Friday, September 30, 2005

What's the Point?

I read this Commercial Appeal story and it took me a day or two get finally get what was bothering me about it.

What you have is basically the results of reporter / investigator Mark Perrusquia's afternoons spent digging through publicly available records downtown to amass a record of a lot of bad news for John Ford, disgraced and resigned State Senator.

So what's the point? To borrow Gertrude Stein's famous phrase, there's no there there. It's a lot of evidence in search of a raison d'etre. If they wanted to shame John Ford, to wave his dirty laundry in front of the public for our amusement, then they accomplished that. But if there's a larger point here, it's not in the story. Which makes this a kind of pornography.

I've always disliked the standard broadcast and local news approach to traumatic and violent events, which is to stick the camera in people's faces and record their grief and horror. It is, to me, emotional pornography. A ritual display of others' most intimate moments for our pleasure and gratification.

It reminds me of the Commercial Appeal's running of a photograph a couple of years ago, of a distraught, mentally ill mother holding police at bay by holding a gun to her pre-teen child's head. It was Page One, above the fold. There was no reason to run the photo, as the events happened in Nashville and not Memphis, and everything ended well enough. It was one of an innumerable number of crimes committed that day across the state and region. But the CA had the picture, it was dramatic and sure to cause controversy, and so they ran it. Just for drama's sake.

Which is what's going on with the Ford story. This used to be the supporting evidence for a real story about the unraveling of Ford's income sources and how high-flying and close to the edge his life was to run into these kinds of arrears in a mere six months or so. (He first came under serious investigation by his colleagues in the State Senate in February or March this year. Then came the Tennessee Waltz indictments early this summer.)

There is no connect-the-dots reporting and examination going on here. Just a page of dots. How does Ford earn his money? Where and from whom? Did they talk with any of these people to find out how events have impacted Ford's earning power? No. All they have is a lot of unpaid bills massaged into the semblance of a purpose.

That semblance? Well, a lot of regular CA readers would say it's just the latest in the paper's long string of abuse heaped on the non-Harold Jr parts of the Ford family. They couldn't get people near John Ford to talk, except the ever-voluble Tamara Mitchell-Ford, so they went with what they had.

And local news stations went for it. Three and Five both went straight by the CA's outline, reporting what was only part of a story, and not the real meat of it.

Mark Perrusquia is a "real meat" reporter. He excels at digging and drawing connections. To put this out under his name is sad to see. You would think even the "new" Commercial Appeal would find this embarrassing.

No comments: