Monday, December 17, 2012

Conversation

It was a strange weekend. As it happened, your blogger was on duty for an offset workweek, and master control operated "Saturday Night Live." I had the feeling I was taking a small part in something historic, as that episode went beyond the extra mile. It was also a welcome break from the hours of heartbreaking news coverage. It sounds trivial and whiny, but we in television hate this stuff. It wreaks havoc with our schedules, we have to move commercials, and live coverage means a trip to the men's room is out of the question. Like I said, it sounds trivial. But it's part of the job. We deal with it.

And what I had to deal with is nothing compared to the folks in Newtown have to do: hours spent in a live truck, gulping down another meal from a sack, and then feeling like human garbage when you finally get to go home. You sleep like a stone, but you wake up feeling like you never went to bed. And if the story lives on, you get to suit up and do it again. A lot of reporters and truck crew who were hoping to do their Christmas shopping this past weekend will be sending out gift cards this year.

There were some questionable decisions made during the early hours of the Newtown school shootings coverage. A Facebook wall dedicated to live truckers took an informal survey on whether young children should be interviewed, and the response was a unanimous and resounding NO. Techies aren't the only people questioning this practice. Now if we could only get that message across to the news directors and reporters.

One of the questions that arises from an incident like this is whether we really benefit from the round the clock live news coverage. Personally, there are times when I think we can break away from the coverage and take some time to gather facts while the viewers get a moment to relax. But news outlets have a responsibility to get the information out, and just because I've seen it all doesn't mean somebody just getting off work or waking up doesn't deserve breaking coverage. It's a tough decision, and the early hours of an event like this are grueling, especially for the local stations near the incident. The phones never stop ringing as parents call wanting to know what happened. (We don't know) Should they go get their child? (Probably not yet. We'll tell you when) Why won't you tell us anything? (Because we don't know anything. And speculating only adds to the confusion) It takes courage to look at the camera and say, "We don't know anything, and we're not going to speculate. We'll rejoin live coverage when we've got something confirmed." But I wish more news outlets would do just that.

Social media is playing a role in all this as well, and not all of it is good. Rumors and misinformation have clogged the pipeline, and there may be legal action taken if the rumormongers can be caught. Good luck with that. What's most infuriating about this is that no matter how off-base and misleading a rumor may be, an army of Walter Cronkites can't convince some people otherwise. If someone's friend of a friend posted it, then it must be real. The media is just hiding The Truth.

Without a doubt, somebody is already charging that the Liberal Media are beating the drums for gun control and the Right can't get their message out. To some extent, that's true. Yes, Hollywood, where some of our late night programs are produced, leans left. Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, and The Duke are gone. New York City, the epicenter of network TV and home to Letterman, Fallon, and of course SNL, is only about an hour away from Newtown. Most folks in NYC are in grieving mode right now... but this is New York, after all. Start flapping your gums about the Second Amendment right now and you very likely hear somebody tell you to shut the hell up. The result is that the silence from the Right is deafening; pro-gun politicians are staying out of the spotlight. But it's not for lack of trying on the media's part. Perhaps advocates for gun rights are exercising respectful restraint in our time of grieving. More likely, maybe they feel like they would be thrown to the wolves in a public forum right now. No matter how well spoken you are, trying to defend the right to own assault rifles with magazines that hold dozens of rounds is going to sound callous at this time. Whatever the reason, I'm sure AM radio is making hay out of it right now.

We're searching for answers. We're hurting, and we want someone or something to blame. That's a natural human reaction. I'm encouraged to see some discussion on how we treat mental illness in this country. Our current policy in America is for a doctor to say, "He has to want to help himself," - a gutless excuse to avoid liability and avoid admitting another patient into an overloaded and underfunded system. If a person wanted to help himself, he wouldn't need intervention. In the meantime, there are little things you and I can do to help... starting by taking the lethal weapons away. If we can say, "Dude, you're drunk. I'm taking the car keys," then we can also say, "Dude, you're in depression. I'm taking the AK-47. No, you don't need it for protection. That's what I'm here for." I'm not saying it's the perfect solution, but it's a start.

A number of people on social media have posted that the mass killings in Newtown are the fault of America being a "godless country." I'm having trouble following that reasoning, even if you accept America is godless, but it sounds like somebody at Westboro Baptist Church learned how to use the Internet. Research shows America is actually a very spiritual nation, with the overwhelming majority claiming to be Christian. So saying America is godless is an insult to all Christians, as well as those who practice any other faith. Personally, the inference seems to be that the Newtown shooting spree was the result of banning prayer in schools. If that's the case, someone really needs to do a little research, first on Prayer in Public Schools, and then on what happened at Columbine, before that person hits the "share" button.

Sorry, I rambled. Back to the media. Inevitably, the question arises, does violence on TV cause violent crime. That question has been brought up countless times ever since parents questioned the violent content of "The Untouchables" back in 1959. There may be a connection, but hard evidence is scant. We do know young children are influenced by what they see on TV, which is why parental guidance is often suggested. I do believe, and it's just my opinion, that a person living on a steady diet of violent TV and movies, internet content, and shoot-to-kill games, can develop a distorted view of the world. Just like watching nothing but one news source without taking in a variety sources and considering the different points of view, a person can develop a "video game" mentality. It's possible that a person could carry out an act of violence, then experience that gut twisting moment of realization that what they have done is real and irreversible, and then turn the gun on himself. It's just a theory, but it makes me wonder. But remember, fiction, regardless of the medium, tends to be a refection of the society in which it was created. Gansta Rap wouldn't exist without the real experiences of the artists. So does violence breed violence, or do we learn from it?

We don't have easy answers, but the conversation seems to be starting. And that's a sign of hope. Baby steps. But I think we'll get there.

1 comment:

Greg Oen said...

Steve, I don't know what to add to your essay but thank you for writing it. You're an excellent writer.