Friday, April 10, 2009

A Crying Shame

A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn't feel like it. ~ Alistair Cooke

Edward R. Murrow didn't cry. Walter Cronkite didn't cry. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley didn't cry. What is it with the current breed of broadcaster that blubbering is now considered good reportage?

I am very old school in a lot of ways, something I freely admit. Reporters and commentators are supposed to be professionals who can control their emotions and dispassionately tell us what is going on, or, in the case of commentary, what they think. I don't care that they are deeply moved; what's important is whether I am deeply moved by what they have to say.

Oh, there have been exceptional moments as noted in the article. The crash of the Hindenburg was certainly a shocking moment to the reporter on the scene. That being said, while his statement, "Oh, the humanity!" is heart-rending, it would have been all the stronger had he not been so hysterical at the time.

Lest you think I'm a hard-hearted Hannah, I certainly am moved by the sight of people running for their lives. But I am also moved to appreciate the ground crew commander who stood his ground and screamed at the crew to stop running and move back in to do what they could to save people. Thankfully for those who did survive (and there was a surprising number who did), he wasn't sobbing his eyes out.

The crying reporter is just another symptom of a world-wide epidemic of self-pity and the stern refusal to act like a grownup.

According to the article, some people use the Albert Finney character in Network as a role model for their actions. This is funny because the Finney character has gone round the bend. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" may sound like a great sentiment, but when uttered by a guy who walks around in the rain in his pajamas, it lacks credibility. And, if the current crop of sob-sisters had actually watched the movie, they'd realize that it's a condemnation of what television was becoming, and it became an amazingly accurate portrayal of what TV has become.

Remember Mike Patrick of ESPN absolutely flooring Todd Blackledge during a broadcast of game a few years back? The game is close, one of the teams is ready to run a key play, and Patrick suddenly says, "Whaddya think about poor Brittney?" Blackledge was utterly confused, as was any sportsfan. "Brittney who?" he said.

Patrick later said he was trying to lighten the mood. Lighten the mood? A great game, a critical moment, the sort of thing a football fan looks forward to, and he's trying to lighten the mood? I guess it could have been worse. He might have burst into tears due to the palpable tension of the moment.

At a time when newspapers are dying on the vine and internet news sources are dubious at best, television news is going to become a primary source for much of the public. If they can't get clear reporting and intelligent commentary from that source, the average person is going to get ever more clueless. Reporting is already becoming pretty ridiculous, with constant "the sky is falling stories" about the effects of potato chips on intelligence levels while ignoring lobbyists who are buying and selling our elected officials.

I think the intelligence of television reporting really came home to me many years ago. An earthquake had occurred in the LA area (I think it was the Northridge quake). At the time, we had a C-band satellite dish and could pick up the news feeds as they were being sent back to the studio. At one point, I was watching a reporter trudging around the wreckage of an apartment house (ignoring warnings from crew and safety officials about gas leaks). The second story was now in the first story. There was a guy sitting on the ground, and you could hear someone tell the reporter that he had lived in the apartment building. The reporter rushed over and asked, "Do you live here?" and stuck her microphone in the guy's face. He looked back at the wreckage and said, "Not any more."

The reporter had no idea what to say.

At least she didn't start crying.

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