So here’s a neat bit of manufactured news for you. One of my students works at the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library, which in a very old building on 125 street and Amsterdam. The building is owned by the city but is not handicap accessible. It does not have a ramp. At least it does not have a traditional ramp. My student, who weighs close to three hundred pounds and is built like a nose tackle, is the ramp. Whenever anybody in a wheelchair needs access they have him carry the person and chair inside.
Now of course I think the City should spring for a ramp. So does everybody at the library. So, apparently, does the evening news. One of the local stations sent a camera crew out to the library to shoot a story on the lace of handicap access—a good subject for an expose. They had the local city councilman there talking about how he’s tried to get the NYPL to build a ramp, and they interviewed passers by. So far so good. But then they got to the goy in the wheel chair.
This guy was running around in a motorized wheel chair and, according to my student, was an active part of the shoot. He had apparently come with the camera crew. They took several takes of a shot where he rolled by the front of the building, and then several more of him rolling up to the staircase and looking up pitifully toward the door, longing to somehow get inside. My student says he swears he saw a tear rolling down the guy’s cheek.
This was manipulative. It was deceptive. It was obviously a manufactured bit. This was no longer news: it was scripted drama masquerading as news. When they interviewed the guy, he told of how he comes to the library often but he can’t get inside, to which my student said “Bull: I’ve never carried him inside. He’s never been there.”
So what is the responsibility of the news organization here? Are they breaking faith with their viewers, who expected news to be actual news? Or are they trying to right a wrong by dramatically highlighting the problem? Some of my students think what the evening news did in this case was fine. One even said “In this case the end justifies the means.” Most of them, however, thought the TV station should be held accountable for deceiving its viewers.
Should a news organization manufacture news?