Gotcha journalism

What occurred to me is that the notion of “gotcha journalism” has been turned on its head.

The first big story I noticed when I was out of town last week was the death of CBS News’ 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace at the age of 93. He was one of those old-fashioned hard-nosed reporters who irked politicians, the powerful, and occasionally his own network with his investigative television journalism from the show’s debut in 1968 until his retirement in 2006, and even to his 2008 piece on Roger Clemens. Here is the New York Times obit, and his story in The National Memo. His interviews with Ayatollah Khomeini, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, and cigarette company insider Jeffrey Wigand, among many others, were legendary.

One of the trademarks in 60 Minutes reporting, used by him, but not exclusively, was the use of the hidden camera to ambush some person changing the odometer on an automobile or making some unsubstantiated medical claim. One of my favorites and I don’t recall the reporter, involved a black couple in Illinois going to see if a property was available for purchase, and told it was not. Then, a shot later, a white couple would show up, and the property would suddenly be available again. Next, the reporter would come in and expose the duplicity. While effective, CBS tended to shy away from the technique, dubbed as “gotcha journalism.” It was my contention that the hidden camera reporting should only be used when no other way would expose the fraud.

What occurred to me is that the notion of “gotcha journalism” has been turned on its head. When Sarah Palin complained that the “lamestream media” was using “gotcha” questions, it wasn’t a hidden camera trying to entrap her over some wrongdoing. It was an open and aboveboard question over what newspapers she read or why she would be competent to be President if John McCain had been elected, and then later was incapacitated.
The next story I read about was the Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen getting in trouble for something he said; not that unusual. But I didn’t really catch what the content was until he apologized for saying it and was suspended five games. What the heck did he remark? The Venezuelan told Time magazine he loves former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and respects the retired Cuban leader for staying in power so long. But he claims his intent was lost in translation: “I was saying I cannot believe somebody who hurt so many people over the years is still alive,” Guillen told folks at the follow-up news conference. My inclination is to believe him, and the calls in the Little Havana community to fire him I find a bit troubling. This may be more of a public relations problem than a substantive issue.

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