Sunday, September 21, 2014

The 5 Most WTF Moments of @NYTimes TV Critic Alessandra Stanley's Career

Stanley photo courtesy of Gawker
As many of you all probably know, New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley wrote a bizarrely racist and condescending article this week about Shonda Rhimes, who I have praised previously for her devotion to diversifying the television landscape with her dramas: Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, and Private Practice. In the article, Stanley calls Rhimes an "angry black woman" before proceeding to give her what is essentially a giant backhanded compliment. Stanley defended her work to Buzzfeed by saying, "“The whole point of the piece — once you read past the first 140 characters — is to praise Shonda Rhimes for pushing back so successfully on a tiresome but insidious stereotype." However, Stanley's piece centered around a racist trope, exposing more about her own outdated views than providing any type of relevant commentary about Rhimes. I will not link to the NYTimes piece, because I do not want to give them traffic, but here is a critique from Vulture that sums up what happened in case you missed it.


Numerous media outlets have already broken down how offensive and out of touch the article was, so I'm not going to go there. But what I want to talk about is how baffling it is that Alessandra Stanley is still employed at New York Times, a supposedly prestigious publication. After this Shonda Rhimes article, there is no doubt that its prestige is being questioned. After all, how can readers respect an entity that would publish an article based on an old racist stereotype and that keeps on payroll a writer who is referred to as "America's Wrongest Critic" by Gawker because of her inability to fact check. It appears that New York Times was just trolling, but did they really need to degrade themselves just for clickbait? It's annoying when people criticize publications such as TMZ for their salacious content, but TMZ does not posture like the New York Times does, nor does it tolerate factual inaccuracies.

Many may have not been aware of Stanley before the Rhimes article put her into the spotlight, but Stanley has a long history of being terrible at her job. In 2009, her appraisal of Walter Cronkite was riddled with so many glaring errors that Public Editor of the New York Times, Clark Hoyt, had to issue an explanation about what went wrong. Amazingly, Stanley was allowed to keep her job even though Hoyt said, "The short answer (to "how did this happen?") is that a television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work, and editors who should have been vigilant were not."

Although Stanley is covering entertainment, it is amazing that New York Times has not fired her for her lack of professionalism as a journalist. Misspellings and mistakes happen, but her mistakes are ones that could have easily been avoided and the number of her errors are large. The blog, NYTPicker , which is written by journalism insiders, speculated in 2009 why the incompetent Stanley was able to keep her job, "Hoyt also neglects to mention Stanley's longstanding close ties to the NYT's power structure, especially her membership in a close-knit group of friends that includes managing editor Jill Abramson, columnist Maureen Dowd, and book critic Michiko Kakutani. Last winter, Dowd -- whose own recent plagiarism troubles were whitewashed by Hoyt and NYT management -- wrote a travel piece about a spa vacation in Florida she took with Stanley. Do those relationships contribute to Stanley's job security? They can't hurt." Who knows if NYTPicker's speculation is true. All I know is that I wish I could keep publicly fucking up on my job and never getting fired. Her ability to stay employed is actually quite remarkable.

Below are some of Stanley's most high-profile gaffes in chronological order:

 
In 2005, Stanley falsely stated that Geraldo Rivera pushed a rescue worker out of the way to get a good camera shot during Hurricane Katrina coverage.
The New York Times published in 2008 an Alessandra Stanley entertainment article that incorrectly stated the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2002, not 2003.

Alessandra Stanley's 2009 piece about Walter Cronkite had factual errors which included the wrong dates for the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and the day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.
In 2012, Stanley was called out for her critique of the episode of Ann Curry's last day on NBC "Today" show. She was forced to admit that she saw the episode but didn't record it so she ended up just watching a highlight reel online.
In September 2014, readers were shocked that the racist micro-aggression passed off as an article "Wrought in Their Creator’s Image: Viola Davis Plays Shonda Rhimes’s Latest Tough Heroine" was not only published but based off the error that Shonda Rhimes created the TV show "How To Get Away with Murder."


