CNN’s Fly Over Mentality Versus the Search for Montana’s Heart and Soul
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
While leaving Livingston’s Post Office recently I noticed a cameraman next to a van and a barely thirty-something fellow working with some kind of media outfit. In that it’s part of my job, I approached the guy and asked him who he was with.
“CNN,” he said.
Turns out it was Ed Henry, the Cable News Network’s Senior White House Correspondent, though I have since found myself thinking of him simply as junior. We chatted a moment, I told him I publish a monthly, and before I knew it I was in front of the camera before an audience that extends across the globe.
Just prior, Henry asked me if I had any thoughts about healthcare (the president would speak on the subject the following day in Belgrade at an event arranged by the White House). I told him I did, and so he taped ten minutes of me talking about healthcare on the corner of 2nd and Callender. Six seconds of that made it on the air the next morning, along with comments from two other Livingston residents, one of whom was a passerby, a woman with a baby carriage approached by Henry as I spoke on camera.
Being in the business (on a minute scale by comparison) I have a pretty good idea about how news is put together, and that CNN chose me randomly as a talking head only drove home what I have known for decades—that most of what passes for news is not news at all, just content filling up air time. This is not to diminish the comments made by the other Livingston residents aired on CNN that day (they came off just fine), but it does reinforce my long held observation.
In general, Ed Henry’s presentation on CNN’s American Morning, and later Headline News, and then CNN.com, did touch upon the views of folks in Montana—perhaps the majority—but his quickly assembled footage and the insertion of his own opinion were more of a let’s package this story in advance kind of thing than a careful treatment.
This became clear when the show aired on American Morning the next day, a broadcast billed as being quite different from the chatty morning shows presented on other networks. CNN promotes American Morning as the most news oriented of all its competitors, and so segments spill over onto Headline News and CNN.com.
The next morning though, the day of Obama’s visit to Belgrade, Ed Henry put on a cowboy hat as he introduced his footage shot the day before in Livingston, and that said quite a bit about him and his kind. He’s a nice enough guy (though I’m straining at this moment not to think of him as a complete nit wit), and it was nice of him to film in Livingston, but when an out-of-stater puts on a cowboy hat to introduce a news segment in Montana you know he doesn’t have a clue about what goes on here. Instead, he has a hokey preconceived notion about who we are and how we live, and I come across this mindset repeatedly as I search news articles for the word Montana on the internet, especially in liberal metro-politan publications like The New York Times.
Sorry, but the same provincialism national media types ascribe privately to residents of such “rural areas” as ours is readily apparent in their own attitudes and limited experience regarding the rural West (ask Sarah Palin). And when a journalist comes here and puts on a cowboy hat, he reveals more about himself and his fly over mentality than anything he reveals about us.
Regarding recent visitors invol-ved with media productions (the president included), the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain and the Outdoor Channel’s John Dietsch (see Hook.TV), both of whom I interviewed for cover stories this summer, stand out as people who get Montana, or who at least do not condescend, having spent quality time here and earnestly connected with those of us who live here.
(As fate would have it, Dietsch also asked yours truly to appear on camera—for his Outdoor Channel show Adventure Guides: Fishing Edition, an honor I did not deserve. Not sure when that will air, or if I’ll make the cut (we filmed on the Gallatin where Dietsch coordinated scenes for A River Runs Through It.)
Bourdain’s thoughtful and heartfelt treatment of Livingston, Paradise Valley, and a Big Timber area ranch, as the host of No Reservations, was everything CNN’s admittedly brief visit was not. Granted, the two are entirely different animals (a news segment versus a 47 minute travel show), but the distinction ought to be made. Bourdain’s May visit and filming tour in the area sought the essential nature of Montana, of Livingston in particular, through the hearts and minds of resident author Jim Harrison, painter Russell Chatham, guide Dan Lahren, chef Brian Menges, ranchers Remi and Susan Metcalf of Big Timber, and others whose real life stories and insights bring to America and the world something of the true nature of this place and those who live here. Rather than superficially summarizing Montanans’ views on our behalf, as was the case with visiting journalist Ed Henry, Bourdain let Montanans speak for themselves, at length and from experience, the contrast being one of presumption and arrogance versus humility and appreciation.
Before the interview, incidental-ly, I talked to Ed Henry about A River Runs Through It, mentioning that the film was shot here, and he was surprised. You’d think he would have known that, or at least something about Montana before presen-ting himself as a conduit between us and the world. And so he donned a cowboy hat, used that tidbit in his report, and spoke of fly fishing while showing video of a fisherman casting not a fly but a spinner on the Yellowstone. The word lame comes to mind, and yes I’m being hard on the guy, but as a public service so that a lesson can be drawn about national mainstream news media and the filter one must apply when watching their reports.
Then there’s the objective repor-ting of a Senior White House corres-pondent. This one blatantly touted government run healthcare in his Livingston-based report on CNN. com and implied as much in his video segment aired on American Morning. Then, while referring to the editor of the Montana Pioneer (me) online, he misstated the name of the publication and mischaracter-ized our editorial content—because he didn’t read the paper.
No wonder I’m not impressed.
Tony Bourdain’s episode dealing with Livingston will air repeatedly in the months to come. It’s also available on iTunes. Watch it. The show renews your faith in the potential of television. Ed Henry should watch it too—he might learn something about Montana.