Saturday, June 11, 2011

"When Journalists Hit The Speaking Circuit" or "Turn Off That TV Camera!"

Why would an NPR correspondent delivering a speech refuse to allow media coverage?

That was the question I asked myself, and that correspondent, when she appeared in my town at the annual Darien / Norwalk (CT) YWCA "Women of Distinction" luncheon. As volunteer program director of my town's government cable-access TV channel, I was assigned to cover the awards ceremony at which Dina Temple-Raston was the invited (and well-paid) keynote speaker.

For weeks her appearance had been promoted, the notices touting her work as NPR correspondent covering national security and anti-terrorism. At $85 apiece, the chicken lunch at a swish country club was a big draw. One hundred and seventy-five tickets were sold.

The organizers from the YWCA asked our station, Darien TV79, to cover the event knowing that our audience would be several times larger even than the crowd in attendance. The award recipients, incredibly talented local women, deserved the community's kudos and airtime.

A week before the event I made the mistake of suggesting to organizers that they clear our videotaping with Ms. Temple-Raston, expecting that a fellow journalist would certainly welcome coverage. Boy, was I wrong.

A few days before the luncheon, the Y told me she would not allow us to videotape her speech. Her agent said it was an NPR rule. But when I checked with friends who worked at NPR, they said they knew of no such edict.

As a former radio anchor (at NBC News, where I received a Peabody Award) I still see myself as a journalist. Our local TV station prides itself on its C-Span style "gavel to gavel" coverage of town events. We never edit our coverage and we don't allow those we're covering to dictate when we turn on and off our cameras. No real journalist would.

What should we do? Cover the awards luncheon? Boycott the entire event? I sought counsel from working journalist friends. One suggested I enlist the help of SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) or the ACLU. A local TV news director said, because it was a private event, the Freedom of Information Act wasn't applicable. The local NPR news director lamented my position but said there was little I could do.

Print reporters would be allowed to cover the speech. And photographers. But no TV and no audio recording. Why the double standard? I promised the Y only one thing: whatever happens, I intend to let folks know about the hypocrisy of their guest.

A day before the event, at my request, the Y sponsors circled back to me with more information. Apparently her agent was wrong. It was not an NPR's rule about no taping, it was Ms. Temple-Raston's rule. Clearly, the Juan Williams case (of NPR Staffers speaking off-air) has had a chilling effect on those NPR staffers' outside, money-making speaking gigs.

The day of the event I decided to give full coverage a final try. Arriving at the Woodway Country Club, I told the YWCA organizers that the community deserved to see the award winners and I promised to record only that... if I could speak to Ms. Temple-Raston and make a final appeal. Seconds later, she appeared and we shared a rather contentious two minute conversation.

"You know you cannot tape my speech"' she said. "So I've heard," I said, "But why? Is it really an NPR rule?". "No," she said, "It's just my personal preference. I am on vacation today."

Then I tried appealing to her as a fellow fifth-estater. "As a journalist are you comfortable in stopping my coverage of your speech?”

"Absolutely," she said without hesitation. "You're lucky I'm allowing you to tape the awards presentations!"

"That's not your call," I told her. "I'm here at the invitation of the YWCA."

"Well, that camera better be off. That's an ethical issue," she said, and then added icing to the cake... "and this conversation is off the record."

"No, this conversation is ON the record, Dina, and it is part of my coverage," I said.

At this point two other videographers arrived, one from The Patch and the other from News12, our local cable news operation. Dina visibly flinched, turning to both and reminding them they too could not tape her speech. "No problem," said one of them.

Her final comment came as a somewhat rhetorical question... "why are you being so hard-assed (about this)?"

Why? Because you, Ms Temple-Raston, can't have it both ways. You cannot promote your private, paid speaking business on the basis of your NPR work and then pretend that your comments are somehow private. Nobody came to pay $85 to hear you as an individual. They came to bask in the glory of your media aura.

If you brand yourself as part of NPR, your remarks should be open to public coverage. I’m guessing that you would tolerate no less in your own journalistic endeavors, would you?

Indeed, with all cameras turned off, Ms. Temple-Raston’s speech was no more than a series of audio clips from NPR and a few stories of her time in war zones. (I was allowed to take notes). As the women dined on their chicken she recounted an alleged Muslim honor killing she’d once covered, giving a detailed description of the wife being stabbed so many times OJ-style she was decapitated. Bon appetite.

Finishing her remarks, she sat down and the camera was turned back on as the awards were presented. It was a wonderful community celebration and our town TV station covered it as such.

The guest speaker hardly committed any “news” aside from being a turncoat to her journalistic ethic of an open and free press. I just hope that next year’s ceremony isn’t similarly distracted.



At 6/12/2011 , Blogger Rich Kozlovich said...

Dear Sir,

What I am surprised at is your level of surprise. Journalists have a reputation for integrity in society may be even lower that used car salesmen, and it is well deserved. Journalists spew out lies of commission and lies of omission, twist facts, create false spin on events and promote virtually everything that is destructive to a stable society….daily.

During the Rathergate scandal Rather's producer, Mary Mapes, was interviewed by “ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross”. In the interview “Mapes says she is unrepentant about her role…… "I don't think I committed bad journalism. I really don't,"

She went on to say that “she had no journalistic obligation to prove the authenticity of the documents before including them in the "60 Minutes II" report. "I don't think that's the standard”. Is this the exception or is it the rule?

I believe that the level of integrity, especially among the main stream media is deplorable, and NPR is one of the worst.

Those of us who follow the news and dig more deeply into what is actually going on….and actually read books…..are appalled by what we see on the news and read in the new journals and papers. So why would you think that an NPR “journalist” would subject herself to the very same thing she probably does to others?

My view is that this is most likely the way she functions regularly because that is what her handler’s demand of her; and the way the rest of her “profession” functions in general. As a result she assumes that everyone from the media does. And for the most part…..she is probably right!

Rich Kozlovich

At 6/12/2011 , Blogger Oldironsides said...

Your choice of words used to describe the "alleged Mercy Killing" leaves me wondering if you are trying to describe what is commonly called an "Honor Killing".

At 6/12/2011 , Blogger JIM CAMERON said...


Thank you. You are absolutely correct!

At 6/12/2011 , Blogger Steven said...


At 6/15/2011 , Blogger StewartIII said...

NewsBusters: NPR Reporter Gets in Testy Chat Over No-Taping Rule at Her Speaking Gig

At 6/15/2011 , Blogger Bob Collins said...

I hope you're contacting the new NPR ombudsman over this. It would make a great article for him and give him a quick opportunity to alienate him from the NPR newsroom. (g)

At 6/15/2011 , Blogger JIM CAMERON said...

Ms Temple-Raston has offered a reply via Jim Romenesko's blog on the Poynter Institute website:


She says...

"Together with the organizers, I requested that my remarks not be filmed during this private luncheon. I do take the point made by this reporter, and would just say in this instance, I didn’t want the added distraction of TV cameras."

At 6/15/2011 , Blogger bashandpop said...

What else would you expect from a liberal? Liberals are no champions of openness or freedom.

At 6/16/2011 , Blogger 15-Seconds said...

We offer a more mundane possible reason why Dina dodged your reasonable request.


At 9/08/2011 , Blogger Heather Schoen said...

This is a simple one JB, Dina the Diva didn't want to be caught with her words showing! Good job...H.S.S

At 9/08/2011 , Blogger Tripp Frohlichstein said...

Way to go, Jim!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home