Juan Williams vs. NPR
I've watched with amusement the coverage of Juan Williams' firing from NPR. A little over a week until the election, and this is getting all the media's attention? Really? But it is getting a lot of play and a lot of people are talking about it so I am going to weigh in.
Williams is the commentator/journalist who was fired from NPR after he made some comments on FOX News. Williams said he gets worried when he boards an airplane and sees people dressed in Muslim garb. I see Williams' point to a degree. If I boarded an airplane, and saw someone wearing Muslim garb I think it would cross my mind. I am not saying it is right but it's how I and a lot of Americans feel. Williams was quick to point out it's not like he leaves the plane. While I agree with Williams somewhat, let me turn the tables on him for a moment. How would he feel if someone went on the air and said I cross the street when I see an African American walking my way because I am afraid they are going to rob me? Imagine the outrage.
Williams feels NPR fired him mainly because he works for FOX News. I agree with him. NPR says he didn't follow the rules. Williams was apparently a journalist covering hard news for NPR. He was a commentator/analyst for FOX News. The problem is the lines have blurred considerably over the last few years. A decade ago, a journalist would rarely give their opinion. Today, a lot of them blog. It's expected of them. Hey, look at me. What am I doing? I am blogging. FOX News also helped create this movement. Look at Bill O'Reilly. He does commentary/news. A lot of people consider him to be a traditional news anchor. So when NPR says it fired Williams because he didn't follow the rules I don't buy it. Something tells me a lot of people at NPR could be fired for giving their opinions.
This whole journalists giving their opinion thing has created a slippery slope. On the one hand, our business has encouraged journalists to give their two cents. And then our business turns around and fires Helen Thomas and Rick Sanchez for giving their opinion. I am not defending those two. What they said was out of line. But I think may be we should go back to journalists just reporting the news/facts and stay away from giving their opinion.
The bottom line? I don't think NPR should have fired Williams. If NPR felt he was wrong or out of line, couldn't executives just pull him into an office and give him the riot act?
October 19, 2010
Public Eye/Private Lives
Being on tv means I am in the public eye. Many call us celebrities. I call myself a journalist who happens to be on tv. We've all grown used to people coming up to us in public, at the grocery store or a restaurant. I am friendly most of the time. I say most because once a guy came up to me in the grocery store after I just had oral surgery and I was in no mood to talk. But we realize we are in the public eye so we have to interact with the public. It comes with the territory.
But that doesn't give people the license to be creepy. Increasingly I am finding viewers are asking me about some of my female colleagues. Are they single? Do they have a boyfriend? That is none of your business.
I once had a guy come up to me and make some sexual remarks towards a female anchor who once worked at WDBJ. Not only is she my colleague, she is my best friend. I explained to him that I thought of her as my sister. He then said he was just joking. In his mind, he thought I should help him out because we are both men. Like some kinda brotherhood. If you are going to make some inappropriate remarks about a woman, why would I turn around and help you get a date with her? I wouldn't be a good friend by hooking her up with a sleazeball. Remember, I am a journalist, not a pimp.
This week, I had a guy email me twice on facebook asking about two of my female colleagues. He wanted to know if they are single. I've never met this guy. Why would I tell you that? Why do you think it is ok to e-mail me and ask about their personal lives? I never responded. I had another guy e-mail this week to tell me how hot one of our anchors are.
Some people take it to more extremes. A few have sent some of our anchors underwear in the mail. Really dude? You think she is going to want you after you send that. Then there are the stalkers. I had a friend who was stalked by a viewer. It freaked her out. The guy sent her sexually explicit pictures in the mail, even showed up at public events to talk to her. She was so afraid of him she had to take out a restraining order. No one should have to live like this. Yes, we live in the public eye but again it doesn't give you the right to be a creep.
October 14, 2010
It's Halloween again. Time for candy, costumes, and trick or treating. Wait. Does anyone really trick or treat anymore? I mean walk door to door, neighborhood to neighborhood. Many of my friends say they don't get as many trick or treaters like they once did.
That is sad and I think it is partly the news media's fault. We've turned Halloween into a dangerous holiday. Most of the stories every Halloween are about child molesters and the dangers your children face because of them. Don't get me wrong. I am not defending child molesters. They get what they deserve. My concern is the degree of danger. Do children have an increase chance of being kidnapped or raped on Halloween? If so, prove it with facts. Are there actual cases where a child has been violated on Halloween? How many? Were than any higher than any other night of the week?
