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Friday, March 6, 2009

Are we the luckiest people on earth?

On television a few days back, we saw former President H. W. Bush cry in relief when told that wife Barbara came through open heart surgery just fine. We also were 'fortunate' to see Rihanna's face after boyfriend Chris Brown 'allegedly' beat her up. We saw the anguish on a father's face when he learned his daughter was killed in an auto accident. We saw, over and over again... in slow motion, the tiger maul Roy of Siegfried and Roy. We just can't wait to catch a look at Michael Jackson to see if his nose has fallen off. We get to see everything. Of course, public figures are public. But our desires and habits encroach to the point that we feel it is our right... and the media's duty, to show us everything, even at the expense of real news.

Years ago, at the dawning of the broadcast news media we know today, a close friend's father was in an auto accident. As he sat, dazed, bloody and in shock in the front seat of what was left of his car, a quick-thinking reporter stuck a camera inches from his broken nose and asked, for the camera-- not for the victim, if he was ok. What a wonderful piece of journalism.

If you detect a hint of sarcasm, you are right. In today's world, there is no privacy. Every tender, precious , painful, tragic, banal moment is there for us to see... over and over again if it is particularly juicy, emotional, etc. Sure... no denying some of this is news. But an awful lot is not. It is 'for the ratings,' for the viewership that will follow, for 'an exclusive'... and we have forgotten where and how to draw the we don't.

We are a nation of voyeurs. There are no private moments and news is determined not by content value but by a scale of interest that is often eye popping, heart-grabbing, morbidly good. Emotions are king. We do most things today based on our emotions. We left logic and often judgment, a long time ago, prefering to let the media do it for us. We are driven by outrage, broad generalizations, half-truths and movie stars.

What has happened to us?

My favorite college professor, a former UPI photographer, in a journalism course that stressed ethics, told how he lost the Pulitzer prize. He was covering a story of a young child hit and killed by a car in front of the boy's house. When he got there, the little body was covered by a blanket and police were examining the crushed bike he was riding. Looking for a different shot, he walked around the house and, in a rear window, saw the father sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands, deep in grief. He raised his camera to shoot 'the shot of a photographer's lifetime,' then slowly lowered it, paused, then walked away. He told us that he felt deeply that this was not the world's moment. And he was right.

When is that kind of emotion and anguish everyone's to see?

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