of Ptacek confronting villains for viewers’ entertainment.