I don't want to belittle the danger. It's there. It could happen. You have to be careful. But I hope the news media isn't just scaring folks for the sake of scaring folks. I think a little more research will go a long way in convincing me Halloween is dangerous. With that being said, parents should go trick or treating with their kids. Go in groups. Most importantly, have fun. Isn't that what Halloween is all about? That's why I remember it from my childhood.
September 29, 2010
Rape/Sexual Abuse Victims
If you turned on your tv today, you probably saw the interview WAGA-TV out of Atlanta did with one of Bishop Eddie Long's accusers. Four men are suing Long accusing him of sexually abusing them. Long has denied the allegations. The interview with the alleged victim is now being aired on news outlets across the country. It certainly got my attention.
I have several problems with this interview. For one, many news organizations don't publish or air the names of alleged victims. This goes for cases of sexual abuse and rape. You could argue the four men have filed a lawsuit and therefore are publicly coming forward. Fine.
Here's my big issue with the interview and I base this only on what actually aired since I don't know the inner workings of WAGA's newsroom. From what I saw from their story, it's obvious they ambushed the alleged victim. They flew to Colorado and caught up with the accuser as he walked out of a grocery store, cameras rolling. The reporter approached the accuser and just started asking him questions. From the video, the accuser looked surprised. WAGA made clear in its report the accuser didn't want to talk at first but eventually changed his mind. Why couldn't the station just approach him outside of the grocery store and ask him for an interview. Why did they have to do it with cameras rolling. That is an ambush and I think that is wrong. The station will probably justify it by saying he eventually agreed to do the interview. That still doesn't make it right.
I asked News 7's managing editor whether we would ever do something like that. Mike Redding told me probably not. Redding told me the only justification for it would be if law enforcement gave us a strong indication that an accuser was lying and the accusations were false.
Shame on these national news organizations for now airing the ambush interview. They should know better since they themselves probably would never do it. I am sure they would argue that someone else did the interview. I say you are condoning this inappropriate practice by now airing it yourself.
September 14, 2010
I've used the n word
Race is a topic that has always fascinated me. It amazes me how much of a issue it still is today. I grew up in a different era. I wasn't around for the civil rights movement. I think whites sometimes don't get it. A friend of mine, who is black, recently told me how she is often followed around in stores just because she is black. I've never experienced that. With that being said, I think some in the black community are still living in the 50's and 60's. The Rev. Sharpton's of the world are always quick to go in front of the cameras and label someone a racist. My point is everyone sees race differently and there are no easy answers.
Recently, Virginia Senator Jim Webb reignited the race debate by calling for the end of most affirmative action programs in the federal government. He wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Do yourself a favor, read what he said fully. Don't rely on news accounts. Affirmative action was a big issue at Virginia Tech back seven years ago. After reading Senator Webb's editorial, I decided to research to see whether Virginia Tech's minority enrollment has gone up or down since 2003.. We discovered something interesting. Virginia Tech's overall minority population has increased in the last few years, but it's black population has decreased. News 7 has produced a two part series to examine the reasons why. This topic was very touchy with the PR folks over at Virginia Tech but I found administrators at Tech were candid and upfront about the problems the university faces.
While researching this story I remembered an incident from my childhood. I was probably 8 or 9 at the time. There was an African American girl named Casey who lived across the street from us and we often hung out. One day, we were playing in the sandbox in my backyard. We ended up getting into a fight, although I don't remember what it was about. For some reason, I grabbed a nearby pitch fork and called Casey the n word. She was terrified and for good reason. You see Casey was deaf and didn't know exactly what was happening. 25 years later, I can still remember the look of horror on Casey's face. It haunts me today.
I don't know why I used that word that day. The weird thing is my parents weren't racists and I don't think I had ever heard that word before. Where did I pick it up? I am not sure. But I knew immediately when I said it, I was wrong. I don't know what happened to Casey. We moved out of the neighborhood a few years later. If I saw her today, I would apologize again and give her a hug. I am so ashamed of what I said to her. I tell you this story for a reason. I don't consider myself a racist. However, I am not perfect and I've made mistakes. I hope you will watch our two part story about diversity with some sensitivity and it will get you thinking.
September 8, 2010
Now that Labor Day has come and gone, the political season is upon us. I have to admit I hate covering politics. Despise and loathe are more like it. For one, most politicians never really answer your questions. They have talking points and they stick to them. This goes for Democrats and Republicans and they include politicians on the local, state, and national level.
