Media Accuracy

A couple of weeks ago, the article The Blog Is Mightier Than The Sword appeared in The Standard.  This blogger was mentioned in the article.  I was asked if I was upset by certain inaccuracies.  For example, the name of this blog was introduced as North South East West.  The short answer is that this does not bother me.  And this is not the usual public relations axiom of there being no such thing as bad publicity.

I am going to tell you a few examples from my own life about interacting with the media. 

Example 1:  My earliest appearance in the media was in the classical Cathay movie My Sister Hedy (四千金) (1957) (see link).  This is a story about a man, his four daughters and their loves.  The movie credits began with a series of baby photographs as the daughters were born one after another.  My father was the executive producer at Cathay at the time, and he offered my baby photographs for use.  I am a male, but who can tell the gender of a nearly hairless and fully clothed baby?  After this major piece of media inaccuracy, everything else has to look up for the rest of my life.

Example 2:  My first appearance in a New York City newspaper occurred in the 1980's.  At the time, I was renting a studio apartment in an old building with twenty apartment units in total.  People moved in and out of the building, and I rarely ever see them.  This is the contradiction of urban life in that people live closer to each other but they know less about each other than if they were living on farms.

One day, a sensationalistic crime occurred in my building.  As I found out later (that is, assuming the newspaper reports were 'accurate' and there is no reason to believe so), a resident in the building had been suffering from depression due to AIDS.  When his mother came to visit him, he went beserk, stabbed her many times, killed her, wrapped her body in the shower curtain and attempted to set off a fire.  The police came to take him away.  I lived on the second floor and he lived on the sixth floor, so I heard nothing until the police came.  I looked out the street window and saw him being led away.  So much for that.

Now put yourself in the position of a beat reporter for the New York Daily News.  Here is a lurid story which is potential front page material.  How do you find out more about what happened?  You hit your reverse telephone directory and call up people in the same building.  So I was the sucker who picked up the telephone and got interviewed.

I told him in no uncertain terms.  One, I did not know the individual.  We may live in the same building, but I have never encountered him before; even if I did, I took no notice.  Two, I only saw him from the window when the police took him away.  I observed that he looked quite disheveled.  That was all the information that I had.  I knew nothing else.

So what did the reporter write?  

According to building resident [insert my name], 'He looked so different from the person that we knew before.'

The reality was that the reporter had a certain story to write and he needed it to go in a certain direction; my actual interview had no value for him and he re-wrote it for his purpose.  What was I going to do?  Call the editor-in-chief or publisher to complain?  This was not even worthy of a correction.  So I did the only thing I could -- I sat back and laughed aloud.

Example 3:  My first appearance in The Wall Street Journal was in 1987.  I was working for a small start-up company.  One morning, I went to work and there was nobody in the office yet.  Imagine a spacious room in the Helmsley Building on Park Avenue in New York City with all the desks empty but all the telephones were ringing.  It was a strange scene.  I picked up the telephone to the general line.  It was a reporter from The Wall Street Journal.  He said that he needed to interview someone about the news that my company had just gone out of business.  In no uncertain terms, I told him who I was, that I knew nothing, that I had just come in and that nobody else was here yet.  The next day, I was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as the company spokesperson.  Afterwards, all my colleagues at my now-defunct company had a good laugh.

Example 4:  This is a recent experience, but it is not a direct personal one.  Last month, I went back to New York City where my company was about to release our new study on pharmaceutical product usage among Americans.  Our managing director was interviewed by a media industry reporter.  The quote of the century for the managing director was this: "The good news is that more people are getting sick."  While that may be good for the pharmaceutical industry, it is not good for Americans.  I was not there at the interview, but I can hardly imagine anyone saying something as heartless as that.  The managing director laughed about it, for what else can he do?  He needed to be in the good graces of the reporter; besides, this would be a funny story for him to tell.

This is a rather haphazard inventory of some of my encounters with the media.  I am sure that if I think back hard enough, there are plenty more examples.  There is a more general problem with the impossiblity of communication between humans.  Here is my favorite illustration for my friends: 

If I don't tell my girlfriend that I love her, she is going to say that I don't love her.
If I tell my girlfriend that I love her, she is going to say that I am lying.
What am I supposed to do?  Why is life so complicated?

I am resigned to being subjected to some media distortions.  If I want everything done exactly the way that I want to, then there can be only one solution: do everything myself.  But that would deprive others of seeing myself or what I do in a different light.  Therefore, you are unlikely to hear me complain about what others say about me (warning: but I never say never and I own what some people considered one of the meanest rebuttal posts ever).