Sources for this article include:

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

Alessandra Stanley’s troubling history of error
- See more at: http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/wrong_wrong_wrong_wrong_wrong.php?page=all#sthash.pfwQVEMm.dpuf

Friday, September 19, 2014

Off-duty cop kills neighborhood dog, gets released; owners are ticketed for "animal at large"

It seemed like a normal Thursday evening on the 6900 block of East 18th Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a neighborhood full of families and young working adults. Parents played with their children in their yards, and other people relaxed outside, enjoying the hot end days of summer.

However, September 11, 2014 was not like any other day. On this early evening, the sound of two gun shots burst through the air, causing parents to grab their terrified children and hurry inside.

According to eyewitness Amber Hobbs, a man and woman were walking their dog when a 75 pound pit pull terrier mix named Titus came up to greet them. What happened next shocked her.  "No threat was present when the man pulled his gun out and shot the other dog!" Hobbs said. "Then he leaned over the dog and shot it in the head! Children were all out in the neighborhood, including my niece and nephew. The owners of (Titus) came out to call their dog and saw him dead. All the shooter said was, "That's your dog?" The owners were of course hysterical."

The owner of Titus was Nicholas "Nick" Blazek, a young man with big brown eyes who works as a machinist. He had loved his faithful companion since Titus was a puppy. Blazek lived with his girlfriend, Sarah Slane, a pretty woman in her twenties with long red hair and an infectious smile. In an interview with Tulsa World, Blazek recalled Titus as a "friendly dog who would sleep in bed with them." As they stared in horror at their dead dog on the street, it was clear to neighbors that they had lost a family member.
Slane and Blazek (photo courtesy of Facebook)
Titus with a family friend. (photo courtesy of Slane's Facebook)


Titus was gunned down by an off-duty police officer who Slane states she had not seen in the neighborhood prior to the shooting. On Slane's Facebook, she states that the officer's name is Adam Lovell, but the Tulsa Police Department ("TPD") has not confirmed this. Because the name of the shooter was not released publicly, I was unable to locate him to obtain his statement.

Although owners Blazek and Slane did not see the shooting, another eyewitness came forward to share a story similar to Hobb's. Grant Holm, told Tulsa World  that he saw Titus run towards the off-duty police officer with "his tail wagging." Holm said to Tulsa World, "Titus went to the (officer's) large dog and appeared to be greeting the other animal from a submissive posture with its head down. The officer pulled on his dog’s leash, rearing the animal up onto its hind legs. Titus then moved to fill the void created by the officer pulling on the leash. The man, as smooth as you please, reached behind him, pointed (a handgun), put it up to the dog and shot it in the head or neck area, and Titus immediately went down. As Titus lay in the grass, moving his legs and yelping, he (the officer) bent down, aimed at it and shot it in the head with everybody in shock." Like Hobbs, Holm said that the shooting frightened the neighbors and that the officer didn't ask any questions before pulling out his gun.

The alleged shooter (photo courtesy of Slane's FB)
According to news sources, when the police arrived on the scene to investigate, the off-duty police officer stated that he felt threatened by the dog so he acted in self-defense. He was then let go. Slane took a photo of the alleged shooter (see right), and behind him is his female friend and his dog, an adult German Shepherd. Based on the size of the German Shepherd, one had to wonder why the shooter did not allow his own dog to protect him from Titus if Titus really was posing a threat.

After the off-duty police officer was let go, Blazek and Slane on the other hand were issued a citation for animal at large. The reason being that Titus had escaped their yard. Slane said, "The off-duty officer said absolutely nothing to us. He wouldn't give us his name or any info. There were no apologies or a flicker of emotion. The officers that showed up on the scene were rude and automatically on his side. They didn't want to listen to us or our witnesses, but when it came to hearing him they all surrounded him and gave him time to explain."

