This morning, as I was headed to the office after breakfast, a guy on the elevator recognized me and introduced himself. It was a cousin of Will Folks.
Like Will’s Dad, whom I’ve also met, this cousin (whom I’m not going to name because I didn’t think to ask him if he’d mind, and it’s certainly not his fault that his cousin’s in the news) seems to be, and almost certainly is, a nice, reasonable guy who just lives his life and means no one any harm.
And chatting with him I was reminded again of how totally innocent people get splashed by these scandals that they have nothing to do with. Not that this guy complained about his cousin; he did not. But he spoke of how the family was having to make a special effort to keep their 97-year-old grandmother from seeing the news this week. And I sympathized.
I see this all the time, and to some extent, it keeps me grounded. When other people are gleefully chortling over the latest scandal, and presuming to assign the worst motives and actions to everyone involved and dismissing them as though they were abstractions — fictional characters invented for their entertainment or the furtherance of their cause — I remain conscious of the fact that they are real people. And they have connections to other real people who feel the heat from the spotlight.
We’ve all been guilty of such objectification of people in the news. For someone who’s spent a lifetime doing this, dark humor is a sort of defense mechanism against feeling too strongly the human tragedies that we deal in. But something has happened in recent years, with the ubiquity of sources of information, and with the removal of the last vestiges of respect for people’s personal lives: I’ve seen the average consumer of news, particularly the denizens of the blogosphere, become FAR more cynical than most news people.
One reason for that is that journalists actually know the newsmakers. Or writers do, anyway. I’ve noticed since early in my career that the biggest cynics in newsrooms are the editors who are tied to their desks. They see the people whose names appear in headlines as abstractions, as characters in stories, and nothing more. Reporters are more likely to have a complete, flesh-and-blood knowledge of those same people, and to care more about how what they write affects those people. This is at the root of the alienation between reporters and headline writers, for instance. Headline writers can get lazy and exaggerate; reporters have to deal with the fury of those who are mischaracterized.
Anyway, it’s considerations like this that make me absolutely hate stories such as this Haley/Folks mess, and wish I didn’t have to read or think about it (but since it bears on who will be our next governor, I can’t ignore it). I know Nikki. Yeah, I’ve been appalled at the change I’ve seen in her as she has been seduced by demagoguery. But I still hate to see her and her family in this fix. As for Will — well, he’s a somewhat less sympathetic character, no matter who’s telling the truth, and that’s because Will is one of those bloggers who show the most contempt for the human beings he writes about (like the ones I complain about so much). But Will is still a person, and there are other people who are certainly innocent in all this who are effected.
And while I don’t always succeed, I try to keep that in mind.