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Monday, June 8, 2020

“Fake news, Donald?”

by Mary Lyon
It looked like he was shooting at you.
Someone who appeared to be a cop aimed something that appeared to be a shoulder-mounted cannon – right in your direction. And fired. And then an eerie corona of iridescent light and smoke issued from the mouth of that weapon.
This happened after dark, in Louisville KY on the last Friday in May. It was caught in the moment by a local news cameraman who, with his reporter/partner, was the actual target of a Louisville police officer, in the middle of a live shot from “the front.” Rubber bullets fired in this case, not the other kind. Thank God. It looked like a much closer close-call for NBC News reporter Jo Ling Kent in Seattle, grazed by flying fireworks thrown at her and her crew by nogoodniks run amok three evenings later.

Watching the country erupt in violence and chaos in the wake of the George Floyd killing by Minneapolis police officers stokes a fire inside me. It’s as though we’ve been following the news from inside a kaleidoscope from Hell full of sound and fury – the shocking video, the live reporting through clouds of tear gas, the hazy strobing light of random fires and police searchlights, chanting crowds, panicking crowds, some people sitting with arms raised evoking “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” some running helter-skelter, some lying prone on the ground, handcuffed from behind. Groups of protesters being rammed by police vehicles or bullied from horseback. The scenes form an audio/video miasma of explosions, noise, sirens, screams, scattered looting, smashed windows and general runaway terror.
It makes me think back to my own experiences as a reporter in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, with a sidelong look at the individual currently occupying the White House and rage-tweeting about “fake news.” And that makes me angry.
I despise Donald Trump’s slamming the media as “fake news.” I hate it. Can’t help it. I take it personally. That’s how I earned a living over almost half my life. I was a member of the media starting with college radio in the early 1970s, and on from there through another two decades.
I was among the first women to break into the “boys’ club” of broadcasting in this country. I was the first woman handling news on FM rock radio in Los Angeles, where the challenge was to come up with a brief hourly reality check that wouldn’t drive away listeners who tuned in for Led Zeppelin, the Stones, the Supremes, Dylan, Stevie Wonder, the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt. My efforts took me from music formats through all-news radio, local TV, several networks and the Associated Press.
I worked with lots of people who had long before earned respect, admiration and imitation, along with truckloads of awards. The “dean of Hollywood reporters,” Bob Thomas, who years earlier was first to phone in the bulletin that Robert F. Kennedy had been shot, worked just halfway down the newsroom from me. My desk was a few steps from the AP Photo pen, where Pulitzer Prize-winners clocked in every day. One of them, Nick Ut, was the news photographer who took “that” photo: a stark gut-wrenching shot of a little screaming Vietnamese girl running naked down a country road toward the camera – after having just been napalmed.
Perhaps that’s what Donald means by “fake news”? 
I was working at NBC-Burbank when the crew came back from Jonestown Guyana. What was left of them, anyway. Producer Bob Flick and soundman Steve Sung were based in the same third floor offices where NBC Radio operated. They’d been away, covering the Jim Jones/People’s Temple story, when it turned deadly.
Correspondent Don Harris, a local anchor before he went to network, was among those gunned down, along with cameraman Bob Brown. Steve Sung would later roll up one shirtsleeve to show his wounds, talking about the “piece of meat” that was literally shot loose from his forearm, that he grabbed and yanked all the way off. He said it was in the way as he’d been trying to cover the story while taking cover as bullets were flying. He and Bob Flick both survived. Congressman Leo Ryan from Northern California was among those killed in the assault.
Maybe that’s some of Donald’s “fake news”?
That’s MY former profession to which he’s laying waste! That’s labor I loved and people with whom I could barely believe I’d be lucky enough to work in the same newsroom. They were people with whom I covered high-rise fires, airplane crashes, campaigns and Election nights and glamour gaggles like the Oscars and Hollywood “Walk of Fame” Star Ceremonies. I waited behind rope lines and in courthouse hallways with them, toiled ‘til 4 am on breaking news alongside them, struggled with them past obstacles and boisterous crowds and closed-mouthed spokespeople determined to keep you from getting the story, and shared their front-row view of history whether it was glitz, glory, grief or just plain gobsmacking.
I can say it now because I’m retired and no longer in a position where my opinion doesn’t belong. Covering actual news always had to be “just the facts, ma’am,” no slant, no commentary, not editorializing as I’m free to do now. I loved those people. It didn’t really matter that we were “competitors.” We all worked together, and many of us became friends.
Somebody’s mic was crowded off the podium? Whoever was closest scrambled up to set it back in place. Somebody’s battery ran out on their tape recorder so they couldn’t record the rest of the press conference? One of us invariably had extras to offer. On occasion, some of us even had an extra tape recorder to lend. One of us didn’t get to the newser on time and missed the first half? One or more of the rest of us was happy to make them a dub or feed them the material back in the newsroom so they’d have it, too. Somehow, even in crowded rooms, there was always at least a little space for the guy who got stuck in traffic to fit in so everyone could have access. Sure, there were some who were cutthroats, some who were showboats, but most of them struck me as the proverbial mild-mannered Clark Kent-types. Hardworking and devoted to getting not just the story, but the truth – whether it was welcome or inconvenient. 
Are those the folks Donald sneers and smears as purveyors of “fake news”? Are they “fake” too?
It makes me angry when Donald Trump disrespects and slams the people – and the work – that I still care deeply about. I resent how he insulted Yamiche Alcindor of PBS NewsHour and CBS News correspondent Weijia Jiang because he didn’t like their questions. I boiled when he ordered CNN’s Jim Acosta’s White House press credentials held hostage, crippling Acosta’s ability to do his job. I seethed as he taunted reporter Katy Tur so menacingly at one of his 2016 campaign rallies that security had to escort her out after the rally was over, for her own safety.
These news professionals were – and are – people who work like dogs and track like bloodhounds and care intensely about what they do. People who put themselves in danger covering out-of-control brushfires or raging floods or roaring hurricanes. Or shootouts. Or war. It infuriates me when Trump sullies the profession I loved, and for which some actually have given their lives. And I don’t know a single soul among them in any capacity, network or local, radio or TV or cable or print, in front of or behind the scenes, who was a fake, or produced or wrote or presented anything fake. They were always meticulously mindful about their credibility and the integrity of the work.
I would remind Trump that he dares to diss the only profession that’s included, by name, in the Constitution of the United States. Check the FIRST Amendment. Always lots of whoop-de-doo all the time about the Second Amendment. Sorry. We-the-news-media beat that. We’re in the FIRST Amendment. Obviously those who originally conceived such revolutionary concepts had that one on their minds, up top.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to yowl “Fake News” against the in-person eye-witnessing of the coast-to-coast inferno that’s exploded in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. As NBC reporter Garrett Haake observed, while covering an agitated assembly a few hundred yards from the White House, “if the President is watching, I’m looking at his house right now. There’s nothing fake about this.”

Unless it’s the “reality show” that is Trump. 
“The country is crying out for leadership. …
“We’re a nation in pain. We must not let our pain destroy us. …
“I also know that the best way to bear loss and pain is to turn all that anger and anguish to purpose. …
“We can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle. More interested in serving the passions of his base than the needs of the people in his care. For that’s what the presidency is: a duty of care — to all of us, not just our voters, not just our donors, but all of us.”
        Joe Biden speaking in Philadelphia, June 2, 2020