Monday, September 15, 2003

Life Splashed in the Media

Did you ever experience a stretch of time in which you felt as though your life were lived through the prism of the media, in which people, organizations or stories you knew were served up for a wider audience to sample as well? I had a such a week last week, owing to a couple of stories.

The first involved an old high school crony of mine named Marty Gitlin, whom I haven't seen in perhaps 20 years, but who had his five minutes of fame, and then some. As Scene editor Pete Kotz described in this story last week, Marty stoutly labored for years as a sportswriter at the Lake County News Herald, patiently waiting for his turn to get into the larger, better-paying P.D. After more than a decade of being rebuffed (and being forced out of the business for financial reasons) he apparently got angry and sued the paper for employment discrimination (though I understand from a mutual friend that his suit focuses more on gender than race, contrary to the thrust of the Scene story).

Momentarily interesting, perhaps, but within a day or so, this modest case turned into something of a minor national story, after the influential Romanesko's media site (the favorite bulletin board of most everyone in the American media) caught wind and linked to the story. That in turn resulted in a number of letters from readers responding to the piece. Some were predictably snotty about how Gitlin could be so bold and egotistical as to suggest that, as he put it, "I hate to say it, but dammit, I'm good enough to be at the Plain Dealer.'" But one especially sharp Romanesko reader picked up on another, more vital angle: the outrage that a middle-aged guy with more than 20 years in the trade was still making only 30K, working fulltime.

The second story touching on our lives this week involved a close friend of my oldest son's, a St. Ignatius football player who was seriously injured in a harrowing helmet-to-helmet tackle during the freshman football game against Shaker Heights. Mark was rushed to Metro Hospital with a broken neck and no feeling below the waist, a story which made it to the PD front page on Saturday, accompanied by a blurry head shot captured from the Gesu (where they attended grade school last year) website. My Michael and his buddies visited Mark every day since, but the family turned away all attempts by the media for access, and declined to grant interviews. So PD print reporters did some good old-fashioned digging, and came up with a perfectly credible trio of pieces over the weekend. But local TV buzzards were another thing. Barred from the hospital, Ch. 3 videographers proceeded to climb trees outside the building and aimed their cameras through windows to capture images. Worse yet, reps for Fox's Ch. 8 did something they're barred from doing by the ethics policy instituted by the industry's leading professional group, the Radio and TV News Directors Association (click here for the ethics policy): they offered to pay for an interview. In this case, it didn't work, with a fellow football player turning down the offer for $100 for an interview. Look for further developments on this piece of the story, which I plan to pursue a little. In the end, the good news is this: Mark is making remarkable strides in his recovery. But we'll honor his family's request for privacy by not disclosing any more detail than that.

As for Marty, the ending is far grayer. I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy the onerous task of suing the mighty Plain Dealer, its corporate owner the Newhouse publishing empire and its vast battery of lawyers. They're rightfully well-practiced on playing defense and lasting out legal challenges from those who file libel suits, legitimate and otherwise, and the same legal firepower will be brought to bear on this case. But the sadder thing, in the end, is that Marty can't help but coming off at least partly portrayed as something of the mythical angry white male made famous during the Republican landslide of '94, an ignorant lout sent into a rage by the encroaching economic power of blacks and women (Kotz skillfully brings that up as a straw man, even as he mostly knocks it down). In truth, Marty is an impossibly earnest progressive on race and every other issue, raised in a justice-above-all-else Jewish family dedicated to unions and progressive causes of every stripe. And all the guy ever wanted to do was write for the local rag about his favorite subject, sports. Here's wishing that his story somehow turns out well in the end.

1 Comments:

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