Teaching Evolution

A blog devoted to teaching evolution, both in our schools and in our communities.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Katie Couric, Handcuffs on a 13-year-old, and the Future of Journalism

I don't watch the Today Show and I don't watch the CBS Evening News. The media world is atwitter with rumors that Katie Couric will jump from one to the other. Here's why it shouldn't happen:

I saw about three minutes of the Today Show this morning because I happened to flip to that channel to find out how cold it was outside. Couric was interviewing the parents of a girl who was handcuffed on a school bus and their attorneys. I hadn't heard anything about this case, but I've now had a chance to read a bit about it, and I feel confident of two things:

1. The cop was wrong to handcuff the girl.
2. The girl was not harmed in any serious way.

Ordinarily, this would be a minor story that no national news outlet would carry. But because the school bus had a security camera, that makes it huge news in the eyes of the Today Show. Fine. I really don't care what the Today Show broadcasts.

I do care, though, about fairness to people like the police officer, who, because he was the subject of a national news story will now likely never live down what was, ultimately, a rather minor mistake. And there was nothing fair at all about this interview. Couric gravely intoned that the girl was injured so badly that she had to go to the hospital. Not an ounce of skepticism came from Couric's mouth, even as the home audience was treated to a laughable photograph of the girl's wrists. The parents said they took their daughter to the emergency room, where she was treated for a contusion. Do you know, dear reader, what a contusion is? It's a bruise. The girl's wrists were slightly reddened. If you have fair skin like the girl in question, you can make your own wrists red right now. Just firmly grip your right hand around your left wrist, let go, and you have a contusion. Do you feel the need to go to the emergency room?

So what does this have to do with the future of journalism? The person who sits in the anchor chair at CBS Evening News isn't just a reader of a TelePrompTer. He (or, perhaps soon, she) is the public face of important news events. The next time truly serious news breaks, millions of Americans will turn to the person in the anchor chair at CBS. If that person is Katie Couric, viewers will be hearing about history in the making from the kind of person whose news judgment prevents her from knowing the difference between bruised wrists and police brutality.


At 10:17 AM, Blogger dhodge said...

I never watch TV news so help me out here, do news anchors actually do anything that could be considered journalism? Do they research stories, interview people, write copy, or even decide which stories to air? I have always viewed them more as actors than as journalists.

At 10:59 AM, Blogger dhodge said...

BTW, did you deliberately include the terms 'Katie Couric', 'Handcuffs' and '13-year-old' in the title of this post to try and increase your readership by attracting people searching the Internet for fetish porn?

At 11:48 AM, Blogger PaulNoonan said...

Anchors do have a lot of say. Most of them cut their teeth doing "serious journalism," remember. The anchor's perceived fairness, trustworthiness, and fame can also be instrumental in getting key stories. 60 minutes has always done a great job at securing interviews with despotic world leaders because of their anchors' gravitas.

There are trusted off-camera people who excel at getting stories too, of course, but the on camera persona is not unimportant.

If Katie Couric is suddenly a news anchor, the pool of available stories will shift into schmaltzy stuff like what MDS has listed above. And the news business is a self-generating market. When you do serious stories, you will find more serious stories. When you do garbage, garbage will start to seek you out.

Anchors tend to be well-respected senior members on a news team. People defer to their judgement.

At 1:33 PM, Blogger beedubyuh said...

I think everyone is missing the forest for the trees here, or putting the cart before the horse or whatever cliche is appropriate.

The hiring of Katie Couric is not going to lead to CBS softening its news coverage. It is because CBS has ALREADY decided to soften its news coverage, that they are considering hiring Couric, who would be an ideal "face" for their new direction.

At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Peter Zelchenko said...

I am the winner of a substantial excessive force suit against the Chicago Police Department. In 2002, handcuffs were deliberately ratcheted around my wrists so tightly by an irate officer that I had to go to the hospital. The pain does not come from the metal cutting into the skin; it comes, and very deliberately, from the effect of the radius and ulna being compressed together. I was arrested after I observed an officer attempting to frame another driver for an accident which apparently he himself had caused.

This handcuff trick is common enough among certain cops that there is plenty of commentary on it online. In fact, last night I spoke to a woman who'd been wrongfully arrested (they downgraded the charge from "mob action" to a minor traffic violation). I examined her wrists and they were marked and red. She said she had been screaming in pain within minutes of the cuffs being put on, and was begging them from inside the squadrol to loosen them. They left her in the truck, deliberately, for over an hour in this condition.

Your skepticism of mass media journalism may be laudable, but your suggestion that the girl had quite likely simply "rubbed her wrists" to make them turn red fails the razor and also would be an injustice to the victim, since it is at least equally likely that she was in fact brutalized. Whether the officer did wrong or not, you need to give the girl the benefit of the doubt.

Incidentally, what would you call it? "Misdemeanor brutality"? "Petty torture"? If malice is intended, it makes no difference whether it was a small malice or a large one. Officers of the law, of all people, are under an obligation to hold themselves to a higher moral standard and not allowed to engage in criminality while wearing a badge.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger MDS said...

"you need to give the girl the benefit of the doubt."

I did give the girl the benefit of the doubt. I listened to her story, read news accounts about her story, and then determined that it was highly unlikely that she was harmed in any significant way. You seem to think we should presume that a police officer is guilty until proven innnocent in a case like this. I disagree.


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