It was the middle of 1996, a few days after the bombing at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. It was also the middle of the night, the hours when things are prepared on morning news programs.
I looked up at an incoming satellite feed of video from the ABC Television News Atlanta headquarters. I saw the press (not the cops, not the FBI) all over Richard Jewell, a “person of interest,” neither a formally accused suspect in the bombing nor an announced material witness in the investigation. The man was leaving his apartment and going to his car — at least he was trying to. As he returned and attempted the trek in reverse, the images of the press swarming all around him revolted me.
“Who in the hell do they think they are?” I said to myself. “Even if he is guilty, they have no right to act like this. They are ruining this person’s life and—”
“Wait a minute, sweetie,” said my other voice. “They are you. If your boss tells you to follow Richard Jewell, what will you do? Stand with hands on hips and spew a few phrases of righteous indignation? How far do you think that will go? How can you take their money and trash what they do? Seems like you have some decisions to make.”
I left TV news. I resigned after more than 20 years of ambivalent fence sitting. Time has softened the uncertainty and clarified a neglected history.
But the recent horror in Boston caused a resurgence of that uncertainty. To refer to my working in TV News (1975-1997) as a “gentler,” “less-frantic environment” causes my insides to shudder in disbelief. How could that time period ever be viewed as something less than a series of headless chicken moments? A time that could be construed as comical if the stakes were not so high? But bring in the social media and so many news outlets in our current atmosphere, and my 20+ years take on an incomparable, pallid hue.
The lone constant I can identify is this: Employ your critical thinking. It is a skill that has always been called for, and it always will be called for. We need to use our head and not just our emotions to think things through, even though that task gets more difficult with every techno-leap.
Mary Jo KcKeon is a freelance writer and reference librarian currently living in the mountains outside Albany, N.Y.