I have to tell you that I've done a 180 on Harvey Levin, the man in charge at TMZ. I first met and watched Harvey working in L.A. in the early 90's. A brash, pain in the rear, what's he doing in television?, grand-standing, lawyer-turned-reporter on local TV, Harvey was a little like watching a car accident. You didn't want to, but you had to. Us 'real' journalists just couldn't abide Harvey and his reportorial shenanigans.
Turns out Harvey didn't like us much either, and eventually left local TV for the, at the time, untried realm of reality television, or what passed for it at the time. I think it was The People's Court. I lost track of him until out of nowhere he resurfaced with TMZ, first a web site, then a companion TV show, again a first -- the tail wagging the dog, or so we thought.
I'm not interested in celebrity news, never have been, but I've watched Harvey's show and I like it.
It's fresh, the pace is good, he's engaging in his role, and it's honest. You know what it's going to be and it delivers. So, with that in mind, I think Harvey should take over CNN. I say that because it's obvious CNN needs help, and it's obvious that it's already sort of a celebrity news station anyway. Exhibit #1: Anderson Cooper in Egypt.
I tried hard not to think about it. I tried harder not to write about it. But then I saw that pathetic looking picture of Anderson Cooper in hostage mode. To use a phrase from ESPN, "come on man!" He's in hiding because he's scared? Surely you jest? Is this a parody? Is there a
hidden camera somewhere? Where did he think he was going? Cairo, Illinois?
Yes, things are dicey in Egypt. Yes you can get hurt covering a revolution. What, you mean, these things aren't always picnics in the square? Nope. It is something particularly new for U.S. television journalists, this concept that there are people in the world that don't know who they are, don't care who they are, and would just as soon they go home. Well, Anderson Cooper was more than happy to oblige.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and in Cooper's case he just kept at it--all the way to New York. What's next? A haiku?
American journalists, particularly the television ones, are learning the difference between covering a controlled war, being embedded with friendly troops, and covering a fluid, live, dangerous situation where nobody gives a damn about your reputation. That's not to say you
shouldn't be concerned with your own well being. You should. But what's happening to you while you cover the story, isn't the story.
A buddy of mind decided a few years back to 'cowboy' his way across Afghanistan. He was thinking about that long and hard when he was in the trunk of his car at a Taliban checkpoint. His fervent hope was that they not open it. It's a story that I know. It's a story he knows. It's a story his driver, who saved his bacon, knows. But it's not a story that anyone else knows. That's because he was there to cover the war, not his own butt.
Freedom of the press is a uniquely American concept. It is one worth fighting for and the practice of it often requires being scared. It sometimes leads to being injured. Too many times it leads to death. The reporter's. 87 journalists paid the ultimate price in 2010. Suddenly being punched ten times on the head doesn't sound so bad.
Cooper isn't the only culprit of course. Brian Williams of NBC standing on a balcony, with Lester Holt, I think, overlooking the action and describing how he viewed it comes to mind. A Molotov cocktail here. A Molotov cocktail there. Spot news coverage at best, self-indulgent at its worst. And how about that Holt 'rescue mission' of the 76-year-old American woman who had an apartment downtown? It was a mission that seemed to last about as long as it took for Holt to realize just how dangerous it might be. Sorry lady, I've got a weekend newscast to do.
We, the American media, television in particular, does not do foreign news coverage well. There are all sorts of reasons for that. But that doesn't mean that when we do try and do it we can't do it better. Do you feel like you know why Egyptians are revolting? Do you know the factions involved? Do you understand the situation? How many stories did you see about Egypt before the demonstrations began? Isn't that the journalist's job?
Now that's a scary proposition for television news folks, a real kick in the head.