I love Jimmy Justice, the guy who wanders the streets of New York videotaping traffic cops who are violating the traffic laws they are supposed to enforce and confronting them with their sins. This is the power of the people, armed with their own cameras and the internet, acting as watchdogs on government. Isn’t that journalism?
On the Today Show this morning, David Gregory got on a high horse interviewing Jimmy, asking whether he wasn’t just a bit obnoxious. (I dare you to try to find the story on the show’s site; I can’t.) *
Well, what’s any less obnoxious about a reporter asking the same question? That’s exactly why subjects so often think reporters are rude: they’re being asked questions they don’t want to answer. But here’s Gregory calling a citizen with a camera obnoxious for doing what reporters do. Maybe that’s because Jimmy has an accent and an attitude. Gregory clearly thinks that asking the question in a tie with a sterile TV voice is less obnoxious: more professional. Style is substance on TV. And I can hear someone now saying that Jimmy has an ax to grind, a bias, an agenda. Well, yes, but so does a reporter when he decides to follow that cop and confront her about her actions; that agenda is precisely the motivation for the question. It’s all journalism.
If they really care about watchdogging government and its abuses of power, the proper response from the Today show and any journalistic organization should be to encourage more people to do what Jimmy is doing. What’s wrong with more watchdogs on the street? Indeed, Today should hand out some video cameras or at least share a few lessons with Jimmy about how to shoot video without giving us motion sickness. And it would be generous of them to talk about Jimmy’s rights to shoot public officials’ actions in public, since those officials try to threaten and intimidate Jimmy.
Hey, Mr. Gregory: You and Jimmy are on the same side. You’re doing journalism. It may not sound as slick, but the end result is the same.
* LATER: Thanks to Dan in the comments for finding the Today segment. David Gregory’s fuller quote: “It’s a little obnoxious. Do you not worry about coming off as an obnoxious, aggressive guy here?”
Do reporters? Should they?
Jimmy says he was frustrated getting anyone to pay attention to his complaints about the traffic officers: “I had to bring it to YouTube. I had to show it to the people.”
My Guardian column this week is about the YouTube debates, bringing together some of what I’ve talked about here. (Nonregistration version here.) Snippet:
The two media did not mix well. CNN displayed the YouTube videos in small squares on a big screen shot by a big camera – reduced, finally, to postage stamps on our screens. It seemed the network was ashamed to show the videos full-screen because they would not look like real TV. But, of course, that’s just the point. They weren’t real TV. They were bits of conversation.
TV doesn’t know how to have a conversation. TV knows how to perform. The event’s moderator, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, behaved almost apologetically about the intrusion of these real people, who speak without benefit of make-up. He interrupted the candidates constantly, allowing them shallow soundbites a fraction the length and depth of even a YouTube video.
So I wish we’d have the YouTube debate on YouTube and leave TV behind. A few of the candidates are beginning to answer voters’ questions and challenges directly, small-camera-to-small-camera. Thus they are opening up a dialogue between candidate and constituent that was not possible before the internet: a conversation in our new public square. That is how elections should be held, amid the citizens.
The Republicans are, I believe, making a gigantic mistake in running away, scared, from the internet. They’re running away from voters — and their money.
The latest indication of their fear of the internet is their attempt to fink out on the YouTube/CNN Republican debate. The party line — as we see from Rush and others — is that YouTube is somehow biased. That’s absurd. That would be like the Democrats saying that mail is biased because the Republicans made the first, best use of it. If internet video is biased it is a damned bad sign for the right and mighty strange considering the leading work done in the medium by the conservatives in the UK, France, and Germany. Hugh Hewitt frets that listening to YouTube will open up Republicans to cheap shots. That’s merely convenient paranoia. They’re looking for excuses to stay away from this dance.
The Republicans are scared of the internet. They are scared of us.
Giuliani has, as this blog as pointed out frequently, run away from the internet and interacting with voters there at every opportunity: It shows in his pathetic internet fundraising. Patrick Ruffini, former Giuliani internet guy (we can see why that’s former) frets that the Republicans will be outraised by $100 million because of this attitude. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is sniffing snottily at the quality of the questions on YouTube… from citizens. John McCain has been stiff and scared in his videos. Sam Brownback has hardly made any videos and the ones he has made are as stiff as a Kansas silo. The entire party has left the internet to Ron Paul. And he has taken it and run.
In the end, this is not only short-sighted tactically but also essentially insulting to the American people. We are on the internt. Come talk with us. What, you’re too scared to? Big, tough terrorists don’t scare you but we do? Come on, boys, we don’t bite. But we do vote.