Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Do as I say, not as I make my living

When a big-time NPR reporter gave a speech at a Norwalk, Conn., awards banquet Thursday, the local cable-access guy figured there would be no problem taping it for broadcast.

Happens all the time. Most journalists hawking books welcome the prospect. That's why God invented PR people.

Only in the case of Dina Temple-Raston, NPR's national-security and counterterrorism reporter, it turns out that the Darien/Norwalk YWCA found a broadcast correspondent who's camera shy. A radio journalist who, outside of working hours, just can't abide audio recorders.

The local cable-access TV guy couldn't believe it. And Jim Cameron, a former NBC Radio anchor, didn't like it. Didn't like it at all.

HE LIKED Temple-Raston's attitude so little, he wrote about it for AOL's Darian Patch:
A day before the event, at my request, the Y sponsors circled back to me with more information. Apparently her agent was wrong. It was not an NPR's rule about no taping, it was Ms. Temple-Raston's rule. Clearly, the Juan Williams case (of NPR Staffers speaking off-air) has had a chilling effect on those NPR staffers' outside, money-making speaking gigs.

The day of the event I decided to give full coverage a final try. Arriving at the Woodway Country Club, I told the YWCA organizers that the community deserved to see the award winners and I promised to record only that... if I could speak to Ms. Temple-Raston and make a final appeal. Seconds later, she appeared and we shared a rather contentious two minute conversation.

"You know you cannot tape my speech"' she said. "So I've heard," I said, "But why? Is it really an NPR rule?". "No," she said, "It's just my personal preference. I am on vacation today."

Then I tried appealing to her as a fellow fifth-estater. "As a journalist are you comfortable in stopping my coverage of your speech?”

"Absolutely," she said without hesitation. "You're lucky I'm allowing you to tape the awards presentations!"

"That's not your call," I told her. "I'm here at the invitation of the YWCA."

"Well, that camera better be off. That's an ethical issue," she said, and then added icing to the cake... "and this conversation is off the record."

"No, this conversation is ON the record, Dina, and it is part of my coverage," I said.

At this point two other videographers arrived, one from The Patch and the other from News12, our local cable news operation. Dina visibly flinched, turning to both and reminding them they too could not tape her speech. "No problem," said one of them.

Her final comment came as a somewhat rhetorical question... "why are you being so hard-assed (about this)?"
ARROGANCE LIKE THAT, as Temple-Raston is finding out from the resulting Internet kerfuffle, can be every bit a bad thing for you, your career and your employer's public-relations bottom line as any inflammatory thing you might say during a speech. And didn't want electronic proof of.

Mostly, though, it's just really, really funny.

Why is that?

Well, just wait for the punch line. It will come up right . . . about . . . now. Courtesy of an article on the banquet in the local newspaper,
The Hour.
Dina Temple-Raston, National Public Radio National Security and Counterterrorism Correspondent, spoke of her experiences in the Arab-speaking world, suggesting that female journalists can often succeed where male counterparts can't.

"Women are instinctively more aware of their surroundings than men and more alert to dire developments," she said.
SAID THE "instinctively more aware" woman journalist who never saw this one coming.

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