By Christopher “Flood the Drummer®” Norris
3.18.16: National – (Politics): Among journalists, the suggested rule of thumb is to report the story, not become part of it. But when that rule is broken and the storyteller morphs into the story – as I did last year when reporting on a policing event in Center City Philadelphia where protesters had interrupted the Police Commissioner’s interview and were escorted out by park rangers who assumed I was a protester, not a journalist, and accosted me, too – the narrative that ensues is almost always captivating. Examples of this can be found in two current events surrounding the election of a new U.S. President: the resignation of Ms. Michelle Fields from Breitbart News after she was allegedly harmed by Mr. Donald Trump’s campaign manager and her employer sided with the billionaire, and Mrs. Melissa Harris-Perry walking out on her show on MSNBC after it had been repeatedly pre-empted by election news coverage.
What had quickly become an unpredictable election season – one that saw establishment candidates shrink in relevance as outsiders relish in the spotlight –was compounded with even more uncertainty as two media outlets, one perceived as too liberal and the other as uber right-wing, became the recipients of relatively equal criticism and outrage from the public. In the case of Mrs. Harris-Perry, a black woman who’s a Wake Forrest University professor and who used to travel to New York City on weekends to moderate the now-cancelled talk show, her caustic separation from MSNBC – due in part to a letter critical of the network written by Mrs. Harris-Perry and sent to her staff which was then leaked to the press – sparked the hastag #MSNBCSoWhite, a play on the Oscar diversity controversy, and a stern rebuke of NBC by Illinois lawmaker, Mr. Luis Gutierrez, who sarcastically said: “Forgive me for not noticing just how much progress NBC was making on diversity when some of the most visible people of color at NBC like Alex Wagner, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Jose Diaz-Balart are disappearing.”
MSNBC, who characterized Mrs. Harris-Perry’s letter as “destructive to our relationship,” said, despite her claims, the network never had plans to cancel the show and that other shows had been pre-empted for election coverage, too. Mrs. Harris-Perry contends that the show was taken from her without “comment, discussion or notice” during an election season. On this past Monday, in her first in-depth interview on the controversy, Mrs. Harris-Perry – who didn’t accept a severance package from MSNBC because she wants to speak openly about her dealings with the network – said her show began to lose “our look” in January of 2016. The branding, graphics, even a space in a card catalog that belongs to the network, were all generic, nowhere did the Melissa Harris-Perry name exist, she said.
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The story of Ms. Fields’ departure from Breitbart News is much different. Unlike Mrs. Harris Perry, who despite having a PhD in political science claims she wasn’t asked to contribute to on-air coverage of the presidential election, Ms. Fields, a white woman, was actually on the campaign trail reporting on Mr. Trump when her narrative became newsworthy. When attempting to ask the Republican front-runner a question on affirmative action, Ms. Fields claims she was pulled to the ground by Mr. Corey Lewandowski, though she didn’t actually see him do it. A Washington Post reporter, who claims to have seen the incident and who was standing next to Ms. Fields when it occurred, confirmed that the man who left the bruise on her arm was, indeed, Mr. Lewandowski.
Audio and video of the alleged encounter has been made public and much analysis of it has been done. Mr. Trump said he thinks Ms. Fields, who filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Lewandowski, made up the incident, and Mr. Lewandowski published a tweet calling Ms. Fields delusional. Ms. Fields employer, which has been described as Mr. Trump’s Pravda, on March 11th cast doubt on her story, writing: “mistaken identity cannot be ruled out.” Following what appeared to be a lack of support for Ms. Fields, Mr. Kurt Bardella, spokesperson for Breitbart News, resigned. Not long after, Ms. Fields, Mr. Ben Shapiro, a writer and editor, Mr. Jarrett Stepman, another Breitbart editor, Mr. Jordan Schachtel, the site’s national security correspondent, and Mr. David Shapiro, a writer, followed suit.
Both Ms. Fields and Mrs. Harris-Perry this week gave interviews about their resignations and both their answers were similar, though their circumstances aren’t. Ms. Fields told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly that “I realized my company didn’t have my back. I can’t stand for a company that won’t stand for me.” And Mrs. Harris-Perry told BuzzFeed’s Ms. Tracy Clayton and Ms. Heben Nigatu that she was “working for people that truly did not care about me.” Though the exit of Mrs. Harris-Perry from MSNBC and Ms. Fields from Breitbart News appear, from the headlines, to be related to an unpredictable election, it’s actually about loyalty, value and security, or the lack thereof.
Neither Mrs. Harris-Perry nor Ms. Fields, in their moment of uncertainty and anxiety, felt protected or valued by their employer. They didn’t feel secure in their positions and they perceived themselves as being isolated from the team. Now both ladies are telling their truths and, with it, are captivating large audiences. But can this moment be reserved equally for learning as it is for gossip? Is there a lesson to be learned from the tales of woe told by Ms. Fields and Mrs. Harris-Perry? The answer to both questions is yes. The lesson is this: the storyteller(s), at all times, deserves the same degree of safeguarding as the story itself. For if the storyteller(s) ceases to exist or remain, so will the stories and the audience(s).
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Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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