Hide Your Kids! Hide Your Wife!

OK, so, if you haven’t yet, watch the WAFF 48 television report about an apparent attempted rape at a housing project in Huntsville.

Now, I’ve never worked television; I don’t have a lot of respect for television news. I’ll be the first to admit, the interview with Antoine Dodson was more than a bit entertaining. But was it news? Really? Or was the entertainment value the only reason it was included? Should it have been?

But, then, I’ll have to be honest. During my newspaper days, if I’d gotten an interview like that, I would have been really tempted to use it, just because the quotes would be too good to pass up. Everybody in town would be talking about it the day the paper came out. There’s differences in presentation between newspaper and television, but is there a philosophical difference in using the interview between the two media? I would like to think that my using the quotes would have been somehow different, but it’s hard to explain exactly what it is.

Thankfully, WAFF was kind enough to share their philosophy on sharing the interview:

What!? Really? You had no idea that it would get this kind of attention? Not sure that Antoine wouldn’t have exactly the right perspective on that: “You are so dumb. You are really dumb. For real.” Were they seriously including the interview for any reason other than entertainment value? Or are they just trying to act like they were taking the high road?

Either way, watching the follow-up video leaves me devoid of any respect for the station. If they were including it because it was entertaining, they’re going way too far in taking the moral high ground in these piece. “Victims have the right to speak out”? Part of my wonders if they’re not trying to construct a rationalization to explain away their holding an underprivileged minority up for ridicule.

But more frightening is the possibility that they really believe this. I fought battles for the First Amendment too often to like hearing the word “censoring” thrown around lightly. Not airing someone’s opinions in a newscast is not censorship. WAFF has never interviewed me on air. Have I been censored? Or is it only censorship if you conduct an interview and don’t use it? Do they really use every minute of interview footage they record? Or are they censoring everything else?

I think the journalists have some responsibility to the truth. If, as a journalist, you’re covering a story and discover in the process of your investigation that “they’re rapin’ errbody out here” — wives, husbands, kids — then that’s the sort of thing you really should mention in your coverage. So either WAFF has been hugely neglectful in their coverage, or they are, in fact, not raping everybody in Lincoln Park. And if they’re not, then why do you interview footage saying they are? That’s not an opinion, it’s bad information. And, on the part of WAFF, a lie.

On the other hand, without WAFF making the decision to air the interview, this would not exist:

So, what do you think? Should the interview have been aired? Why or why not?

2 Responses

  1. Wow…

    Like you, I have little respect for TV new and it’s exactly this kind of thing that causes me to have such little respect.

    Sure, Edward R. Murrow himself acknowledged that news was not only about reporting information, but was about entertaining your audience as well, but I doubt he would have envisioned something like this.

    I try to imagine how I would have presented this a a story in my newspaper. I imagine the bulk of the interview would have been conducted with the authorities. If there was pertinent information from the victim or the family, it would have been included, but, I made it a practice of never revealing the names of victims of a sexual assault or their families. I certainly wouldn’t have run their picture on the front page above the fold, the same as airing them on the evening news.

    I think the staff at this station knew exactly what they were doing in airing this segment as it is. They knew it would be an attention getter and that people would be talking about it, watching it on their website. This is the kind of thing that give all journalism a bad name and the reporter’s defense of her “story” is offensive.

    Like you, I’ve been out of the business for a while, but I still care about my former profession and feel that good, quality journalism is very important to every one. Seeing trash like this in the guise of “journalism” makes me angry. Maybe I should be used to it by now, but maybe there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to get used to this lowest common denominator type of story because I want to hold out hope that one day this type of sensationalist garbage will be a think of the past – even on television news.

  2. It should have been aired but it should have been edited the same as any other interview. No other response gets 30 second blocks of raw footage aired. Everyone I’ve heard from in “the business” can assure you that the 48 crew likely rushed back to the station and gathered everyone around their desk to laugh at him before they packaged this for broadcast. They knew full well it would be treated as entertainment and a poor black man would be ridiculed. I rolled my eyes (much like Antoine) when I heard the “censorship” excuse. Responsible editing is not censoring.

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