Peter Callaghan covers the state Legislature for The News Tribune in Tacoma. Blog: thenewstribune.com/politics. Twitter: @CallaghanPeter. Reach him at email@example.com.
What does Matt Lauer have that we don’t have?
Other than fame. And glamour.
But other than that, what does he have? OK, a massive national audience. And the ability to make people famous, if only for a day or two.
But other than all that, what does he have? And why do so many local newsmakers reject local newsies and use TV programs like the “Today” show and “20/20” as national confessionals?
It’s hard not to take it personally. We ask, more or less politely, and too often we get told to take a hike.
Sometimes they try to ease the impact by saying it’s not us, it’s them. They make a plea for privacy, saying how they too are victims, how they want only to be left alone. Like when Karilyn Bales, the wife of accused war criminal Robert Bales, issued a pretty classy statement last week, given the circumstances. It expressed her shock at the allegations and her sympathy for the victims and their families. But it also said this: “I know the media has a right to pursue and report news. As you do your jobs, I plead with you to respect the trauma that I and my extended family are experiencing. Please allow us some peace and time as we try to make sense of something that makes no sense at all.”
And this: “Please respect me when I say I cannot shed any light on what happened that night, so please do not ask.”
Most of the local press backed off. Then, less than a week later, she is sitting with the “Today” host doing what she said she could not -- talking about what happened that night. She now says it couldn’t be her husband, that she doesn’t think he was involved. And then she made a pitch for contributions to a Bales defense fund.
Last month, another local person found herself unwillingly at the center of a big story. She was the social worker who dropped off Charlie and Braden Powell at their father’s house and then watched in horror as he blew up the house with himslef and the children in it. Understandably this woman wanted privacy and time, refusing all requests for interviews. She even asked that her name not be released, and we honored that request. Then, she too decided that maybe she didn’t need as much privacy and time as she first thought, giving her story and her name -- Elizabeth Griffin-Hall -- to Chris Cuomo on “20/20.” Not to be outdone, perhaps, David Lovrak, the 911 dispatcher who delayed in sending deputies to the Powell house, gave his version of the events to “Dateline NBC” and Keith Morrison.
Mainstream media secret
I’m not jealous of Lauer or Cuomo or Morrison. OK, maybe a little. It’s just that I have never been able to figure out how regular Americans can develop a personal and trusting relationship with people they’ve never met, except via their televisions. It’s not just national TV stars. We sometimes lose out to local TV personalities who tell interview subjects how much they care and then hype their “exclusive interviews.”
Still, here’s a little secret about the “mainstream media” in the Puget Sound area. We’re actually more respectful than newsies elsewhere when it comes to the privacy of people who find themselves thrust into the public spotlight. When Amanda Knox flew back home after her ordeal in Italy, she held an airport news conference and then asked to be left alone. And, for the most part, she was. Move her to New York or Chicago or L.A. and she would have been followed by hordes of cameramen and photogs who would have made the parking strip in front of her house look like an Occupy Wall Street encampment.
Maybe that’s just another example of Northwest Nice. But the result too often is we lose out to overly aggressive national news programs such as “Today” or “20/20” or “Dateline.” There is one more thing they have that we don’t -- checkbooks. I don’t know what arrangements were made by Lauer or Cuomo or Morrison. But their networks can and will pay for exclusives, something we won’t do -- even if we could afford it.