Sunday, July 19, 2009

This is Not the Way it is

So with the passing of Walter Cronkite at age 92 due to being 92, I felt the need to go back and look through some of the more interesting or captivating moments during his career. And as I was watching YouTube clips, the difference between news now and news when it was just news (and not just something to occupy our time online when we're not looking at porn) is amazing to me. Granted, I think present news coverage is far from neutral reporting and often misses the point because reporters don't know how to be reporters (but they DO know how to stand there and look all pretty. And I'm not knocking that! We like 'em pretty. Makes us pay closer attention to them when they have a lovely set of...eyes.), so I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm being neutral, but I'm not a reporter. I just call 'em as I see 'em.

It's not even just the style of reporting as it also is the content of the reporting if you were to compare the two eras. Here's an example. Here we have a super-smart scientist guy explaining to the media at a news conference what the problem is over at Three Mile Island on March 30, 1979. He draws us this informative graphic so that we can better grasp the concept of how a build up of nuclear gases inside of a reactor is bad. Behold!

Huh. OK, well, good thing he was talking at the same time, right? Or maybe it's just really such a simple concept that not much more than that was needed. Hard to say, but let's compare it with this graphic from 1994 which shows us a 4 year timeline of the top three finishers in the figure skating event at the Olympics in Lillehammer. Behold!

Good Lord. Shouldn't the figure skating thing be a case of 'less is more'? We get all of that for figure skating, but we only needed a rudimentary line drawing for Three Mile Island? I'm not so sure I'd call this progress, really.

Then I watched some footage on YouTube of when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald and it's a little chaotic as you can imagine. The poor reporter, a one Bob Huffaker, is completely shocked. He doesn't know what to do, what to say. "The shots were fired by a man wearing a black hat, a brown coat, a man that everyone down here thought was a Secret Service agent." (Doesn't sound very "secret" to me, but I'm going to cut you a break being as how you've just see a Presidential assassin gunned down right in front of you.) But it's when the ambulance shows up and everyone is scrambling to get out of the way and poor Bob looks at the camera with a look on his face that just says, "WTF just happened here?" It's as hilarious as it is extremely telling. Behold!

Meanwhile, the press folks are trying to do their reporting and they're all being fairly cordial to one another, trying to stay out of each other's shots and what not. You've got people gently tapping on other's backs to get them to move or asking them to get down and out of the shot. All of that is in stark contrast to how reporters and cameramen behave at news events today. They'll trample each other and stand on the dead body if they think that it will get them a better shot. But not then. Here's the cop (they call him Pat) who is supposed to keep the crowd back so that they can get Oswald in the ambulance. He's crouching down so that the news cameras can get a better shot. You can hear the news guys saying, "Pat! Pat, can you get down a little?"

And I saw this and just about flipped.

There's Pat the Cop and the guy next to him is trying to keep him out of the camera's view. Look at where the other guy's hand is! It could SO just take Pat's gun right there. You would NEVER see anything like that today. (In his defense, poor Pat the Cop looked almost as shaken up as Bob the Reporter. Then again, I'm just assuming that Pat is a cop and not some security guard that was hired for the day.)

Poor Bob the Reporter keeps trying to do his job in the midst of all of this. As they're waiting for ol' Oswald to be wheeled out for the futile ride to the hospital, Bob mentions that "The only word so far is that the shot came from a man wearing a black hat and a coat." Well, that narrows it down, doesn't it? Have you looked at the guy with his hand on Pat the Cop? I think he has a black hat and a coat. Maybe it was him! Eh, maybe not.

Meanwhile, when they do get Oswald in the ambulance, they wheel him out on a stretcher and he's kind of falling off on one side and there are many great camera angles of this scene. So it was perfectly OK then, but today, a photo like that of someone dying or someone that has been shot (someone fairly well known, of course) would have all of the tabloids scrambling to see if they could bid the highest for it. Back then? Evening news footage! Assassin guy half falling off a gurney! Not a big deal AND free! Huh. Go figure.

I find how we did things back then kind of odd. For some reason, we thought it was a fine idea to have a perp walk where we trot out the accused and display his weaponry of choice for all the world to see. Then again, we also thought it was a fine idea to have our President driving around in a convertible in the middle of the day. Well, at least we learn from our mistakes every now and then.

Then there was the way that things were described. To say that they were brief is an understatement. We have these words of wisdom after the shooting of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"They have issued an all points bulletin for a well-dressed white man seen running from the scene." Yeah, that really narrows it down quite a bit.

"They rushed the 39-year old Negro leader to a hospital where he died of a bullet wound..." The "Negro leader"? You know, that just SOUNDS bad. Just that is SOUNDED bad, couldn't folks have figured out earlier that it WAS bad?

"Police said they found a high powered hunting rifle about a block from the hotel but it was not immediately identified as the murder weapon." No, because high powered hunting rifles are constantly being strewn about town! It's a mess! No one ever picks up their high powered hunting rifles when they're done assassinating people. Nope, they just leave them lying there, cluttering up the neighborhood! The nerve!

I'm not even going to pretend to wax all poetic about Walter Cronkite dying, as I can vaguely remember my Dad watching him do the news on TV. (It was long before I grew to be as cynical as I am. Well, probably not TOO long. I like to get a head start on things.) He was 92. Seems to me like he had one hell of a run. But he hasn't done the news on a nightly basis since 1981, meaning that he has been off of the air longer than he was on it. You'd think that those who make their craptastic attempts at journalism these days would sit up and take notice of what it was that Walter Cronkite did and how he did it. But I doubt that the majority of them can even see the relevance in how he did his job and how he became the most trusted man in America. Besides, who cares about being trusted as long as you're getting paid? And THAT'S the way it is.

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Anonymous said...

Read Bob's account in "When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963." The WTF look is a glance to make sure the camera is following him to the ambulance.

Mare said...

Hey, Anonymous.

Really? I will absolutely read that. That's a very interesting insight into that glance. Thanks for the tip. I really appreciate it.

And thanks for reading!

~ Mare

Anonymous said...

Bob Huffaker's scheduled duty that day was to hold the CBS microphone to pick up sound, while the national reporter (was it Tom Fenton?) was to provide commentary from the studio. When the chaos broke out, Bob realized that the reporter in the studio had no idea what had happened and he took the mike and ran with it.

Huffaker's book is a wonderful read about the local press core covering the assassination and everything around it during those few days. He provides the absolute best commentary I've seen about Jack Ruby.

Mare said...

Hi, Anonymous.

Poor Bob. He did a heck of a job for someone that was just supposed to be holding the microphone, that's for sure.

I am definitely going to look for his book and give it a read. It sounds fascinating. Thanks for the tip!

Thanks for reading!

~ Mary