These are real people we’re talking about

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.

24 thoughts on “These are real people we’re talking about

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    I know a lot of people who work for the city and the state, and I bristle when “government employees” are cavalierly tarred with a broad brush. Sure, crooks and slackers exist everywhere, but in my extensive experience, no more so in government than anywhere else. Most I know work hard and take pride in their jobs.

    Maybe if more people got to know the zoning inspectors or the people in solid waste, they’d see what great people they are!

    Reply
  2. bud

    Brad, I appreciate this empathy. But sometimes you act completely in opposition to this sentiement. When you allowed that completely disgusting Arail cartoon making fun of the racehorse that had to be destroyed comes to mind.

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  3. Brad

    Bud, as I said, I don’t always remember this myself. Although I have to say, I don’t quite see the connection to the incident you mention…

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  4. Michael P.

    If the Folks family would spend as much effort getting Will to shut up they wouldn’t have this problem. It’s idiots like him who I don’t have any feelings toward, he could drop dead tomorrow and I wouldn’t take back anything I’ve said about him.

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  5. Kathryn Fenner

    I really am starting to believe Brad’s double feint theory. Nikki has apparently said she’ll respond during next Tuesday’s debate….after flatly denying everything (what’s to respond to further?) It’s very odd as a public relations strategy, and both of them have been around long enough to know this!

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  6. Matt

    I agree with the theme of your post. Well said.

    It would have been extra nice, however, to also point out sympathies for the other principal in this drama and her family.

    Nikki Haley is not only a candidate for governor but also a wife and a mother of two young children.

    And even if she did what some might think she did based on the vague and unproven posts of some blogger known for peddling in both political smut and just regular smut–eve if it’s true, it didn’t NEED to become a part of the campaign.

    But politicians and their consultants make their choices. And so do the voters. Which is why the sense I get to talking to Republicans over the past week in Greenville and Spartanburg counties is that they’re now more likely to vote for Nikki Haley, in no small part as a way to punish people like Gresham Barrett (and developing, Andre Bauer–as some of us suspected all along) whose consultants have their fingerprints on the Haley story.

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  7. Brad

    Matt, I thought I was including both, indeed all, people involved in these scandals that the blogosphere seems to take such pleasure in.

    It just so happened that it was Will’s cousin, and not someone else’s, that I ran into this morning.

    Of course, I may also have been assuming that people would be less inclined to sympathize with Will — that’s certainly true in my case, given my experience with him, while I have enthusiastically endorsed Nikki on two occasions — before she became the candidate promising to give us four more years of Mark Sanford.

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  8. Brad

    And Anne, do tell: What are these “other faults,” so that we can at least gossip about THOSE?

    Seriously, though, speaking of blogging, let me know when you want me to do another guest spot.

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  9. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, there’s the champers habit, for one.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/abfab/

    Anne,
    Before you sue, realize the burden of proof is on you if you are a public figure, alas. Disproving a negative makes it very hard. Our defamation laws are not kind to public figures, unlike those abroad.
    K-9

    How about a guest post from the Tart?

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  10. Anne

    Y’all know I don’t know nothing about no politics, but I do know about being a wife and a mother. If the accusation was true (and I can truly say I would never, ever be unfaithful to my husband, though I do have other faults), I would get out of the race immediately and make exactly one comment:

    I’m leaving the race for personal reasons.

    After that statement, I’d do my best to mend my marriage and make it up to my children.

    And if I hadn’t done it – and anyone said I did – I would sue them. Really.

    As far as what he did – it does seem the rumors were coming out anyway. If my husband did something like that, I would probably encourage him to scoop the other guys. It’s coming out anyway and why on earth should someone else get a story he owns?

    And I take offense to the phrase “some blogger,” like that’s a bad thing. 😉

    A

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  11. Michael P.

    “How about a guest post from the Tart?”

    On boy!!! What will be discussed, fashion tips for old-money, metrosexual Columbians or some pompus, let the chef fondle your food for 5 minutes while plating restaurant where you go to been seen not to eat.

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  12. Anne

    Well, Brad, I think my dear husband would be more equipped to outline the other faults, but we usually save that for our therapist… And I would love for you to do another guest spot – how about next week? I’ll be at the beach and I would love to do a little less work!

    Kathryn – So true. I guess I would just do something. If I knew for a fact I hadn’t had an affair, I might be a little more vocal. Also, I may be incredibly naive, but I just can’t believe someone would announce they had had an affair with someone else if nothing had happened. I know his reputation, but he must have some things going for him, considering the jobs he has held, the fact that he has a successful website and that he does have a family (I consider that an accomplishment :-) )

    Michael P – *sigh* I usually wouldn’t respond to a comment like yours, so…never mind. You really don’t get me, but I’m ok with that and I’m sure you are, too. I was once told by a wise woman that there’s no mud on the high road. And I do have some great shoes I wouldn’t want to sully.

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  13. Anne

    And, by the way, we’ve gotten off track, but I originally read this post based on the title. I think that’s very important to remember, especially since we live in a state where everyone seems to now each other. Thanks for the reminder, Brad.

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  14. liz

    I got GOP smeared for making a true and very large complaint around the time Sanford disappeared.
    You wouldn’t believe all the ” bad coincidences” that have happened to me Brad.
    And who pays… my ninety year old father.
    You got it.
    Bingo.

    Our government is more corrupt than anyone will admit or talk about.
    We are loosing our precious country and sitting back watching it.

    anybody care yet?

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  15. Kathryn Fenner

    @ Anne–Don’t feed the trolls. I almost posted in your defense, but then I’d just be encouraging him.

    and the whole story does depend for its credibility on WF and the belief that so many have that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It’s like when Mom said “You both must have done something,” to my “He started it.” We want to meet people halfway, not believe that someone could be so devious or deluded. It speaks a lot for you that you are the kind of person who can see good in everyone.

    but WF does not have a reputation for truth and veracity.

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  16. Pat

    @Burl “I found this mea culpa to be pretty insightful:” It was; thanks for the link. But why doesn’t that insight deter from the Lee Atwater mentality? After all, these ARE real people out there and what goes around does come back around. Will the public and political dialogue ever get bad enough that there will be a real revolt against it? Or has instant dialogue and information doomed us to comment without thought?

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  17. Kathryn Fenner

    It’s lawyer speak–used to be you had to list them all or risk some untoward effect, like the bouncing of your writ.

    Now hereby be it proclaimed…

    Reply

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