Deggans Punditry Alert: When The Reporter Becomes the Subject
I've got a pal who summed it up in a phrase: When journalism is done to you.
That's his term for the uncomfortable feeling which comes from being featured in a story in a way that doesn't quite capture what you were trying to say. As someone who has done his own journalism a fair amount of the time, I know how it happens: the reporter misunderstands you, doesn't set your quotes in context, or just has a different take on issue you're discussing.
I was reminded of this concept last week, when CNN finally ran a story based on a 15-minute interview with me on the underwhelming Caveman pilot. I knew the story aired because I started getting angry emails titled "are you kidding?" and "racist??? Against blacks???"
I was a little puzzled, because I had taken care to say during my interview that I thought the Cavemen pilot wasn't racist, just clumsy about having its characters -- ripped from the GEICO ads about modern day Cavemen upset about their depictions in media -- resist a wide range of stereotypes mostly attached to black people.
Then I saw the transcript for the story, which was originally planned for Paula Zahn's show before she left CNN, and eventually landed last week on a program they're calling Out in the Open -- basically a placeholder until the channel can decide what will go at 8 p.m.
The problem was that the anchor introducing and promoting the segment kept asking, "Is the Cavemen show racist?" But the story never included my quote answering that question by saying it isn't racist. Instead, they cherry picked other comments I made to make it appear that I was more outraged about the show than I was. I was trying to present a nuanced reaction to the show, but it seems the folks assemlbing this story just wanted another piece about black people complaining about unfair treatment in the media.
I experienced another version of this phenomenon when NPR's Juan Williams asked to speak with me about the recent controversy over Black Entertainment Television's depiction of black people. While I explained why the national Association of Black journalists gave BET its thumbs down award last week, I challenged Williams' assertion that some of the images on the channel were "pornography," and pointed out that they have a slew of new shows coming which may change their balance of images.
So I didn't appear in Williams' piece at all.
Got to say I prefer the treatment I got from the folks at the Web site Television Without Pity, which conducted an 20-minute interview with me on how I do my job and then posted a transcript, so all the ideas appeared as they were uttered. It was the second interview we'd done -- the first, lost to technical problems, got more into race and media -- but I just enjoyed seeing my concepts reflected pretty much as I intended.
Guess I better be more careful when I do journalism to others next time.