Blazek and Slane were devastated by the loss of Titus, and the next day, Friday, September 12, they filed a complaint with the police department's internal affairs. "This is a Tulsa Police Department problem," Slane said. "He is a crazy, trigger happy officer. If he wasn't being looked at as an officer, but as a civilian, then why wasn't he arrested or charged with unlawful use of his weapon as city ordinance states? We hope that they (the Tulsa Police Department) do their job properly and follow through with criminal charges, remove him from the police department, and that he is not able to bare arms again. We plan to file a civil suit if internal affairs doesn't follow through with justice."

Although it is not being implied that a life of an animal is equivalent to a life of a human being, this story eerily echoes the stories of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri and Trayvon Martin of Sanford, Florida. In all three cases, men shot and killed because of perceived threats in situations that witnesses state did not warrant gun fire. The Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin cases were divisive in America because of their racial nature, and some chose to see Brown or Martin not as unarmed victims but as "thugs" who appeared dangerous. Like Titus, these victims were guilty of nothing but looking a certain way and coming across the wrong person; and like Titus, despite witness accounts, the law tended to favor the word of the shooter instead of the voices of the witnesses. 

Overall, these shooting show how fear can spring from anything and that no person is truly safe because unnecessary fear in the hands of those with guns can lead to unnecessary violence. And the scary thing about these three situations is that the three shooters supposedly were devoted to "serve and protect," but if they are so quick with their guns, who will protect the citizens from them?

Before the incident, Slane respected the police, but now she views them with suspicion. "I have always stood up for the police, gave them respect, and felt they were here to serve us; but that is no longer how I feel," she said. "We are in fear they have doctored all they can to protect their own, we are in fear of "unexplained harassment," and we are always looking over our shoulder now; and it's a shame to fear the ones we should fear the least."

Officer Leland Ashley, a media representative of the Tulsa Police Department (TPD), stated on Monday September 15 that the off-duty police officer was not put on administrative leave because of this incident and that the case is not being investigated further. "The officer was off duty (a citizen) who stated he felt threatened when he shot the dog. His actions were not  TPD related," Ashley said. 

So it appears that Blazek and Slane will not see justice for Titus, at least not from the police department. While NFL players like Ray Rice, who commit domestic violence, can be removed from their positions because of their actions in their personal life; apparently that is not the case for a police officer that has such a fearful temperament that he would open fire in a neighborhood full of children to protect himself from a happy-go-lucky dog. Regardless of being on or off duty, the police department should investigate his gun use.  

Because the officer has not been identified, the community in Tulsa will just have to wait and hope that the shooter will not "feel threatened" again. But the main question here is: when will he finally be held accountable? If video emerges of the Titus incident? If he takes the life of a human being? Or if concerned citizens contact Tulsa Police Department's Internal Affairs themselves, asking for them to consider the danger of allowing an officer with poor judgment to wear a badge? If you are one of those concerned citizens and want to act now, please click here and let TPD know that you want justice for Titus and that you want Tulsa to be a safer place.
The ticket issued to Blazek courtesy of Blazek's Facebook

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Surviving LA on a Budget: Top 10 Summer Events of 2014

Steven Wong and Golda Criddle
Steven Wong and Golda Criddle have devoted three years of their lives documenting fun things to do in Los Angeles that are either free or inexpensive on their blog, "Surviving LA on a Budget." Being experts on the Los Angeles scene, I asked them to compile a list of their top 10 recommendations of things to do in the summer in Los Angeles, and I was surprised at how many things I have yet to explore! Oh well, there's always next year (or in some instances like Tokyo Status, even after the summer.) Check out their guest post below, and if you like what you read, you can connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.



The Top 10 L.A. Summer Events of 2014 by Steven Wong and Golda Criddle:

Downtown LA Artwalk: Of course the original Art Walk has to be on this list! DTLA Artwalk is a free, self-guided tour of Los Angeles art that takes over Downtown LA every month. Held on the second Thursday of every month, the city comes alive with over 40 art galleries. Many of the events take place between 2nd and 9th Streets. Sometimes galleries have goodies such as free swag, wine, or snacks so it pays to see them all! There is often a food truck area with some of the best eats in town as well as an occasional fashion or jewelry truck. DTLA Artwalk galleries are usually open from around noon until 10pm. Be sure to check out the DTLA Artwalk’s main page for information on September’s upcoming event!

Tokyo Status: Originally located in Long Beach, Tokyo Status is a monthly rock showcase in Little Tokyo and Pasadena that is hosted by Japanese-American band Lolita Dark. For $10 to $15, Tokyo Status offers drinks, live rock music, and karaoke contests with a unique airline theme complete with flight attendants and Tokyo Status passports.

Yamashiro Farmers Market: This is a Hollywood hidden gem and a great place to take a date. This farmers market is held every Thursday in the Hollywood Hills. It’s so hidden that you have to take a shuttle from the Mosaic Church parking lot to get to the market! It’s different from other farmers markets in Los Angeles because it takes place at night and has a full service bar, live entertainment, and beautiful views of the city. The market has over 20 vendors in food, shopping, and more to explore. The Yamashiro Farmer Market lasts from late May to early September from 5pm to 9pm. Grab an Asian-inspired cocktail at the bar, and get ready for a romantic night!

dineLA: dineLA happens twice a year in Los Angeles, and one of the periods usually falls in mid-July. It is a great time to sample many different courses at some of the best restaurants in the city. Restaurants offer fixed price meals including appetizers, entrees, and desserts for both lunch and dinner. Prices usually range from $15 to $45 depending on the restaurant and the time of day you attend. dineLA is typically held for 12 days in Los Angeles and all of its surrounding regions. This year’s dineLA may have passed, but the good news is you don’t have to wait until next summer because the next period has been teased to come in Winter 2015.

Rubber Duck: Of course it's only appropriate that our list includes an event specific to this summer such as a public viewing of a 61-foot rubber duck! This floating sculpture was designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman in 2007 and has traveled around the world to promote peace, including France, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, Belgium, Australia, Hong Kong, and from August 20 to September 7, in Los Angeles!  The duck spent most of its time in the Port of Los Angeles for the Tall Ships Festival, but it made a last-minute stop at Banning's Landing as well.  Except during the Tall Ships Festival from August 20 to 24, it's completely free to view and take photos of this majestic duck!

Cinespia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetary: You know you’ve always wanted to watch great movies in a cemetery. It sounds creepy, but it’s actually a great venue to see some of the classics. Every summer from May to September, Cinespia has a great selection of films to watch on the big screen. Even better, you can bring food and drinks to have a picnic at the cemetery. One time, we went to Cinespia for July 4, and there were even fireworks on-site. Tickets are $14 with parking available at the Paramount Lot for $8 or on-site for $15 although we recommend just street parking nearby to stay within a budget. 

LA County Fair: The LA County Fair is held in late August and early September every summer. There are many options for those who choose to attend the fair: live music, rides, and attractions. Attractions include a petting zoo, horse racing, a shark tank, and more. The LA County Fair is probably most known for its food, particularly in the fried variety. We’ve seen everything from fried Oreos to fried Kool-Aid to fried butter on a stick. The fair is open Wednesdays through Sundays in September with tickets starting at $12 for adults on weekdays and $19 on weekends. There are many discounts available though with the most easily accessible from your local Ralphs or on Goldstar.

First Fridays at the Natural History Museum: Much like its namesake, First Fridays at the Natural History Museum is a $12 event that occurs on the first friday of every month from February to June.  During First Fridays, the Natural History Museum stays open past 5pm with tours, presentations, DJs, $5-$10 cocktails, and $18 concerts.  Where else can you find dinosaurs, live music, and drinks in the same building?

626 Night Market: Want to try some of the latest Asian craze without leaving the US? Originally located in a small park in Pasadena, the 626 Night Market is now a popular monthly summer event that has expanded to Santa Anita, Downtown LA, and Orange County. You can try skewers, Hong Kong egg waffles, tapioca milk tea, dragon beard candies, sticky rice burger, okonomiyaki pancakes, or if you are feeling adventurous, stinky tofu! Tickets are around $7, and food is typically under $10.

KCRW: Our summer highlights have to include the outdoor concerts hosted by KCRW: Chinatown Summer NightsTwilight Concerts at Santa Monica Pier, and Grand Performances in Downtown LA. Each venue has their own unique design. The Chinatown Summer Nights is held in the Central and West Plazas, which are inspired by old Chinese temples and the contemporary bright neon lights of metropolitan cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai. Movies and television shows such as "Rush Hour" and "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." were filmed here. The Grand Performances is located in the California Plaza, a venue that is surrounded by tall urban buildings with the stage separated by a moat. A castle mockup and fountain display are also situated in the back. If hanging in the beach during a sunset is your fancy, go to the Twilight Concert at Santa Monica Pier.  Regardless of where you head to, these KCRW outdoor concerts feature a wonderful lineup that includes artists like Yuna and OK Go, and did I mention that they're all free to attend?!

So how many events on the list have you tried? Do you have any other recommendations? Let T.Lo know in the comment section below.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Positive Fatherhood: a video about prioritizing family

Check out this short film "Positive Fatherhood," which was the winner of the best film about dads of infants and toddlers in the 2011 Fatherhood Film Festival. In this video created by Rebecca Lo (my sister!), she interviewed Paul Harper, who talks about how he prioritizes spending time with his kids over accumulating material wealth. It's a sweet, thought provoking story that makes people think about how we choose to spend our time.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Social Media Shaming Has Turned Normal People Into Bullies

I ride the Los Angeles Metro daily; and often times, I sit next to men who lounge with their legs spread wide, while I, small and polite, sit squished and uncomfortable. I contemplate saying something, but really, what is there for me to say? If they pushed their legs together, I wouldn't all of a sudden spread my own because I unfortunately or fortunately was taught to "be a lady."

Thus, the idea of a Tumblr such as "Men Taking Up Too Much Space On The Train" sounded  delightful at first. This blog has received quite a bit of media attention, and initially, I liked the idea of people taking photos of space hogs, the blog posting them, and then the world judging these men for their space entitlement. After all, justice!

But after the initial satisfaction of "justice" subsided, I wondered what it would feel like to actually be one of those strangers who was shamed on social media. Perhaps the guys on "Men Taking Up Too Much Space..." don't care that much because the phenomenon is so common, but what if you're singled out for just being yourself?

That's what happened to Balpreet Kaur, a Sikh woman with facial hair. A Reddit user snapped a photo of her and posted it onto the site with the caption, "I don't know what to think of this." Although his caption attempted to play dumb, the user's intent was to say, "Look at this person. Let's make fun of her." Kaur learned of her newfound internet fame, and she responded, explaining that her religion does not allow her to alter her body and thus she does not remove her facial hair. Miraculously, the Reddit user apologized, and the internet rallied behind Kaur, a stranger shaming victim who didn't allow herself to be a victim.

(I made the editorial decision to only post a photo of Kaur and not the other examples mentioned in this article. Kaur bravely put her identity out there, and I felt that me reposting the other stranger snaps would exacerbate the problem.)
A Reddit user tried to shame Balpreet Kaur, but she would not be victimized. (Courtesy of Jezebel)
However, not everyone is so lucky. Sophie Wilkinson of The Debrief shared how humiliating it felt for her to be one of the girls featured on "Women Who Eat on Tubes." A stranger snapped an unflattering photo of her eating a salad while riding the subway. He then posted it to the "Women Who Eat" Facebook group. Wilkinson described what it was like finding her picture: "Though the group information states it ‘doesn’t intimidate or bully’, I felt victimised. And hurt. Was it really not the original poster’s intention to humiliate me by accompanying the photo with the caption ‘Good to be contributing more than rubbish chat!’?" Wilkinson reached out to the photographer, and she asked him to take the photo down. He appeared apologetic in his reply, but to her surprise, he reposted her image along with their interaction. Apparently, he wasn't an unaware bully, he was a flat out Cobra Kai bully.

