Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stop Kidding Around

Ever see a quote on a movie trailer and wonder what the reviewer really said? You know those quotes like (hypothetically speaking):

"...better than the first Potter." says Rolling Stone, or

"...recommend you see this film..." says The New York Times.

If you were to look up the actual review you might discover the full sentences to say:

"The first film in the Harry Potter franchise was so abysmal that by sheer effort this one couldn't help but be better than the first Potter." and

"I would only recommend you see this film as a cure for insomnia."

That's the Cut & Paste method of getting quotes. For the movie biz it's fairly harmless and somewhat amusing. In journalism it's misleading, sensationalist, unethical, and perhaps even slander.

WBBM in Chicago got caught with their journalist pants down as revealed by TV SPY via this link. The reporter gets the full context; the boy will have a gun when he grows up because he's going to be a policeman. But as you can see in the video right after the child says he's going to have a gun we wipe to another interview. You can't make an edit like that in a recorded pack without knowing what you're doing. And you can't say the reporter was a victim of some editor's hack work: I don't know the division of labor at WBBM, but in many stations the reporter does his own editing, or at the very least tells an editor where to cut. Furthermore, exploiting an adult's words in such a manner is at best borderline slander; doing this to a 4 year-old is heinous.

This incident also violates one of my personal rules of journalism and television in general: don't put kids on TV. Yeah, he's cute. I hate cute. Cute gets you in trouble. Cute leads to an entire heard of children on "America's Got Talent" getting into the competition when the judges, producers, everybody involved knows damn well a bunch of children can't be awarded a million dollar Vegas contract without severe legal issues, not to mention the fact the children may find it difficult to share the same dressing room with the guy who impersonates Joan Rivers. In commercials, cute leads to incomprehensible babble eating away at precious airtime the client should be using to reinforce the message instead of turning our TV sets into captive "look at my grandkids" albums better suited for a Facebook page. And cute in a newscast leads to unreliable and often insensitive reporting. The fact that children are far too often witnesses to crime is tragic enough. Putting one on camera and milking a quote out of him is exploitation. Not to mention a nightmare for the legal teams. Maybe not in this case, but when a child is a witness both prosecution and defense have to worry about the capricious statements of a 4 year-old on the witness stand. While I'm not a lawyer, somehow I think most 4 year-old children would be deemed an unreliable witness long before he ever reached the courtroom. And that's my point: if he's unreliable in court, he's unreliable on the air. And puts the reporter, TV station, and the company that owns it in legal jeopardy.

And then there's the whole issue of negligent and perhaps malicious editing making a 4 year-old minor look like a gang banger in the making. Oo, there's a civil suit every station manager looks forward to.

This incident brings to mind a recent gaffe during NBC's coverage of the US Open at Washington, DC. Somebody thought we needed a production piece about... well, nothing really... that featured children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance while golfers swung their clubs. (??) It was a collage - an artful marriage of images and sounds - NOT an actual bona fide Pledge of Allegiance. Sort of like the Star Spangled Banner in the Naked Gun movie in that you're really not expected to stand up and salute. Lost in the clever editing were the oh so hot button words "under God." The commentators, who had nothing to do with this, ended up issuing an apology while the gang in the truck must've been marveling at how two simple forgotten words could send the entire day into a tailspin.

All because somebody thought we needed cute kids on TV.

The WBBM incident will blow over... for most of us. But I imagine reporters from all Chicago media will face a backlash that may last for years to come. Want to get an exclusive from the mayor or any other source any time soon? "What, so you can hack edit me into saying anything you want? F___ you," will be the only quote those stations may ever get.

No comments: