Eric Bergeson: Reporters’ creed should be just the facts, ma’am
During the aftermath of the recent tornado in Oklahoma, at least two reporters made fools of themselves as they worked to turn tragedy into entertainment for the masses.
Wolf Blitzer of CNN interviewed a young woman holding a baby amidst the rubble of her home. Blitzer apparently thought the way for an educated eastern snob like himself to relate to a hick from the Bible Belt would be to condescendingly ask her if she “thanked the Lord” for her survival.
“Actually, I’m an athiest,” the young woman replied, as she struggled to hang on to her wiggly toddler.
An atheist in Oklahoma? Who would’ve thunk?
Later, a truly ditzy CBS reporter interviewed a delightful old woman who stubbornly refused to get emotional as she described what happened.
The old woman was the better journalist of the two: She told how she hid, she told how the tornado came, she told how she dug herself out, and she said matter-of-factly that her dear dog was somewhere in the rubble, presumably dead.
Just the facts, ma’am.
Yet the reporter continued to attempt to get the woman to cry.
“I mean, have you even began to comprehend what happened here?” she said, in a question which should be banned for its sheer stupidity.
“No, I know exactly what happened here! Exactly!” the woman said, still being polite despite the obnoxiousness of the reporter.
Once again, the reporter probed, trying to get tears.
“I mean, I can’t imagine…this is your neighborhood!”
“That’s life in the big city!” the old woman shrugged.
Just then, the woman’s dog, until now presumed dead, stirred in the rubble. The poor woman moved to help the dog. As she did, a brutal gash on the back of her arm flashed past the camera.
Yes, the woman was physically hurt. But did the reporter ever ask about her physical condition? Did the ditzy, dastardly reporter put down her microphone and help the poor old woman dig in the rubble for the dog?
Of course not. For now the reporter and her camera person had possible irresistible footage of a woman digging out her dog. You don’t want to interfere with that. And maybe, just maybe, the woman would finally display some emotion!
Wolf Blitzer should have been there. After the dog struggled loose the woman said the Lord had answered both her prayers: first, the prayer that she would be okay and second, the prayer that her beloved schnauzer would live.
“He answered both of ‘em!” the woman said in a touching way, still refusing to break down in a manner that would make for an irresistible lead to the evening news segment.
Back in the early 1980s, Dave Kingman of the New York Mets hit three home runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers. After the game, a reporter asked Dodger manager Tom Lasorda if he had “any thoughts” on Kingman’s performance.
Lasorda lost it. “Any thoughts?” he said. “You’re asking me if I had any thoughts? We just got trounced and you’re asking if I have any thoughts?”
Lasorda then let loose with a delightful and appropriate tirade that cannot be reproduced here.
The crusty but saintly old woman in the rubble in Oklahoma would have been justified if she had pulled a Tommy Lasorda. Instead, she kept her manners and refused to do what the reporter so badly desired: Lose her composure, and her dignity, for a national audience.
In the old days, reporters probed for facts, not emotions. Today, television news has become utterly unbearable in part because the reporters don’t report, they titillate.
The sports interview, which always was a worthless endeavor, has become an exploration of feelings by amateur counselors posing as reporters.
“What were your emotions as that 97-miles-per-hour pitch sailed towards your temple?”
With reporters determined to uncover emotions rather than matters of fact, is it any wonder that the appearance of the grief counselors merits just as much coverage as the tragedy itself?
Who are these grief counselors whose arrival brings such instant relief?
Lacking photos of an actual death, is it any wonder that the focus becomes the sobbing teenage girls on the scene?
“An angry London grieves,” blared a headline after last week’s beheading on a London street.
Somewhere, I hope some old cranky journalism professor holds that headline up in front of Journalism 101 class and gives a Lasorda-like rant.
“A city can’t get angry! A city cannot grieve! A city is buildings, rivers and churches! They do not get angry! People get angry!”
Just the facts, ma’am. They’re bad enough by themselves.