And we all know how bullying stories end. Let's not be those kinds of people.

That's why we all need to stop snapping photos of strangers and posting them publicly to mock and shame them. It is legal to snap photographs of others in public without asking permission, but this isn't a legal issue. This is an ethical problem. Sure, journalists and street photographers have been snapping pictures of strangers for decades, and paparazzi have been harassing celebrities since forever. But does that make it right for us to shame strangers? After all, there's a fine line between holding someone accountable versus just being mean.

Recently, a comic/actor, who was the star of an ABC comedy and had over 14,000 Facebook fans, posted a photograph of a young Asian woman using a long handle device to snap a selfie. The woman was having breakfast alone, and from the photograph, it appeared that the actor was seated at the table next to her. Her action was ridiculous, and his post was an interesting commentary on our narcissistic culture. However, there was a darkness that came with the posting when he captioned it, "Check out this oriental...I mean continental breakfast. #selfrie." Thankfully, his fans mostly made selfie jokes in the comments section, but I cringed when the dog eating reference emerged. That's when I commented that it wasn't necessary to use the Asian slur nor bring her race into the equation, and immediately some guy told me to "drink a warm glass of shut the hell up."

I replied to the milk guy, and he did not respond. The comic also never addressed my initial comment. My desire for a dialogue about the ethics of a celebrity humiliating a stranger never came to fruition. I should note that I know that this comic is not a racist and that he was making a joke, even though it was one I didn't like; but the meanness of alluding to a stranger as an "Oriental" and making fun of how she speaks by posting "selfrie" just can't be denied.

Overall, the internet has made it too easy for us to succumb to our inner bullies. A general rule before posting a photo of a stranger--would you be comfortable if that person confronted you about your photo and caption? If so, then post away. If not, don't be a cruel coward and hide behind your computer because nowadays, you're going to be found out anyway. Accountability is a two-way street.

Friday, September 5, 2014

An open letter to XVALA and Cory Allen Contemporary Art

This is an open letter to XVALA and Cory Allen Contemporary Art:

It was announced recently that you would be conducting an "art show" in Florida that would exhibit unaltered, life size nude portraits of celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson and Kate Upton that were obtained by a hacker who leaked those pictures online. You knowingly acquired these photographs from a crime, and you know that these stolen images have humiliated the victims.

In your press release, you (XVALA) stated, "We share our secrets with technology, and when we do, our privacy becomes accessible to others."

The way you spin the art show, it actually sounds as if you are making a point about the vulnerable position that technology has put people in, but then I remember that all you are doing is republishing stolen nude photographs that have gotten a lot of press. You aren't creating anything new, but you are victimizing the victims in a new way. Calling that "creative" is a bit of a stretch. If you really wanted to make a statement, you would put yourself on display, but you are obviously too much of a coward to do so.

Although you got a lot of attention for your exploits, lazily enlarging stolen salacious celebrity images isn't art. Never once has a true artist equated publicity with artistic expression. No,  all you're doing is showcasing revenge porn so at least cut the bullshit with the pretentiousness because it's not fooling anyone.

