Reporter's Notebook

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Archive for November 2022

Controlling the Agenda

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This is a quickie.

For years, I’ve written in this blog about journalistic tricks, techniques and tendencies. I’ve talked about the dark art and dark humor of writers and reporters as they try to balance objectivity with their own humanity. And I’ve looked at how important it is to not become part of the story you are covering.

But with the Club Q shootings in Colorado this weekend, I am sadly reminded of something we as coverers of the news can’t do, which is try to control the agenda. We cannot and should not, as reporters, journalists and writers bent on telling an unbiased story, work to influence people to form an opinion about something, one way of another.

However … that does not mean that we simply repeat the prevailing, dominant agenda, whatever that is. If the zeitgeist is “Mass shootings are prevalent, growing and seemingly, unstoppable,” we search for balance and evidence that communities are fighting back against haters. If the zeitgeist is that “Shooters are inhuman monsters,” we look for extenuating circumstances that pushed shooters down the path to be shooters. If the zeitgeist is to blame victims, we look to hold law enforcement and public policy responsible for holes or hypocrisies in how civil or administrative law is applied.

In other words, if there is a sunny optimism to the extreme, we inject some realism. If there is crushing despair to the extreme, we show how people are determined to fight their way uphill to make it work despite the odds. And in the case of Club Q, if the community of shooters past and shooters to be feel like they’re making headway toward remaking the world in their bloody image, we show communities lighting candles, rallying marches, and doubling down on wrestling murderers to the ground before they can do more damage.

Through hundreds of political interviews over years, I’ve heard a crude sentiment inferred by some that goes something like this; “If you don’t agree, it means you don’t understand. And if I can’t make you understand, it means you’re stupid and therefore, less than me.” Nowhere in there is there any balance. If that is a creeping attitude that is used by those folks to control the agenda; although there is much writers, reporters and journalists can’t do, there is one thing we can certainly do.

And that is, we must highlight the full spectrum of thought, opinions, words and actions, not just the loudest, meanest and dumbest part of it.

Written by Interviewer

November 22, 2022 at 01:48

Posted in Scratchpad

Look Away

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To the point.

This morning, CBS Weekends broadcast a story featuring women in general, and women veterans in particular, who have endured the loss of one or both breasts. Included in that report was former Air Force member Sheila Johnson. Ms. Johnson was featured several times in the report. Once at the end of the report, as one of four images of women who were featured in the report. And earlier in the report, as she was being photographed in the studio of artist Charise Isis.

The “Grace Project”, begun by Ms. Isis, aims to eventually capture the countenances of 800 women who look viewers in the eye while they dare you to look at their chests, mutilated by surgeon’s scalpels in the course of removing metastasized cancer. That number was chosen because in the U.S., 800 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every day. As of this writing, she has 600 portraits. Ms. Isis, her “Grace Project” and the women vets whom she assigned to the “Athena Division” of the project, were fearless.

At the start of the report, anchor Dana Jacobson warned viewers that the story would contain images of women who had gone through partial and radical mastectomies, so that was no surprise. It was also no surprise that the piece would show the raw emotions as well as the raw scars of these women who bared their chests as part of a declaration of their wholeness or their determination to reclaim it.

What was a surprise was the total weakness and inconsistency with which I’m positive CBS’s decency standards ultimately imposed on the report. Namely, in the first introduction to Ms. Johnson, she was coyly videotaped by the camera operator as standing with part of her torso strategically hidden by a photographer’s umbrella while the other half of her torso, bearing her breast-less chest was visible. Except, it wasn’t visible. It was blurred. And in the instant that I saw that, I realized that snowflakes had prevailed.

Throughout the report, including at the very beginning with Marine Corps veteran Barbara Arndt standing in Central Park, being photographed by Isis, holding a sword above her head, female veterans were shown unblurred and full chested, with and without tattoos. And at our last view of Ms. Johnson, as one of the four women stills, that same breast was now unblurred.

So, besides the punkish corporate sensibilities of viewing women’s breasts vs. viewing women’s mastectomy scars, I wondered:

  • Is it because video animates an image in such a way that makes blurring the same breast that’s not blurred in an image, OK?
  • Is it because that right breast hadn’t yet undergone a mastectomy and so it violated the FCC’s indecency standards (and CBS didn’t want to risk a Janet Jackson’ Superbowl 2004 fine). Sort of like, once something can be referred to in a “clinical” way; a “penis” rather than a “dick”, it’s not violating any standards.
  • Did somebody screw up and blur one too many breasts or not blur one too few breasts.
  • Or, were an experienced producer and editor confused by a torso that seemed to hold a breast rather than a mastected breast; a confusion only amplified by an inconsistent indecency standard? (see Schitt’s Creek here)

Whatever the reason, the message is clear. And the audience knows it, even if CBS doesn’t. Once again, women get to suffer the insinuation that looking at them in such honorable, affirming and courageous contexts is somehow, wrong.

Black Rock reporters and producers, outstanding job. Black Rock management and/or the FCC, get your schitt together.

See the work of The Grace Project here.

Written by Interviewer

November 20, 2022 at 06:03

Posted in Scratchpad