Fear of the cameras

Here’s another case of oxygen deprivation atop the pedestal of self-importance upon which professional journalism resides. We should all be used to this by now, but these things continue to amaze me.

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Linda Greenhouse, Supreme Court reporter of The New York Times and described as the “queen bee” of Supreme Court reporters, refused to participate in a panel discussion this week, because C‑SPAN cameras were there. Organizers scrambled quickly and forced C‑SPAN to leave rather than leave a gaping hole in the panel (but creating a gaping hole in C‑SPAN’s programming line-up).

To add to the strangeness of her reaction, Greenhouse did not then demand that the discussion be off the record, only that C‑SPAN not film it. Sitting in the front row of the conference room was even an audience member with a press badge. He was not asked to leave.

Ms. Greenhouse explained that she wasn’t aware that TV would be there and added the remarkable statement, “I didn’t want to have to modulate my comments for a national audience.”

Folks, you really have to stop and think about that one. “Modulate my comments?” She didn’t ask reporters to leave, so “modulating comments” wasn’t the issue. What was it then?

“There is a difference,” she went on, “between appearing before a room of 50 or so professors and speaking on national television, as I’m sure you recognize.”

I don’t recognize it. And since when is taking part in a panel discussion “speaking on television?”

I think Ms. Greenhouse was simply afraid of the cameras and made a bad decision. All this crap about national audiences and such just proves that she feels television requires a performance, and she didn’t want to perform. By pitching a fit to hide her fear, she separated herself from the other, equally important panelists and gave her profession another black eye.

It’s no secret that print people don’t understand or like television (think of the poor Orange County Register editor caught picking his nose behind a reporter who was live on KOCE-TV from the newsroom), but this goes beyond that. One of the commenters to the CJR story wrote, “Just another nail in the coffin of the mainstream media,” and I have to agree with that.

While Ms. Greenhouse likely feels justified in her response, the truth is that when journalists separate themselves from others, they do so at the risk of alienation, which is what has happened here. C‑SPAN had a right to be there; they were invited. Ms. Greenhouse had a right to refuse to participate, too, but I think she made a terrible mistake and owes the organizers — and C‑SPAN — an apology.

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