The worst thing to cover is a presidential political rally. Everything is scripted, staged, and controlled. The candidates often have handlers who watch us like hawks. I've actually been to rallies where the handlers have told us point blank we are getting nowhere near the candidate to ask questions. They want you to use everything from the podium which of course is scripted. It is all about controlling the message.
I must also admit I don't think the news media really covers politics well. We focus mainly on the controversies and the fireworks, not the actual issues. How many times have you watched a newscast after a debate and the only thing you hear from the candidates are the jabs at one another? You rarely hear what they actually stand for. If you watch the all cable news channels, the commentators always seem disappointed when there are no fireworks during a debate. What is the point of debates? Are they suppose to be entertaining or informative? I think it should be informative.
I believe the news media also relies too much on polls. There are so many out there. Some who conduct the polls have an agenda. It's gotten to the point you don't know who to trust.
The thing I hate the most about the political season is the ads from the candidates. The claims in the ads are often outrageous. Some are lies, many only tell half truths. The problem is research shows negative ads work. It's unfortunate. To me, these ads are more for the entertainment value than the informative. Negative ads are a huge turn off to me. In fact, one year I chose not to vote for any of the candidates in a particular race because I felt both ran too many negative ads. Some will claim I wasted my vote but not voting. I don't see it that way.
Ok, there you go. Another blog from yours truly where I criticize the profession I love so much. I guess I am a little grumpy.
August 17, 2010
Laugh a Little
I've noticed my blogs have been so serious lately. It's time for a few laughs, even if it is at my expense. In my 12 years in the TV news business, I've met plenty of characters and famous people. I've also had some embarassment moments. They would make for a great memoir but let's face it I won't ever be famous or popular enough to write one. So let me share some of these stories in my blog. Enjoy!
1. While in college, my friend and I interviewed this couple at their home. We had been goofing off in the car so when we arrived I turned to her and said "ok let's try to act professional." I then get out of the car and trip on the curb, falling flat on my face. My friend turned me and said "yeah Justin, let's try to act professional."
2. I've met Jerry Springer twice in my career and both times he was actually very nice.
3. While in college, I interned at a TV station in Boston. A local radio station was throwing a St. Patty's Day party and I was sent to cover it. The station executives and the DJ's thought I was an actual reporter and let's just say they were kissing my butt left and right. Well, it just so happen a guy I worked with at my part-time job saw me there and mentioned it to the DJ's that I was only an intern. On the ride home we were listening to that station, when the DJ chimed in and said "you mean the guy wearing the Tom Brokaw trenchcoat is only an intern?"
4. Also during my college years, I met Dan Rather at a convention. When I told him my name, he gave me a firm handshake looked me in the eyes and said "Justin, that is a real strong name."
5. I once interviewed a woman at a grocery store. She turned to me and said "If I knew I was going to be on tv today, I would have worn my teeth." Try keeping a straight face when someone tells you that.
6. I was interviewing a woman at her house one time and my photographer discreetly points to the television. On top of the TV, there was a framed picture of her wearing red lingerie.
7. While a senior in college, we made a trip to Washington D.C. We got to go to a briefing at the White House. That room is much smaller than you realize. We also went to a taping of ABC's This Week which at the time was hosted by Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. After the show, we met with Donaldson in his office. About a half hour into it, out of nowhere he stands up and says "I have to go tape a promo. I will be right back. While I am gone, rifle through my things." We sat there stunned.
8. One time we arranged to interview Matchbox 20 before the band performed in Roanoke. When we arrived, the PR person informs us Rob Thomas won't be doing the interview. Of course that is who we were hoping to talk to. Five minutes later, who walks in but Rob Thomas. It was a huge surprise and he was very funny.
9. At my first job in Missouri, I was what we in the business call a one man band. It means the reporter shoots and edits their own video. The army had arranged for us to go up in a helicopter. They strap me into one where the entire side is missing. I should mention I am afraid of heights and I get motion sickness really easily. I didn't want to tell the pilots because I decided I was going to be a man. Well, about 30 minutes into it about to throw up, I finally said something. They laughed at me all the way back to the landing pad. Thankfully I didn't throw up but came very close.
10. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Dick Cheney visited Fulton Missouri and we got a one on one interview with him. He walks in and says "I feel sorry you have to run your own camera." Remember I was a one man band. I jokingly said to him I usually make people say and spell their names into the camera. Without missing a beat, he says D-I-C-K C-H-E-N-E-Y. He was a good sport.