In the midst of all that is going on in the news – and an active time of the year for sports – a “B List” ESPN sportscaster berating the employee of a towing company on a security camera doesn’t seem like it would become one of the most talked about news stories of the week. But get below the surface just a bit and you’ll understand why Britt McHenry is now the focus of so much talk, on the air and online.
There are multiple factors at work. First, as a culture, we are fascinated by seeing people via video who are acting like they aren’t being captured on video. That has been true since the days when Allen Funt first became became a household name.
But most notably, there is a media reality that we experience on a regular basis. Media consumers really want to know what the people they see, hear and read “are like in real life.” Because we work with visible journalists and media personalities on a regular basis, we are frequently asked “Is he a good guy?” or “Is she as sweet as she seems like she is?” A few years ago, I spent the bulk of a basketball game with friends of a friend answering questions from a police officer/avid news viewer along those lines. He went through essentially a checklist of every reporter and anchor in the market.
That factor played huge into the ongoing discussion of McHenry. Can someone who presents themselves professionally while on TV turn into such a prima donna away from work? The answer is yes, sometimes. But, based on 25 years in and around media, the vast majority of people you see on TV, hear on the radio and read in print or online are “in real life” exactly how you would expect them to be if you pay attention to their work. Yes, there are exceptions to that and, when I talk about them, it seems like consumers of media are fascinated by it.
Another note on this: There are some in the audience who resent news and sports media in a way right out of the 1985 Dire Straits song “Money For Nothing.” While the viewers feels like they work hard all day, some “yo yos” get paid “big bucks” to talk about sports or read news off of a script. And in the electronic age, a skill like column writing seems to some readers like it’s as easy as posting on Facebook (it’s not, at all). When something like this happens to someone like an ESPN reporter, it just feeds that unhealthy negativity. In this perilous environment, that’s about the last thing the media profession needs.