WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Many Americans love to make fun of the newspeople they watch on television, but fallout from an alleged joke on Twitter could prompt some to think twice.
A news anchor at a CBS-TV affiliate in South Florida was apparently so spooked by a tweet from a local viewer, he’s now pressing charges, accusing the tweeter of threatening to kill him.
Martin Pierro, 41, of Lake Worth, Fla., was arrested Friday and charged with intimidation through a written threat to kill or injure WPEC anchorman John Discepolo, despite Pierro’s assertion he was merely clowning with the anchor about his ominous-sounding news teases.
The scenario began Oct. 23 when Discepolo promoted that day’s afternoon newscast with this tweet: “cbs 12 wants to keep you and your money safe! So what does moving have to do with it? The new scam we uncovered … next at 5.”
That prompted Pierro, a comic-book writer and publisher at Cosmic Times, to send Discepolo a message stating: “Someone is hiding in your house waiting to kill you … find out where … tonight at 11.”
Discepolo responded by writing: “Not something to joke about … not cool.”
The conversation between the two concluded with Pierro assuring the anchor he was just kidding.
“Oh come on that’s an old school broadcasters joke. I was just poking fun at your ‘teases’ for the nightly news,” he wrote.
When questioned by investigators, Pierro affirmed his remark was only a joke, and that he never intended to harm the newsman.
However, Discepolo, who formerly worked for KOMO in Seattle as well as WCBS and WNYW in New York City, said he was concerned for his family’s safety and wanted to press charges.
WPEC-TV news anchors John Discepolo and Liz Quirantes
Pierro, who was booked into the Palm Beach County jail Friday and released early Saturday on $5,000 bail, is now concerned about his legal battle, which he calls “one I never thought I would have to deal with in a million years and one that no doubt will cost me thousands upon thousands of dollars.”
“I wish I could comment on it and explain how I am being railroaded here – but seeing as I have been informed that ALL of my social media is being monitored … I feel it would be best to save those conversations for another day,” Pierro said.
He told his friends on Facebook he has “appreciated immensely the support I have received thus far … I have a great group of friends and family (and some friends that I consider family). I won’t be able to comment on any of your supportive posts going forward, but wanted you to know that the posts and messages have been received and are very helpful to me and my family as we deal with this dark chapter.
Martin Pierro says he was only joking when he tweeted a message to WPEC-TV news anchor John Discepolo.
“For me it will be business as usual, I will continue to make my silly little facebook and twitter posts as I continue to work on strengthening Cosmic Times in preparation for 2014. But let me say this – be careful what you say openly … the world has changed drastically in the last few years and what was touted as progress has only made things worse and has weakened the very foundation this great country was built upon.”
Juan Navarro, a friend of Pierro’s, is among those coming to the comic-book man’s defense.
“This is a miscarriage of justice,” Navarro said. “Martin Pierro is an upstanding citizen and family man, who has been a boon to the community and the South Florida comics scene for years now, and over one bad joke, he is having his life turned upside down. And after clearly showing that it was all a joke, John Discepolo brings up trumped charges for no reason other than some type of fame or glory that is not there.
“It’s disgusting and waste of the time for the justice system, for Martin and for everyone else. This is censorship in its stupidest, cruelest form, and I wonder if Discepolo will ever have to face such negligence against him as reporter and how he would feel the same way. I call to many of you to contact the station and demand to have these charges dropped, to tell Discepolo that you can’t just slap a lawsuit on someone out of paranoia or worse, for ATTENTION.”
Pierro’s arrest has sparked strong feelings online about the actions of both men involved, as well as local authorities and the news department of CBS12:
“Who jokes around like this nowadays? A threat is taken more seriously with everything that has happened in the past! Stupid thing to do!” (Mindy Degnon)
“Live and learn, with today’s idiots running loose, it’s not a good idea to joke around especially with words this guy used.” (Patricia Bray Ertle)
“It was an ‘uttered threat’ even if IT WAS A JOKE. This is an adult man doing just what we DO NOT want our children or anyone to do. Maybe by making him an example a life OR lives can be saved in the future.” (Anna Marshall)
“Pathetic, this man should not have been arrested.” (Phil Beebe)
“I don’t see the threat. He did not threaten anyone! the news guy is a wuss.” (Tracy Brock Ash)
“So a joke, even a tasteless one, can land us all in jail now? Wow. Also, what kind of man gets scared over a joke on the internet? Seriously. Aren’t there real criminals to go after? My taxpayer dollars at work!” (Roberto Torres)
“This is typical of a third-rate news station trying to get publicity. Even in the twitter post it was explained that the tweet was a jab at the stupid teasers john discepolo posts.” (Dan Bodenstein)
“He should drop the charges, obviously it was a joke. It’s crazy because I’ve had people threaten me before in person, and the cops have said there’s nothing they can do unless there was an actual attack. Think they are just taking this thing too far.” (Slim Whitman)
“It’s not against the law for the media to lie and deceive the people yet when some guy makes a joke he gets arrested for it. I see where the problem is.” (Still Waves)
“Bet that reporter thinks concealed carry is a damn good idea now.” (Mark Purvis)
The original Twitter thread has had some updates to it in the wake of Pierro’s arrest, featuring some clever news teases proffered by those upset about the criminal charge.
Kevin Oakley tweets: “@JohnDiscepolo @CBS12 <- Find out how humorless these people are … next at 5 … on @Fox29WFLX.”
And MikalG posted: “What happens when @cbs12 and @JohnDiscepolo get embarrassed over someone making fun of their tweet? Prison time. Details at 6.”
WND is seeking comment from Discepolo and his news director, Cathy Younkin.