Zero Minutes of Fame

Why the media is losing some of its biggest admirers

I was supposed to be on television. My family, friends, acquaintances (and innocent bystanders) were all privy to my good fortune. The ego was swelling to immense proportions; I jumped at any chance to tell of my impending grandeur.

But it was all for naught. I was cancelled, cast aside, deserted by these media clowns. The problem was twofold: first, broadcast media borders on the farcical (and, no, not just Fox News); second, acknowledging in full this trite cliché, I’m female.

I realize that my conclusions don’t derive from some uncanny gift of novelty, and stem more from recent campus controversies, the irony of my particular situation, and my unrealized 15 minutes for which I unabashedly pined. But that doesn’t make them any less important or disillusioning—particularly for someone who is (was?) planning to go into television broadcast journalism.

I was to appear on a certain cable news network that shall remain nameless (yes, careerism and any potential ramifications unfortunately factor in) to discuss the recent controversy over Larry’s comments and, more specifically, the Faculty’s reaction and prospective vote of no confidence. As a representative of The Crimson’s editorial board, the show ostensibly wanted me, and my male co-chair, to come discuss student sentiment and the way in which we had decided Staff position on the controversy. It was all set, and I was soon to be gracing the small screen. That is, until I had my pre-interview interview.

A woman from the cable network called me early Monday morning to talk about the program’s procedure, as well as feel out my personal position on the issue. Admittedly, it was a precarious situation, as it was difficult to know whether I was speaking to her on behalf of the Crimson Staff, or simply regarding my own personal stance on the President’s faux pas. More importantly, however, I was wondering why the latter would be important. If I was coming on the show to discuss how Harvard’s student newspaper came to a consensus on the Faculty-Larry debate, why would we focus on what I, as an individual, thought?

Her questions were typical of those that seek solely a knee-jerk response: Do you think Summers’ statements prove that he has it out for women? Don’t you think his comments show that he’s trying to explain his way out of Harvard’s oppression of women? Isn’t he sexist? Is he not evil?

In articulating—I’d say, “well”—my more nuanced position on the controversy, she interrupted me. In her (unnoticed) rudeness, she simply shot: “Look, the public neither knows, nor do they care, about all of these other issues of internal politics that you’re mentioning. You can’t talk about them. You’ll have to stick to criticizing his comments.” Silence. As I quickly pondered the ethics of what she was saying, my heart sank. Of course, everyone knows the myriad maxims that condemn contemporary media, but I—the lover, the studier, the future of the media—was experiencing its irresponsibility up close.

The media is a powerful collective. It is an agenda-setter, an informer, a manipulator, and most importantly, an educator. This woman was telling me “to stick to” something that propagated an illusion of what’s going on here at Harvard. I wanted to tell her where she could “stick” that advice, and to inform her that it’s rather shoddy journalism to tell an interviewee what they can and can’t say. In its role as an educator, one would like to believe that the media would take more seriously the obligation to present facts that might enlighten the public—rather than perpetuate fallacies or a false picture of an issue for the sake of more sensational and soft stories. But—I know—I’m idealistic.

The pre-interview ended when she informed me that “this [wasn’t] going to work.” My position, aside from being too nuanced (read: informed and accurate), echoed the sentiments of my co-chair too much. It didn’t matter if we were right, ratings require controversy and provocation—and it certainly doesn’t matter if issues are conflated to the point of senselessness. But then came the icing:

“We’re going to go with him,” she concluded. Though we both played very large roles in the formation, writing, and editing of our Staff position, she decided to go with the male. He could be spun as “pro-Summers.” In lieu of me, they opted for a representative from the Radcliffe Union for Students. She was vehemently “anti-Summers.” They could pit the male against the female, further entrenching into the public consciousness a rudimentary understanding of the debate at hand. I was supposed to be a caricature of the “typical feminist,” employed for the wily tactics of the theatrical and substance-devoid media. It was a travesty that possibly ended my interest in broadcast media—not to mention robbed me of my modest, if delusional, bout with fame.

Morgan R. Grice ’06, a Crimson editorial chair, lives in Winthrop House.