Too many reporters today inject themselves into their stories.
If it’s an actor profile we get to know as much about the reporter as the star in question. What he or she ate during the interview. How they felt about being in the presence of a star.
I’m not a fan of that approach. Call me old school, but the reporter should be as invisible as possible while sharing the news. Even if said news is a fluffy portrait about an A-lister’s pet project.
So it pains me to peel back the curtain on Hollywood in Toto, if only a little bit. Trust me, it wasn’t my idea.
I’ve been covering Hollywood for nearly 20 years. I started at The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and later worked at The Washington Times for nearly a decade. I eventually segued into new media outlets, embracing my conservative views along the way. At each step I’ve tried my best to stick to reporting basics.
As the HiT editor I refuse to get nasty or unprofessional. I don’t name call those with whom I disagree or make fun of anyone’s weight or looks. This site is conservative, no doubt, and occasionally feisty. Just ask Samantha Bee.
I strive to be professional all the same.
I’ve interviewed plenty of liberal actors throughout my career. When you cover Hollywood that’s unavoidable. I never ducked a source due to his or her politics. And I routinely promote projects, via feature stories, starring liberal talent. Again, when you’re knee deep in entertainment that comes with the territory.
And I have no problem with that. I may disagree with most celebrities, or even mock their often clumsy attempts to sway your vote. I’m still glad to discuss their work. And, occasionally, challenge them on their stances if it’s appropriate.
I once interviewed avowed liberal Tim Robbins while employed at The Washington Times. He looked past the newspaper’s conservative bent in order to promote his project, the 2006 drama “Catch a Fire.” He did, however, tape record our chat while I was taping him.
That never happened to me before. Or since.
I assumed he feared being taken out of context by a conservative reporter. I had no problem with him recording our interview. And he never reached out to say anything in my story twisted his words.
This site, while predominantly right of center, is open to more than one perspective. We recently posted a review of the 1990 film “The Handmaid’s Tale” that took direct swipes at President Donald Trump. One of the site’s contributors is firmly left of center.
And much of HiT is apolitical in tone. That’s a mission that will continue. Ideology intrudes on too much of our lives as is. Just ask ESPN. These HiT stories serve as an oasis from our fractured times.
Which brings me to a new problem at HiT.
The last few weeks have seen not one but two story sources request their interviews be removed from the site. The first situation occurred before the story got published.
I conducted a lively interview with an author, and to the best of my knowledge, the chat went smoothly. She had no complaints before or after the conversation. Politics never crept into the chat. I threw softball after softball, eager to let the author describe her process and career journey.
Hard hitting questions? This was neither the time nor the place for it.
I later made her aware of the site’s nature but told her the piece wouldn’t touch upon politics in the slightest. Frankly, I get a kick out of interviewing folks who disagree with my world view. Heck, if we all did that now and then the country might be a little better off.
She appeared fine with my description.
Yet a few days later she sent me a cryptic message asking me not to run the story. Why? She refused to say. Did her publisher balk at HiT’s bent? Was it something else?
It just happened again.
HiT recently published a Q&A conducted via E-mail. That meant the subject could take his or her time with the responses and answer in any way possible. Once again, the piece in question was wholly apolitical. And, to my mind, very engaging.
Yet the source, through a publicist, requested the interview feature be removed from HiT without a reason why. When pressed, the publicist said the source wasn’t happy with her answers. I offered to edit out a particular passage that made her uncomfortable.
Sometimes we say something we regret. Perhaps one of her answers caused her some friction at work? She didn’t point to any particular response that gave her pause. I pushed a little more.
The answer I eventually received from the publicist confirmed my fears:
We did not inform [name withheld] that your website has a conservative angle. She was caught off guard and doesn’t agree with some of the views represented by your website and would feel more comfortable if her name was not associated with it. I hope you can understand and I apologize again.
Another publicist reached out to me last month to see if I wanted to interview his comedian client for the HiT podcast. I immediately said yes. I had heard the comedian before and enjoyed his work. I asked when we could set up the Skype-based interview. The publicist then shot me a note saying the comedian opted against the interview unexpectedly.
“[Name Withheld] decided to pass on doing this – I thought this would be right up his alley.”
Silence Is Golden?
Something similar happened a few months ago. I reached out to a source for help on a piece involving autistic children. The story showcased a new theatrical effort designed to help autistic children enjoy a day at the movies.
I hoped the source could add some medical context to the feature. She initially agreed before reading a few pieces from HIT. Then she expressed discomfort with the material in question. Fortunately, I was able to find someone else to share wisdom on a program that helps both autistic children and their parents.
Liberal Tolerance M.I.A.
This site went live in August 2014, and nothing like the incidents described above have happend for the bulk of its existence.
We’re only a few months into President Donald Trump’s four years in office. Our culture has never been so divisive, so angry. And, I suspect, having sources suddenly regret their apolitical HiT stories may happen again … sooner than later.
Welcome to the new liberal tolerance.
Photo credit: Foter.com