According to CNN, the Federal Bureau of Investigations has publicly stated that they will prosecute anyone who publishes the leaked photographs. Knowing that the FBI is coming after you once you exhibit your show provides the only audience satisfaction to what you're doing. I can't wait to hear your "artist" spin on what it's like in jail. Maybe then you'll have something worthwhile to say.
The iCloud hack is now being investigated by the FBI. (photo courtesy of Twitter)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Say "No" to this year's Slide the City's Los Angeles Slip and Slide

I have been following the Los Angeles Slip and Slide story very closely (see this and this), but as the event is slowly starting to come to fruition, my analytical adult mind is trumping the child inside of me and I realize that I have to side with those I previously called "fuddy-duddies."

SLIDE THE CITY SHOULD NOT BRING ITS GIANT SLIP AND SLIDE INTO OUR CITY, LET ALONE OUR STATE AT THE TIME OF THIS EPIC DROUGHT. 

For a visual of how dried up California is, take a look at a before and after of Folsom Lake.
Photo courtesy of www.aiaa.org
According to LAist, "Slide The City already said that it was planning on recycling the 15,000 gallons of water the event requires in response to critics who said the event was irresponsible." Slide The City also said they would reuse the water to water Griffith Park.

The logistics of this seem improbable. Wouldn't the 1,000 foot slide water need a high volume of chlorine to be safe for the expectant thousands of sliders? Wouldn't that water be additionally contaminated by the thousands of sliders' body fluids and sunblock? Also, does Griffith Park really need to be watered?

The adult in me thinks this is all a bad environmental decision, and that those approving the slide are more concerned with profits than what is good for Los Angeles long term.

I'm sad to admit this, but I urge those in Los Angeles to join Karina Soto in her fight to stop Slide the City from bringing its giant waterslide to L.A. She has already garnered over 10,000 signatures on her petition, which you can find here. I love the idea of a giant Slip and Slide just as much as anybody, but this year is not the right time.
Courtesy of LA Times

Sunday, August 31, 2014

You be the judge: Are home warranties scams?

In July of this year, I had a problem with my garage. The door wouldn't open with the clicker, and when I tried to open it manually, it felt heavy. I spoke with a maintenance technician over the phone for advice, and he stated that whenever a door felt heavy it was usually because the cables had come loose. With some help from my parents, I was able to pry open the unusually heavy door, and I saw that my side cables had popped off, just like the maintenance technician had predicted.

Soon, I contacted my home warranty company, First American Home Warranty (AKA
First American Home Buyers Protection). I placed a service request, and I listed that my door was stuck and I indicated that it was due to the cables having popped off. (See below.) First American arranged for a garage technician to come to my home.

For those unfamiliar with home warranties, a customer pays a yearly fee to have covered problems with his or her home fixed. However, each time a service call is completed, the company charges a fee. In First American's case, they charge a yearly fee of $384, and their service fees cost $60. I was aware of this pay structure, but I was not aware of their policy of sending out repairmen, knowing that they will not cover the problems but still charging the $60 fee. 

The day that the garage repairman came, he assessed that my hinge needed to be replaced and that the cables needed to be redone. He informed me that First American did not cover these issues, and he had me speak with a First American representative who confirmed this and said I had a right not to use his services. The repairman told me that my repair and part would cost $165 plus I had to pay the First American service charge--total $225. I asked him how much I would have had to pay if I had called him directly for service. He said he would have charged me the same--$165. I would not have had to pay a service fee. I told him that I refused to pay the service fee because I had to pay full price for repairs. He said that if I refused to pay the service fee I would have to speak with First American later. 

When the repairman finished his work, I paid him for his service and for the part. Then I contacted First American, and I told them what happened. They said even if my repairs were not covered by First American that I still owed the $60 because they had sent someone out on a service call.  I asked them why they had fulfilled the request since I had explicitly stated in my service request that I was having problems due to my cables, which were not covered by First American. They refused to answer this question directly. I then asked for the statistic of how often they send out requests knowing they would not fulfill the requests. They also ignored this question. Finally after nearly one month of back and forth nonsense, I paid the $60 and chose to not renew with this company that has received hundreds of negative reviews on blogs such as Pissed Off Consumer and on review sites such as Yelp.