By Susan Kavanaugh
“The public has an insatiable curiosity to know everything except what is worth knowing.” – Oscar Wilde
This weekend I patiently watched the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
Typically an annual event, this was the first time since 2019 members of the press, their families, celebrities, politicians, and as Host Trevor Noah suggested, “those people who are filthy rich and get to do whatever they want,” were able to gather
These mostly amazing, mostly hard-working journalists appreciate the special occasion for awards, superb food and wine, camaraderie, gossip, and sometimes lucrative job offers. It is also a time to rub arms with high-ranking politicians, press palms with competition, and take Instagram photos with the likes of Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson.
My husband had turned on some station that simply captured everyone at their finest and their worst for a half-hour before President Biden appeared. Camera here. Camera there. Cut away. Close-up. Pan. Wide Pan. It simply went on.
I had been hoping to catch the final episode of Prime Video’s Outer Range until I realized my husband honestly intended to watch what I thought would be a farcical program and a waste of my time. I watch very few news programs on cable and television anymore and even fewer that I read online.
I am simply tired of the “talking heads,” the attempts to entertain, and the continual partisan division of what should be our greatest source of objective world news. Especially since there is a devastating war in Ukraine, Covid is still here and taking lives with it, the earth is plagued by weather that has turned upside down and inside out, and our nation’s economy has lost its way. This is the first time, outside of Europe, that I’ve ever hadto pay $5 per gallon for gas or stay away from many beloved fruits and vegetables because their cost is absurdly high.
I just wasn’t eager to stay tuned to the dinner and its cast of characters. However, I was in for some education that I value deeply now.
I’ve been a member of the press. I understand the challenges faced by this group in 2022.
In 1982, I graduated with a bachelor’s in communications. My North Star was set on broadcast journalism. I swiftly dove into a career that led me to Colorado, Hawaii, and then Texas, where I surprisingly found myself as the first female evening news anchor the Panhandle had ever seen. After my very first evening show, the general manager gave me his critique, “Wear more of that lip gloss stuff.”
In a small Texas town like Amarillo, I was a celebrity. A poster of me
promoting the station was on bus boards, bench boards, and billboards. I couldn’t visit the dry cleaner without a stranger saying they felt as if they knew me well.
We had our good times, dancing in beer bars and having a manager recognize us so that the next song up would be “Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley. We’d cheer and sing along, “I make my livin’ off the evening news, just give me somethin’, somethin’ I can use. People love it when you lose. They love dirty laundry.” We’d become bolder and laugh harder with the lyrics, “We got the bubble-headed bleached-blonde comes on at five, she can tell you ‘bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye…” We indeed had a bubble-headed bleached blonde, but she came on at noon. She received a feed from a field reporter of a man shooting himself in the head at his home. A rancher down on his luck. She didn’t have the wit to edit the piece, and all the stay-at-home conservative Texas mothers got to see an actual suicide because our TV station was the only one on all day long in most households.
I left the business once I became tired of arriving at car crashes and shootings before the ambulances had hit the scene. We listened to the police scanner and knew as soon as they did when something horrific had happened. Even during that period in time, journalism was driven by sensationalism. If it bleeds, it leads. Have you heard that one?
Yet, I held fast to the fact that journalism was sacred in most areas. I was an NPR and a PBS addict, and my hero was Edward R. Murrow. Just the facts. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday would emphasize on Dragnet. Somehow, I still idealized the idea of fair and balanced reporting. But I was disillusioned. I was also naïve.
Watching the correspondents’ televised dinner I felt a tap, tap, tap in my brain. I knew I was the first woman on the evening news in Amarillo, TX, but I was far from educated about the discrimination women, and especially women of color, faced. When I watched the correspondents’ dinner documentary about Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne, I was proud of them but raging inside.
Then one of my own family stories immediately came to mind. I’d nearly forgotten.
Most people are taught that Helen Thomas was the first woman to gain a coveted White House correspondent position. But she wasn’t. Just as most people didn’t know about Dunnigan and Payne, most people don’t know about my grandmother (step-grandmother), one of two women in 1928 who served as a White House correspondent. A young 23-year-old Lorraine Noetzel sat in press briefings along with the woman editor from The Christian Science Monitor. Two women amidst 100 men.
She worked for a newspaper in Washington, DC. I cannot recall the actual paper, but I believe it was The Herald. Lorraine was a tiny and graceful woman, and the male White House Correspondents at the time accepted her; they wanted to protect her.
One day, arriving before the press room filled with smoke and men, she found herself alone with President Coolidge. Silent Cal had been a longtime supporter of women’s suffrage and women’s labor rights. My grandmother said their exchange consisted of one comment from him, “You are here early young lady.” She recalls that she was dumbstruck and said nothing. After writing article after article for her newspaper, she left as Hoover was ushered into office. The only reason she left was to marry and no respectable married woman held a career in 1929.
My eyes were drawn to the screen again when the memorial video of reporters killed in action was shown. I connected with deep remorse as I thought about the times when I had seen the bloodied, beat-up bodies of crime and accident victims in Texas. These fine journalists who had given their lives on behalf of reporting the truth had also watched the blood and devastation of the scenes before them and then suddenly upon them.
When Joe Biden spoke, obviously quite tired and, yet, smiling, the message was clear. The message I received in my head when I felt the tap, tap, tap.
“The First Amendment grants a free press extraordinary protection, but with it comes, as many of you know, a very heavy obligation: to seek the truth as best you can – not to inflame or entertain, but to illuminate and educate. I know it’s tough. And I’m not being solicitous. The industry is changing significantly. There’s incredible pressure on you all to deliver heat instead of shed light because the technology is changing so much, the system is changing. But it matters. No kidding. It matters. The truth matters.”
Journalism, he said, reveals our soul and the nation’s soul.
I found myself humbled by a presentation I’d originally had no desire to watch. On some level, the truth must have been nudging my own soul.
Take time to consider the source of your news, whatever news you choose. Remain mindful. Remain educated. Look for both sides of the story. The truth is there.
Commit yourself to find it.
Susan is the editor of the Mindful Entrepreneur Journal and a dynamic, innovative communications strategist. She founded KavCom: Conscious Communications, LLC, in 1997. KavCom has been dedicated to providing marketing and income generating projects for mission-driven enterprises and non-profits. Susan is also author of The Heart of Profit, an International Best-Seller on Amazon charts. Learn more at www.kavcomcc.com. Reach out to email@example.com.